How to Refinish a Staircase for Under $50
Our staircase was sporting some pretty terrific carpeting and that special ’90s golden oak shine. As the first thing you see when you walk through our front door, it was a mega eyesore. Frugal Hound was the only one in favor as she liked digging her claws into the carpeting. Needless to say, she was overruled.
Here’s how we got from before to after for less than $50 in:
The Frugal Grand Staircase Refinishing Adventure!
Total Cost: $44.50
- Nail puller
- Nail punch
- Wood filler
- Damp rags
- Paint brushes
- Painter’s tape
Step 1: Remove the existing carpet runner.
- In our case (see what I did there?), this was vastly easier said than done. The previous owner installed said runner with approximately 1.5 million staples. Poor Frugal Husband pulled staples out for days. Literally days.
- Ways to remove staples: with a small nail puller, by punching them into the wood with a nail punch, or by levering a flathead screwdriver underneath them.
- Supplies: brute strength, nail puller, nail punch, flathead screwdriver/lever.
Step 2: Patch all holes with wood filler.
- We had a great many holes to fill. But, well worth the time to properly fill every. single. one.
- Supplies: wood filler.
Step 3: Sand entire staircase.
- Yes, this is a pain, but, it’s really important for smoothing out imperfections in the wood. Most importantly, sanding removes the top layers of poly/paint/shellac so that your finish or paint will adhere.
- We sanded by hand because we don’t own a sander. It was time-consuming, but super cheap.
- Sanding our spindles was quite a trip since they’re, well, circular. I found it easiest to wrap the sandpaper and around and sort of rub side to side.
- Supplies: sandpaper, hands, patience, This American Life podcasts.
Step 4: Wipe down staircase with damp rags and then vacuum.
- It’s critical to remove all detritus and sawdust kicked up by your sanding efforts. Otherwise you’ll be painting gunk into your final product.
- Supplies: damp rags and a vacuum. A shop vac is highly recommended, but you can get by with a regular vacuum.
Step 5: Decide which areas you want wood-colored vs. paint-colored.
- There are a shockingly large number of fiddly pieces of molding on most staircases. Decide in advance how you want your colors and finishes laid out.
- Supplies: your brain.
Step 6: Apply polyurethane to all areas you want wood-colored.
- Poly, as it is affectionately know, is pretty stinky and messy. But fear not!
- Wear latex gloves and carefully pour poly onto a rag then wipe onto your surfaces. Try not to drip and don’t glob it on–you’ll likely need more than one coat.
- We did four coats in order to even out the wood color from underneath the carpet runner (it was lighter) and blend in the 1.5 million staple holes we’d filled with wood filler.
- You’ll need to wait a few hours between coats and it’s best to open all your doors and windows for ventilation since poly is smelly.
- Supplies: polyurethane, latex gloves, rags.
Step 7: Tape around the areas you’ll be painting.
- This is optional, but, we were glad we took the time to tape because of the odd angles involved on a staircase.
- It’s not like painting a flat wall–there’s a lot more nuance here.
- Supplies: painter’s tape.
Step 8: Paint.
- We used regular ol’ brushes and white interior/exterior hi-gloss enamel acrylic paint (Behr Premium Plus Ultra Pure White #8050), which we had leftover from touching up our trim. You could use something more heavy duty, but we figured since we’re not touching the painted areas of the staircase (the treads and handrail are not painted), we’d be fine. And I can attest: so far, so good.
- Painting the spindles was, well, excruciating since they’re circular. As soon as I got paint on one side, it would migrate to the other side and glob up. I had to quickly flick my brush around in order to get it even. I ended up using a tiny watercolor brush to even out the globs.
- Be prepared to do multiple coats–we did three to get the color even throughout. It’s worth the time for an extra coat or two to ensure good coverage.
- Always have a few damp rags close at hand. If you drip paint, wipe it immediately with your rag and it won’t stain or stick.
- Supplies: paint, paintbrushes, damp rags.
Step 9: Rejoice and admire!
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