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Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

Posted by ajsmama (My Page) on
Thu, Aug 6, 09 at 8:13

I threw too many things out on old thread about newels, and got OT carrying on a conversation with justgotabeme (Becky, go back and read that since I asked about DS).

Here is the dilemma. I have (radiata) pine trim and doors stained Hoeny Maple. Brazilian Cherry DR floor. Oak treads on stairs open to DR and foyer. Golden oak DR furniture (and kitchen cabinets). But the stringer and risers are Southern yellow pine. I did finish the exposed DR side of the stringer, and the bottom riser, before the DR floor was installed - they're very light (don't remember if I even tried to stain them or just poly'd). Boiled linseed oil and beeswax on the treads - that did not turn out to hold up well to traffic so I'll have to try to strip it off and poly or Waterlox them some time when I can keep people off for a week (like right b4 vacation at Tgiving?). I'm also concerned that going darker on treads will make the gouges the builder put in look worse - or will they blend better? They got darker when I waxed them, I sanded them as much as I dared (you can see one on the right hand edge of the tread under the Honey Maple boards I propped against the riser here - the top of the tread is worse than the edge).

Honey Maple gel on radiata pine propped up

So, we're finally installing a railing and newel posts - red oak. How should I (re)finish the risers and treads, and should I go with contrasting stain (reddish brown cherry to match floor?) on the rail and newels? Should the rosettes match the treads or the rail (assuming they end up different colors)? Is it OK to leave the risers/stringers lighter to match the honey pine baseboard, and go darker with the oak pieces?

My real big worry is that I will stain the railing and newels dark to match the BC floor, and then never be able to get the treads to match, and end up with 3 wood tones on the stairs. I think 2-tone may look OK, but not 3. I'm not sure I could get the pine risers to stain as dark (without looking blotchy and muddy) as the floor. So, do I take the easy way out and just leave the pine natural (or Honey Maple stain) and the oak natural (Natural stain on red oak)?

Stairs now - waxed oak treads, unstained pine risers/stringer, 1 coat of natural stain on oak railing and rosettes (ignore the block of cedar supporting the bottom return and the unstained oak rail return butting into it - 13 ft of stained oak wasn't long enough, had to add a small piece)

overall stairs

Closeup of "finished" (clear satin poly, I can't remember if I tried Honey Maple stain here) stringer on DR side


"Finished" bottom riser (with shoe that really didn't take stain - I did put 2 coats of gel stain on it! Didn't take and it blends into the riser, so I guess I never stained the riser)

bottom riser clear poly vs 1 yr old floor

Here's what it *might* look like if the yellow pine takes the stain like the radiata pine did

Honey Maple gel on radiata pine propped up

Here is a section of oak rail stained with cherry stain - think I got the floor color (or will after poly/varnish)!

1 coat Cherrywood on oak vs clear pine riser and BC floor

1 coat Cherrywood on oak vs BC floor

Our newels

right newel - foyer view

Dark rail simulating newel on waxed tread (ignore end grain on stringer - we will cover with molding stained the Honey color)

2 coats Cherrywood vs waxed tread

Cherry stain rail vs Natural stain rail

2 coats cherry vs natural oak

Dark rail against wall color (really, it's Sage! not blue) and natural stained rosette

2 coats cherry with wall and Natural oak rosette

DR furniture




Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

I would forget about any darker contrasting stain, even if it's very close to your floor ; I would try and get that natural look in a uniform way, there will be light variations anyway because of the different species of wood.

Overall, the look will be light and pleasant; so yes, in answer to your question

"do I take the easy way out and just leave the pine natural (or Honey Maple stain) and the oak natural (Natural stain on red oak)?"

my vote would be to take the easy way. I see pink tones and yellow tones
in your woods, but overall , it will work, imo.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

I think you should stay with a light honey oak color stain. You have two different oak wood species and pine on that staircase. Oak tends to take stain evenly, but the grain will really pop out with a darker stain. Pine tends to grab a darker stain and get really dark. I don't know how red oak vs. white oak will stain, but I'm guessing the red oak is a darker toned wood.

Unless you go very very dark, you could end up with a mish mash of colors and stripping stain off of pine is next to impossible to ever get it all the way back to natural. You'd have to basically sand it down.

I'd keep it light as that is what you have throughout the house. Let your floors be the accent wood tone. Get a nice carpet runner and that can be your staircase focal point.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

Thanks - I like "the easy way" LOL.

caroleoh - the rail is red oak stained Natural penetrating stain. Do you think the treads are white oak? They turned more yellow with the BLO and beeswax, but I still think the railing I have up right now is a pretty close match to the treads and rosettes (I'm guessing those are red oak too). The newels are red oak.

The dark stain on the cracked end of the spare railing stock is 2 coats of Cherrywood gel stain. I really don't want to do gel stain on the treads since I don't think it will wear well.

I do like the light (honey) pine throughout the house - really don't want to get into trying to stain it dark. It didn't work on the spare cove I had.

1 coat Cherrywood on pine cove

I'll think about a runner - I feel it may be dangerous, and too fancy for our famrhouse. At first I hated that the treads (esp the one we're putting newels on) got damaged during construction and builder wouldn't even sand it for me, much less replace. My cousin doesn't even want to replace it, b/c he thinks it's glued down and would mess up the riser. So now I'm trying to think of it as "patina" and "adding character" to my new (but trying to be old?) farmhouse.

The vanity in the PR right by the stairs already is aged - just have to get supply lines in the wall (just a drain now) and a sink dropped into it. So maybe my scarred stairs go well with that? Tile may be too fancy, but if any more comes loose I'm replacing it all anyway!

bowl on washstand

washstand front

Chair I'm thinking of putting by stairs (at least til I can find a bench)

front of chair

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.


I agree to leave it natural. I think whatever you do, the rosettes should match the railing. (Yeah I know, this is coming from the girl who has a white rosette on the wall. I'm changing it! :) ) Just remember staining darker will show more dust too. This is something I keep reminding myself with my stairs. I'm ok with the idea now.. If you could get the cherry stain to match exact I think it would look good but I'd be too chicken to chance it. Very pretty floors btw. I think the natural look will also work nice since you have the wood trim throughout your house. I do think a runner would look nice but also like it the way it is.
I like your PR vanity. Is the chair going to sit beside the stairs at the bottom?

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

I never thought about dark treads showing more dust - these stairs seem to get so dusty (bunnies!) and hairy (DD and I both shed) anyway! Of course the rail would always be "polished" from everyone running their hands down it - it's only been up a couple weeks and I have to keep reminding DD that the bottom rosette isn't really secured (no stud there, waiting to put in toggle bolt when we finish it and reinstall it for good). So the only thing really holding the bottom return of the rail in is one screw into that block of cedar!

Thanks - I wish I had a nicer vanity, but my mom gave this one to me for DD's room when she was a baby, so I can't really look a gift horse in the mouth - why spend $300 on a particleboard vanity (or on another oak washstand on CL) when I already have this one and Mom doesn't want it back? I'm hoping we can drill out the rose bowl for a vessel sink, but I have to find a drain that doesn't need to be recessed, can go on flat bottom of bowl. I already bought the faucet years ago, I'd have to sell that one on CL and buy a taller one if we use the vessel too. But the washstand is low, so vessel may be the best kind of sink. I also have an old (rustic) oak framed mirror to hang on the wall over the towel bar if that doesn't look too strange. Then I have to figure out sconces (one on each side wall, not the back wall next to mirror - room is only 37"x 76").

And yes, the chair is going to sit on the tile next to the stairs (coat closet wall), though I'm looking for a bench to put there instead - love teacat's bench next to her front door, if I could find a short (44" or less) bench with a high back like that in oak it would be great.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

Would you consider painting the stair riser and the stringer white and leaving the oak tread stained as it is? Then you could handle a darker railing.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

ajsmama, I agree, I'd keep it the way it is. I really don't see what you are so worried about, but then seeing things in person can be a different story. In the photos it looks fine.
As for the wash chest being a vanity I think it will work awesome. I hope you can find a way for the bowl to work too. It's so pretty. As for a mirror and lighting, I'd get a swing arm mirror and a cute pink chandelier. I just can't see any style of mirror working over the towel rod and your little girl seeing herself in it. And a swing arm mirror would fit the era you're aiming at too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pink chandelier

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

Thanks everyone - I'll leave everything natural (stain that last bit of rail he had to cut from another piece). That way it will all be light, and the stringer will match the baseboard. Plus I don't risk the risers getting blotchy. I just had been wondering if I should make the newels and rail/rosettes darker to go with the floor but now I think not. Cousin didn't make it this week, he won't even be able to fit the newels til the 17th, and doesn't want me staining them til then so this will end up being a few more weeks with the "temporary" cedar newel.

I'll start a new thread about decorating PR when I'm ready to start that. Right now it's just painted the same color as the hall and DR, have 2 electrical boxes for sconces, 1 is about the GFI in the pic and the other is opposite. I didn't want sconces or light bar on back wall b/c I didn't know what I was getting for a mirror but my mom gave me this old oak one that used to hang in her FR so I figured I'd use it in there. Fan/light combo in ceiling, so afraid no chandy, but I do have an open-box ORB bath fan/light I could put in there - I bought 3, was able to return the other 2 unopened when builder told me I couldn't replace his fans w/o tearing out ceiling b/c he put firecaulk epoxy around the boxes. The light kit alone won't fit (I was going to put them in master bath, also had a different one for main bath), I already tried, but maybe I can remove the whole fan and just leave the box - plus I don't think the PR has firecaulk in it, just the upstairs baths. The PR is really noisy anyway.

DD won't be able to see herself in the mirror - that's why we got the pivoting mirrors for upstairs. If we get a vessel sink she'll need a stool, too, but I think that might be easier than dropping a sink into the low vanity and making the adults bend over to wash their hands. Right now we just use sanitizer in the PR.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

I agree with you on the vessel sink even though your daughter will need a step stool for now. She'll grow out that need before you know it.
I'm happy for you that you'll be leaving the stairs as is. they look perfect to me. Maybe not the way you envisioned them though. I know I'll be going through the same thing, most likely later this fall when we start working on our stairs. Not sure I'm looking forward to that.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

Definitely not the way I pictured the stairs before we built the house. I had told the builder I wanted a bullnose and a volute like in his house, b/c I didn't want a post-to-post balustrade that DS could hang a backpack on (he loosened the newel in old house and he was only in 4th grade when we moved!) or that DD could swing from. Now the newels will be up against the walls, but if we ever continue down the last 3 stairs, the newel on the end will end up being one he could hang stuff on (though hopefully not if we only have it on DR side), and I already am telling DD not to hang on the railing!

Hope you find something really cool at salvage like sandyponder did for your stairs - be sure to post pics!

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

OH that would be awesome if we did. I'd have to talk hubby into it though. But then if I show him sandyponder's pictures it might be easier!

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

OK, finally took some pics of the stringer and transition to baseboard in hall at top of stairs - think this will work?

Lovely gap - over 1" from wall to edge of stringer
gap at top of stringer

Colonial "stop" molding (not thick enough so have to lay flat instead of laying it against wall - my cousin was going to finish off the end with a mitred return, just tape holding it right now)

colonial stop on top of stringer

But that still leaves the problem of transitioning to the thinner, lower baseboard, and a gap b/t the stringer and the wall

problem are transition to stringer

So I'm thinking of running the stop molding vertically as well - he'll just have to figure out the angle to join the 2 pieces of stop (and of course cut the baseboard so it fits snugly against it).

vertical stop transition to baseboard

Either that, or just do the mitred return and then put a block in between like crazyhouse6 did?


Which do you think will look better? I want to run the stop vertically at the bottom of the stringer too, to hide the end grain and cover the awkward chipped corner bead on the drywall where it meets the stringer just to the side of the newels (and not do the molding where DH is holding it here, just run the oak board to "box" in the bottom of the newel higher than the stringer), so would it be best to do the same treatment top and bottom?

right newel - molding to top of stringer?

Sorry, I can get DH to hold the newel and take some better pics of the bottom tonight while I hold the stop over the end grain.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

Bump - I have to decide how to transition the stringers to baseboard at top and newels at bottom by Monday (or this w/e if I am going to pick up the material before Monday when my cousin-carpenter comes to fit the newels). Opinions? Thanks

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

Bump again

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

ajsmama, I wish I could help you but I never built a home and this is the first time I even started to consider different woods in the last year when I was looking at a floor. I think the stairs look nice the way they are and would also look nice stained.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

"he'll just have to figure out the angle"

great idea, your woodworker should be able to custom fit an angled piece to transition nicely ; it's hard to go from thick to very thin, you really can't make it look intentional, since it's not.

RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

So mitch, do you like the idea of running the stop vertically to hide the end grain (and gap) at top and bottom, as well as along the length?

Or would something like the block that crazyhouse6 used look better at the top, if I do that what (if anything, since it's just end grain not a gap) should we do at the bottom next to the newels?


RE: Starting a new thread just about stain on stairs.

There's such a big difference in thickness, I don't think one will look better than the other, your objective is just to finish it neatly.

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