3 January, 17:47

DIY Staircase Makeover with Stain and Paint

Hello peeps! I’m sure you noticed that I haven’t posted many projects lately. I am hoping to change that up this year by actually finishing the things I started in 2014. First up is my uber fabulous staircase makeover. So much work, but so much fabulousness after that I am soooo glad I did it. When we built our home back in 1996, oak was the big thing. And we used a ton of it. Like everywhere. For reals. Ten years later, I felt like I was drowning in oak. I painted our cabinets, got rid of our oak furniture, and had our oak floor replaced. I wanted to re-stain our oak banister, but I was dreading it because I knew it would be a ton of work. When we decided to replace our upstairs carpet, I knew it was time. Luckily I saw a post from my friend Brooke on a fabulous DIY Staircase Makeover. She recommended General Finishes stain, and oh my gosh do I love that stuff now! It made this project much more doable!

Brook outlined all the steps she went through, so you should check out her post. I had to do a few things differently because where her spindles were already white, I had to paint mine. So I’m sharing some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

DIY Staircase Makeover with Stain and Paint
Supplies: (contains affiliate links)
-Fine grit sandpaper/ sanding sponges (I used 150 and 220 grit)
–Tack Cloth
–Painters Tape
-Latex gloves (several pairs)
–General Finishes Java Gel Stain
–General Finishes Gel Topcoat
-Old t-shirts, rags, or socks
-A few cheap paintbrushes for stain
-White paint (I used Behr paint and primer in one)
-High quality brush for paint (I love Purdy Brushes)


-First you want to sand the entire banister. You don’t have to take off all the finish, but you want to remove any glossy parts, or places where the finish is thick. You want the new stain to be able to get into the wood.

-After you are finished sanding, you need to wipe off ALL of the dust. I like to suck it up with a vacuum first, then use tack cloth to get every particle of dust. That stuff works like a charm!

You are going to stain first, so you need to tape off everything you don’t want to get stain on.

Now it’s time to apply the General Finishes Java Gel Stain. You are going to want to wear gloves, trust me! I started out using just old t-shirts, but I was having a hard time getting stain into all those cracks and crevices. I started using cheap paintbrushes I had on hand, and it went much faster!! Just use the tip of the brush to get the stain into the cracks, then use the old shirt to wipe the excess into the wood around the crack. Saved me so much time!! Make sure you get the really cheap ones so you can just throw them away when you are done.

I am not going to lie, this process takes forever. I did three coats on mine. After the first coat it looks pretty crappy, but don’t get discouraged. It takes at least two coats to get good coverage. And remember that this is stain, not paint. You do not want to glop it on. Make sure you wipe off the excess as you are going, before it has a chance to dry!

After your final coat of stain is dry, it’s time to apply the topcoat. I did two coats on most of the areas, but three coats on the top of the railing that I knew would get more wear. Again, this process takes a long time because you have to wait for each coat to dry.

I want to point out that even though I taped off my spindles, they still got stain on them. But I didn’t worry too much, because I know I would be priming and painting them. This is what it looked like when I was done staining but hadn’t painted yet.

OK, now you’re ready to paint the spindles. You want to cover all the parts that you have just stained. It’s harder to get paint off of stain than the other way around. I wrapped my newel posts with plastic wrap.

There was a lot of wood to cover, so I used tape around the spindles and all the places where the stain and white parts would touch. For everything else (like the stair treads), I taped paper over them. Because you are working in such tight quarters, it’s best to cover everything so you don’t get any splatters. I did two coats of primer and two coats of white paint.

After many, many, many hours of work (and stiff shoulders), you will have a gorgeous new banister!! This is the most time consuming DIY project I have ever tackled, but the results are so amazing. The whole space looks so much richer and more beautiful. I love the contrast of the dark and white, but you could just stain everything. That would be faster. But I think the two-tone is worth it!

Here are a few before and after shots:


I totally adore the contrast between the dark wood and the white spindles. And I am so happy to be rid of that ugly worn oak!

This photo was taken before we replaced the carpet, but I’m sharing it anyway.

I could not be more thrilled with the results!!

Here are the supplies I used to stain my banister