Please tell me this project will be worth all this effort

beths96September 17, 2010

Hi everyone. I have an old house (built in 1923) that I think is an American Foursquare. Lots of craftsman accents in the house ( built-ins, tapered pillars on front porch, beadboard ceiling on porch, etc.

Over the past 9 years, we have done a lot of work to the house to get it in good shape. in 2001, my husband and father rented a sander and refinished all the oak floors on our main floor. They are still beautiful.

Well, I just decided a week ago to rip up the carpet on the stairs leading upstairs. Underneath, I found what I believe are oak stairs (and the landing is definitely the same oak as the main floor). The upstairs hallway is also the same oak, but I'm not concentrating on doing it, yet.

So, I stripped the shellac (or whatever it was!), and just finished. The wood is still very dark, and I'm getting discouraged. We have a palm sander (the kind that uses the clip-on sandpaper). My husband used it on the first stair step, and worked on the entire thing for 20 minutes, and it's still not bare enough for staining. Also, he couldn't get into the corners, so I think we're going to have to buy/rent a mouse-shaped sander, and who knows if it will even work??

My plan is to paint the risers white, and sand/stain/poly the treads the same shade as my floors in the living room. It's going to look gorgeous, I know, and I'm so happy that my floors going upstairs will be always be clean (unlike the carpet)...but I have to say, I think I'm in over my head.

We can't afford to have a company come finish this, so I'm pretty much on my own.

To make matters worse, one of the previous owners must have had a rubber stair tread cover installed on the middle 2/3 of each step, so even after stipping, there's a dark vertical line on each side that I'm afraid will not go away.

Do you have any recommendations on products, tools, etc? Any advice? I feel great knowing I'm restoring this house to what it was like (almost), but I'm so tempted to somehow get the money together for new carpet and call it a day.

Thanks for any advice!

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The right tool makes every job easier. Go back to the last place you rented the big sander. That sander has a baby brother called an edge sander. It will get everything but the very corner of the tread. Those are definitely going to be a pain and require a bit of labor on your part.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 11:21AM
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It will look very nice when you're done, don't get discouraged. I know it can feel overwhelming but give yourself time. And realize that it doesn't have to all be done in one week! It may have to be a "work in progress" type of thing for a while. I hate that, but I've learned to deal with it, since $$$ doesn't grow on trees lol.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 9:46PM
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It is definitely worth the effort. I do not know if your problem is what I had but I hired people to strip my floors. I had an area that was dark after the stripping. They took a piece of cheese cloth and laid it on the area and sprayed it with ammonia the area lightened to the color of the rest of the floor.

They left it there for about 1/2 hour rinsed the area and re-applied the ammonia until it had lightened.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 3:01PM
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Beth, definitely worth the effort. It is alot of work, and there were many times during the long months I worked on it, that I was ready to throw in the towel. But it is so beautiful now. Glad I stuck with it. Good luck with your project, and do share your pictures when done.

Here are pics of my stairs after I refinished them. First Pic shows the difference when I first started stripped. They were covered in shellac/varnish which had turned very dark. Almost black.

You can see some of the old dark trim upstairs that has not been refinished yet.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 7:26PM
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Oh how beautiful!!!!!!!!

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 10:09PM
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Oh my goodness, that is just gorgeous!!! You deserve a medal for putting in all that effort! Beautiful.

Well, I'm officially done stripping. It's definitely taking up the old shellac. But I haven't had a chance to really start sanding. In a typical day, I only have a three-four hour window to sand. (Hubby works midnights, sleeps during day, and kids go to bed between 7 and 8). Problem is, from 4-8 in the evening, I'm usually making dinner/cleaning up/doing baths/homework. So I'm afraid this is going to take FOREVER, unless I just block out a few days to just tackle it. Maybe a weekend.

My dad remembered he has a mouse sander, so that will help with the corners, I hope. I will also take the advice about the edge sander!

My other fear is that the stairs will be very slippery once finished. My son has already taken a small slip down a few stairs. So now I'm really, really wondering if I made the right choice.

Thank you all for your input! I will post some pictures later today.

Here is a link that might be useful: Before pictures, before stripping...will post more later

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 8:22AM
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There are more pictures of our projects in the other album in my photobucket account. I will take some current pics of the stairs today and post them.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 8:38AM
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Beth, you have a beautiful home!! Love your kitchen.

I must tell you that I never sanded anything when I stripped our staircase. I used a 3M product called Safest Stripper (no smell, non toxic, washes up with water, and cheap!) and it took off all the shellac. Then I used soap and water, and a brush and scrubbed it down. I got down to the bare wood using this process. Then I stained the wood the color of some original wood I found in a closet. The only time I sanded was between final coats. I know the experts would say I "raised" the grain, but I had a local expert come and look at it, and he said it was fine. It's smooth as glass now. And I'm so glad I'm done. All those spindles...oh, I got so tired of the spindles!

Yes, the stairs are slippery. Just be sure you wear shoes or slippers with non-slip soles.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 9:46AM
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I feel your pain Beth! I am currently in the middle of removing the carpeting in our foyer (yeah..they carpeted the whole darn foyer for some reason!), as well as stripping layers of paint off of our staircase, landings and upstairs hallway. It seems like a never-ending job, and believe me, more than one time I've thought about throwing in the towel (or sander!) and just repainting all that danged wood. But then I think twice, and I look at all the pictures of other people's wood floors and steps that they've refinished, and I know that I just need to be day someone will look at MY pictures too for inspiration!

I think you might be discouraged because you went from a very functional and pretty (although carpeted.....) staircase to now having kind of a mess on your hands, with no end in sight. It's like one of the many projects that I myself start (with good intentions!) and then think, omg why did I ever start this? It seemed like a much better idea BEFORE I ripped all this up! Sometimes it's just hard to see the finish line.

Keep the faith! Your home is beautiful and your staircase will be gorgeous too!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 11:08AM
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"My other fear is that the stairs will be very slippery once finished. My son has already taken a small slip down a few stairs. So now I'm really, really wondering if I made the right choice. "

I hear ya. I took a tumble down my stairs while holding my daughter. Very scary.

One thing that helps is not using any cleaning products on them - just damp mop to get up dust etc. Anything that leaves a residue seems to make them even more slippery.

Another thing is - I learned why older people all wear house slippers! As their name suggests, it keeps you from slipping.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 11:31AM
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