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  • sonjac1978

How To Update Oak Stairs

This was my first time staining wood. I have done a ton of painting in the past, but I must admit, staining terrified me. It seemed super complicated and easy to mess up.

Let me tell you - this was super easy!

I googled a bit before I attempted to stain. I found a couple of great tutorials and those reassured me that this is a fairly easy project.

Regardless, the stairs needed an update! Whether I liked it or not, I had to get this done, and I had to do it myself - as we didn't have a budget to hire a pro.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and when you click + purchase some of the items listed bellow, I may receive a small commission - at NO additional cost to you.

YOU WILL NEED: (pictures of these below)

  1. Electric sander: I used BOSCH sander that I borrowed mine from a worker

  2. Bosh osculating multi tool (this one has multiple attachments and the small triangular sander was able to reach all the nooks, crannies, and curves.

  3. If you don't want to use an electric sander, be prepared to use your elbow grease - it will take a lot longer

  4. Sanding papers (whether you use your electric sander or your hands:

  • - 80 grit to start - this coarse grit will remove a good layer of wood and poly

  • - 120 grit is a bit finer to smooth over the rough areas

  • - 150 and 220 are fine grits - I didn't use these as I wanted the stain to penetrate well.

  1. LIQUID SANDER - I used this on all my doors, stairs, and spindles

  2. PRIMER - good quality primer

  3. PAINT - see bellow the paint I used on stairs

  4. PRE-STAIN CONDITIONER - once you sand the poly off the handrails, use pre stain conditioner. You will need this depending on the type of wood you are staining.Wood conditioner helps with creating a good base and helps even out stain application

  5. GOOD QUALITY BRUSHES - my most important tip! Buy the best one you can afford, a variety of sized. I used 2.5", and 3" brush

  6. RAGS - to apply liquid sander and stain

  7. GLOVES - to protect your hands!

  8. STAIN - find the color you love

  9. POLY - to seal the stain

I used this Bosch sander to sand all the poly off the handrails. It's a bit chunky, so it didn't fit well around the curves, but it did a fantastic job taking of the full layer of poly of the larger areas. I used 80 grit paper.

This is my own tool - it has multiple attachments and a small, triangular head. I used this to reach all the tight corners and curves to take off poly with a sanding attachment.

Here is the way the rails looked once I removed the layer of poly. You want to go all the way down to the bare wood, or the stain won't stick. You will see what happens in a picture below, and how I fixed it.

This looks pretty good, right? I thought I removed all the vaxy layer off - but I actually left a good amount on the top.

This is the middle of the progress - here, I just used liquid sander on spindles and began sanding handrails.

I used this liquid sander on all my doors, stairs, and spindles.

Spindles were the easy part. I used liquid sander, let it dry, and I used just a regular paint. Most of the house is painted with Benjamin Moor Simply White, and I used the same paint on spindles and stairs. (I used a different type of paint - same color - on the actual steps).

1. Liquid sander applied with a rag to get into the nooks and crannies.

2. Good quality primer

3. Paint 2 coats with regular paint

Once you sand the handrails (or whatever else you are working on), use a pre-stain conditioner. I used this one based on the information I found online. Conditioner is good for certain types of porous woods and it helps with an even stain application. It also prevents too much streaking.

I wanted the stain to be really dark, and since my flooring had a walnut finish, I used the same on my rails. I also love a really rich wood stain. This is oil base stain, and I used the same brand as the pre-stain. Not sure if it's important, but I think they probably work best together if you use the same brand.

I used these cloths to apply liquid sander and stain. Make sure to often change the rags.

Application time! Use gloves, protect the spindles (if you already painted them), and apply stain using cloth with the grain - not against it. I thoroughly soaked the stain - and left it on much longer than needed - without it drying. I then wiped off excess and reapplied once more to achieve a deep, rich color.

I did this BEFORE our flooring was done - for obvious reasons. I didn't want spills anywhere.

OK -- word of caution - if you don't remove all the protective layer of poly or wax from the wood - stain will NOT penetrate. You will be left with this type of mess. I had to wait for this to dry, and I went back to re-sand this whole section all the way down to bare wood. I had to reapply conditioner and then stain again.

This is stain applied and wet - I applied a lot of it so it would be nice and dark.

Here they are - both sides, still wet.

And here is the stain once I removed the excess. It looks perfect!

Once the stain dries, (follow the directions), apply protective finish. I used this one with clear satin finish. I only applied two coats.

Next, stairs! I pulled off the old, ugly, grimy carpet treads and used liquid sander. Once that dried, I applied a coat of primer. I usually use this one on all my projects.

Once the primer dried - it was time to paint. Since the stairs lead up to the bedrooms, I had to do this early. This particular paint takes a long time to dry before you can walk on it. It takes 4 days to fully cure. And we needed to use the stairs that evening to go to sleep. So if that is your case, start early!

Start at the top, for obvious reasons!

It took me a few hours to apply the first and second coat. I used simply white but I went to Sherwin Williams and color matched their Porch and Floor paint. It is more durable and will last better than a regular paint. It is much harder and easy to clean. We have two dogs and they do sometimes leave dirty paws on there (even though I always clean their feet before they enter the home). But I just take a wet rag and wipe it off and it looks as good as new.

I used only a pint of paint - but I almost ran out. Definitely buy a quart! If you have more stairs - buy a gallon.

Here are the stairs finished with the paint. Time to dry. I blocked off the puppies and taped masking tape in front so they wouldn't try to go upstairs. At the end of the day, the paint was dry, so I just attached carpet treads and we were able to walk up and down that evening.

Here is the final look!

I received a lot of samples before I settled on the color - this is just an example.


Did you know there is a system of how to properly paint paneled doors? I will share step by step instruction.


You first need to prime - I also used a liquid sander, just in case. I don't think I needed it though.

I apply primer in a similar way with clean brush strokes.

Test paint!

I immediately knew which paint I wanted, but I asked hubby anyways which one he loved. He picked the wrong one, haha. I wanted a vibrant and rich green, he liked the light one.

I used this brush:

I selected Behr Marquee paint, Green Agate. I did one coat with touch up.

FUN TIP! I used their sample size jar to paint this ENTIRE door! Super inexpensive!!!


Use the best quality brush possible, and follow the wood grain. Paint inside of the panels.


Paint inside of panels, making sure you follow wood grain.


Paint middle vertical panels


Paint middle HORIZONTAL panels. (This pic is from another door I painted blue in the guest bathroom).


Paint long vertical panels (whatever is left).


Wall color: Benjamin Moore Simply White

ART: Home Goods

I used this wallpaper in the panels:

It has a slight sheen to it, but has gorgeous grasscloth texture and neutral feel.

Did you like this post? If you'd like to read more, subscribe to my blog, or just follow me on IG, FB, or in my design group.

XO, Sonja

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