Painting and re-staining oak staircase

rugbyheadJanuary 26, 2011

Hi - 1st post - very impressed with the advice in this forum.

I have a typical 80's house with a curved oak staircase (gold stain with varnish) and lovely sea-foam green carpet. We've lived with this look for 21 years - it's finally time to get outta the 80's. What started off as a replace the carpet project has crept into bathroom, staircase and a full blown kitchen reno's.

What we want to accomplish with the staircase project is:

1) paint the risers - spindles - outer and inner stringers

2) stain (with a dye) the hand rail and newels a darker color

Before the diehard, "why are you painting Oak?" activists come out...The answer - we've lived here 21 years, we are going to be here another 21 years....lets try something new - frankly I'm sick of 80's oak.

How do I do this?

I called an experienced painter and he flat out told me "you can't hide the oak grain and pits with paint!"

Sorry, I refuse to believe this - time to DIY.

This is a big staircase, 123 spindles and lots of continuous railing - it's a big job.

I have done some research; however, I really haven't pieced together all the answers.

I am ready to do some testing on some sample pieces.

Here is my plan based - I have thick skin...please tell me what I should really do?

1) use liquid sandpaper to remove the varnish on just the rail and newels

2) Mask the hand rails and newel

3) spray using my airless (don't have a hvlp) with XIM to precoat the spindles, risers and stringers - I know I will waste...Is HVLP the way to go? I have a buddy that owns a couple of them.

4) spray with an enamel undercoat to fill the pits - is this going to do it?

5) spray with an outercoat - suggestions on the type of paint?

6) finish with a polyurethane coat - curious will this possibly crack? Is this wise? I would like to protect the paint from shoe mark scuffs (on the risers) and chips etc.

7) mask the spindles, risers and stringers

8) sand, sand, sand the handrail and newels

9) use a stain equalizer to balance the grain - not really sure of this step.

  1. Stain

  2. add a tint of stain to polyurethane for the first sealer coat - told this will cheat by blending the stain into areas that didn't accept the stain.

  3. finish the final coat with clear polyurethane.

Then...Finish my bathroom project, start on my 1800 sq ft flooring project and complete the nightmare with the kitchen reno which includes opening up a load bearing wall....Nice eh...

Thanks in advance - Regards,


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Another question: I need to invest in an HVLP spayer,my buddy has industrial HVLP sprayers worth $3000ea, which are continuously on the job. What is a good HVLP sprayer for this project. Consumerreports has nothing on sprayers. Looking for something in the $200-$300 that will be in the family for years and does a good job. Any suggestions?


    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 4:55PM
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Fuji sprayers.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 8:11PM
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"you can't hide the oak grain and pits with paint!"

He is correct.

Put paste wood filler WILL fill the oak pores and allow a smooth finish.

Once you get to bare wood you apply paste wood filler (Pore-o-pac by Behlans is one) is than applied to the wood and allowed to start to set before rubbing most of it off with burlap across the grain.
If you are going to paint use natural or a light color filler.
After the filler finishes drying you get to sand once again with fine grit to remove any excess filler on the surface.
If you remove to much filler (or it shrinks excessively from being thinned to much) you may even need a second coat of filler.

You can make ANY wood smooth as glass if you want to work at it.
The prominent pores in oak furniture are a 'style' that omits paste wood filler.
There are also finish styles that use contrasting or colored filler to emphasize the pores while leaving a smoother surface.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 10:47AM
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Thanks, this is exactly the advice I need. You mentioned getting down to bare wood...oh boy - does that mean in order for the Pore-o-pac product to work, I need to strip the varnish and sand 123 spindles? Will this product work overtop of the varnish? I have so much work to do - any where I can reduce time for a task is huge.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 12:07PM
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"Will this product work overtop of the varnish?"

Not very well, but it would be worth a try.
It might work depending on the composition of the varnish.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 3:38PM
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I would encourage you to figure out how to remove the spindles if you can.
They will be a real PITA to refinish that many in place.

Depending on ages they often are simply trapped by the blocks of wood nailed between them in the rail, and just sit in pockets in the floor (or between more blocks of wood if a bottom rail is used).

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 3:53PM
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Yikes, that sounds like a lot of work! I'm an avid DIY-er, but I'd seriously look into just buying 123 new painted (or paintable) spindles and replacing what you've got.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 6:42PM
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Good suggestion, I thought about that, I priced some out too. Cheap ones were $2 - good ones were $7 - more so, the existing spindles are professionally cut, so each one is custom to the curved staircase rail, I am certain it would be more work to equal the quality of those cuts on the existing oak.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 9:47PM
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I tried posting this so hopefully it doesn't create a double entry...Really Good idea to remove spindles...The spindles are toe-nailed into the treads and rail, the nails are hidden by carpet. My plan is to use a jamb saw and cut them at the base to make clearance for the hardwood going directly on the treads - anyway. I could remove the spindles easy enough. That would make the job much easier...less masking...
Great advice, thanks

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 9:39AM
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Hello, I am wanting to redo our Golden Oak (gag) stair railing. I read on some blog to just use mixwax stain and topcoat in one. I have done the first coat but it looks really streaky. Im wanting it a walnut brown. I did lightly sand the railing first. Anyone out there try this technique? if so how did it look in the end? im afraid it will look cheap. HELP. PS im staining rail and posts.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 2:10PM
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"mixwax stain and topcoat in one"

One of the worst products on the market.

It requires constant stirring to keep the pigment suspended, but if you introduce and air bubbles during stirring it messes up the coat.

And if you wait for the bubbles to rise or dissipate the pigment settle out again.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 10:52AM
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