How hard is it to stain stairs

nadlapJune 27, 2006

I ordered dark wood flooring for my home, but the stairs are standard oak tone. The builder is charging me a fortune to stain the stairs (banister and all) to match the floors. Is this something I should consider tackling on my own? People tell me I'm crazy to consider it.

Perhaps if I hire my own professional to do the job, it may be less expensive.

Would love to hear your stories and suggestions.

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Well, not too hard. Just time consuming. I painted my basement stairs last summer. It just took time. I had to paint up so not so easy. I can't imagine paying someone to stain anything...but then we do most of our work ourselves.
Karen L

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 4:55PM
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It's not necessilarily hard but rather time consuming with lots of time on your knees. Your basically going to have to remove the old finish (or at least most of it) and start from scratch.

If you're building is using pre-finished materials you'd be hard pressed to achieve the type of finish you can obtain in a factory under ideal conditions too.


    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 6:43PM
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Not sure if this is relevant to your situation but we just had the floors in our house restained including the stairs. Turns out the stairs are pine whereas the floors are red oak. There is nothing that can be done to match them completely so we are going to carpet the stairs instead. Not a big deal but we have to deal with the floor guy who still wants to charge us for finishing the stairs even though he admits we shouldn't have finished them in the first place because they were pine. I think we will prevail but it has been a waste of time and perhaps money.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2006 at 3:13PM
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I am in the process of staining my stairs right now. I agree with the others that it is time consuming. My advice to you is go with the grain, and take your time. If your stairs lead to your foyer, like mine, you want them to look great.

Try to minimize traffic until after you have put the plyurethane(sp??) on them. You don't want them to get soiled. I am lucky to have a split staircase.

If you are an avid do-it-yourself-er, then you will enjoy this process. After you're done you will have the satifaction in knowing you did it yourself, and the extra money in youR pocket will feel good too. HAVE FUN!!

    Bookmark   July 12, 2006 at 5:07PM
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Your floor guy needs to be paid regardless of the outcome. You asked for the work to be done. Unless there is some kind of big misunderstanding, I believe you are obligated to pay for the work done.


If your staircase is new, then staining and finishing it will be relatively easy, although as others have will take time and patience. Test test test before you actually put stain to the staircase! It will preview what you can expect with your chosen stain/finish system.

Even if the staircase is new, you still will have to do 'preparation' before staining. You need to remove any pencil lines, machine marks and soil marks by lightly sanding the entire thing.

Try a 'water popping' technique on samples to see if you'd like the results. Wipe the sample with water and let it dry thoroughly...then apply the stain. This usually results in a more general overall staining of the wood...rather than just staining the open grain. Also, end grain will stain much darker that any other parts of the expect that. End grain is usually found on turned wood stairparts (newell posts, balusters, end caps). If you've never done water popping, then maybe that isn't for you.

Good luck with the thing.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2006 at 11:46PM
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I'm working on it right now. It's INSANELY difficult. It's also insanely messy, and exhausting. I'm a pretty handy do-it-yourselfer and I will never, ever do something like this again.

Pay the man.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 5:07PM
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You seem to be doing a good job and you're wearing repiratory protection (a very good thing). Now you know why some floor people won't even bother quoting stairwork.

I do stairwork, but I charge what it is worth. Some pay...and some I never hear from again. Can't do 'em all!

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 10:26PM
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The floor guy will definitely get paid. We have used him in two houses and a rental unit and we have a good relationship. The situation is that no one thinks that the floors should have been stained once it was discovered that they were pine. The installer didn't communicate with us or our "floor guy" that they were pine until after he had stained them. So, now that we have stained pine floors, our floor guy and the President of the company all agree that we should have been contacted as soon as it was determined that they were pine (after the carpet came up but before the stain went down.) We will pay for the carpet of course but everyone seems to be in agreement including our floor guy that we shouldn't have to pay for the work twice (staining and then carpeting.) Doesn't that make sense?

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 11:55AM
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nadlap __ I think you should carpet your stairs and paint your bannister. Much more likely to get a better result -- in the long run.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2006 at 1:06AM
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One thing I didn't see mentioned yet (unless I missed it) is differences in wood type. All woods do not take stain alike. The new darker wood floors you ordered, are they oak as well? And the same kind of oak (white or red)? If you're new floor is not oak, yet your stairs are, the grain/pore differences will show and you might not be so pleased with the resulting "match". Or even if you've got two different types of oak (white oak and red oak) a stain will take differently because of the cellular structure of the wood. The darker the stain applied to oak, it emphasizes the already pronounced wood grain and large pores. Those areas suck up the stain and hold it and are more pronounced than adjacent areas. Conversely, maple for instance, is a dense wood with a closed grain, doesn't take stain as readily as oak, nor does it have the pronounced grain. A piece of oak and a piece of maple side by side with the same exact stain applied will appear different. It's possible, however, and depending on how dark your new floors are, to get two different stain colors for two different woods to come closer in color to each other. But the grain will still come into play. A good paint or better yet woodworking store can help you with tweaking stain tints for differing woods so they come out more similar in color.

So if you're talking two different types of wood, the differing end result may or may not end up being a factor that's important to you. Here's an illustration of differing wood grains, click on each for a description of grain, etc., for exotics scroll down a bit. It's personal taste, some appreciate different "flavors" of wood, some feel it's too much. Then there oil-based vs. water based products (water-based will raise some wood grains) and some finishes "amber" while others do not. Not necessarily insurmountable issues, just ones that need some research done. (The woodworking forum here is a good place to get into the nitty gritty details if you tackle the job ;)

Otherwise, like everyone has said, it's do-able, but will be messy and time consuming, especially if you've never finished/refinished wood before. (If that's the case, I'd strongly encourage you to practice on a cheapie table you can strip and refinish, or even some oak lumber if your stairs are new, to get a feel for it. The last thing you want is your stair case being a learning tool. ;)

An alternative would be to paint. There's a member over in Home Decorating who painted her stairwell and many members find it very appealing. We call her "boo" for short, hers is the 3rd post down and has pics, here. She's really nice, so if painting route fits your scheme and/or appeals to you, I've no doubt she'd be quite happy to share details with you. (She did post details for others I believe, who were interested, but I can't find that particular post, it might have dropped off the search list.)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2006 at 9:27AM
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hi. staining is difficult when you are trying to match the color. different woods catch colors differently and it's very frustrating. why don't you paint the stairs instead? with the dark wood floor, painting the stairs white would look awesome. you can then do a runner of carpet down the center (restorers catalog, etc. have runners just for this purpose), leaving the white stair edges exposed. it's a timless, classic look. or, you can paint the stairs another color and let them take on a distressed look. stenciling the backs of the steps could look cool, too, depending on your style. i've seen quite a bit of that look in the decorating magazines lately. :o)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2006 at 4:29PM
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Ok... call me freaky but what is the big deal if the stairs are a shade or two off?... I have a big old farm house and maybe it's age and style just support the look but I just don't see it as a big deal. Our floors are..uhhhh "old" color... thousands of feet over a 100 years of walking.. some of my treads have dips in the middle since they have been worn down from foot traffic... so the least of my issues is a few shades of difference. When the get worn down I just just clean them real good, rub on some new finish and then some poly... all good for another 5ish years !


    Bookmark   August 20, 2006 at 8:53PM
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Can;t you just rip up the old carpet and put in prefinsihed flooring?

    Bookmark   October 15, 2007 at 8:56PM
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I am in exactly the same situation - builder wanted thousands to stain stairs, so we consider DIY.

I can't figure out whether we need sanding sealer or not?
And how exactly should we go with matching the colour to pre-finished oak floor..? I will see if I can find a woodworking store in the area as per the suggestion up thread. The only one comes to mind is Lee Valley, but I am not sure how much they can help, they seem to be more of a catalogue order type and don't seem to have very knowledgeable staff, may be I am wrong.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2007 at 9:15AM
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So after two years it has been decided to change the color of our red oak stair treads and handrails. Originally done in Polyurethane, the oak has the golden tone to it. A very dark ebony (black) or tudor is the choice this time around.

So, do I try to stain on top of sanded wood, followed by a Poly coat, or use a Polyshades in the color of choice. I'm actually even considering painting the wood but I am concerned over wear. I take it an oil based paint topped with a Poly product would be the way to go there???

Damn these home decorating magazines and HGTV......

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 9:16AM
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The problem with finishing stairs is that they are closer to the eye as you walk up them than the floor and you can see any errors/defects/mistakes.

It is painfully close to trying to finish a large piece of furniture, with all the work that requires.

I prefer aniline dye and clear top coats.
This allows for matching of at least the overall tone easily to other colors.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 1:24PM
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