Monday, October 11, 2010

Banister Renovation

September project = Major success!

Finally, it's done. I feel like an artist who envisioned a masterpiece and made it happen. Let me show you the before and after pics along with the step by step instructions so you can get a feel for the whole process. 

This is our banister before any sanding, staining, or painting took place. It was boring brown and it made the foyer feel dark and dingy.

This was the view from the top of the stairs.

This was the view from the basement.

Step 1: Sanding, sanding, and more sanding

Big tip: Get yourself an electric sander that works well. Sand until the natural wood grain comes through like this picture below. Start with a lower grit like 180 and finish it off with 320 to make it really smooth. I did the 320 grit by hand really fast over the rough spots. The whole sanding process took hours, my hands were numb, and my boogers turned black. I wore earplugs, but didn't bother with a mask. Plan on lots of dust. If someone in your family has bad allergies, you might want to forget doing this project.

Notice the blue painters tape. You will want to tape off any areas you don't want stained. Also, don't forget to wipe down the railings to get them free of dust.
Step 2: Staining

Choose your stain depending on the color wood you want. I went with ebony. I like the rich color and I wanted it to match my entertainment center at the top of the stairs.

Apply the coats according the the directions on the can. I've heard of people who wipe on stain with a rag, but I used a paint brush because that is what the can said to do. Then after about 15 minutes (what the can said) I wiped off the excess with a clean rag (Patrick's old T-shirt).

What one coat of stain looked like.

Just an up close shot of the action.

I ended up applying two coats of stain before moving on to the next step. That is the beauty of stain, you can apply as much or as little as you want. It is pretty much idiot proof.

Step 3: Polyurethane

The beautiful work needed to be protected. Plus, it adds the shine that you're used to seeing on a banister. You can't really tell from the picture above because the stain was still wet and I think that was only one coat, but before the poly, the wood looked pretty dull.

This is the only place where I experimented and didn't follow the directions on the can. The can said to use a paintbrush, which I did at first. However, I got major bubbles in the first coat even though I tried really hard to apply it very thin. Plus, the can said to sand in between the first and second coat. I grabbed my 320 grit sandpaper and lightly sanded off the bubbles. Well, bad news, the stain came off too. The "light" sanding put major scratches in the railing. This meant I had to break out the stain again and fix the scratches. I was frustrated.

Plan B was to apply the poly using another old undershirt (thanks honey). It worked! It went on really thin, which meant I applied 4 coats, but at least I didn't have to worry about bubbles. I finally had the smooth surface I was looking for.

I had to put signs up so that the d-group guys and gals wouldn't put their hands on it.

Step 4: Priming

I got basic white oil based primer. I am a fan of oil based paints and primers for high traffic areas. We made the mistake of using latex on the trim in the rest of the house and it has chipped a lot. Many of our door frames, windowsills, and baseboards have chips. So it may be harder to clean up after, but I want it to last for the long haul. Also, you just can't skip this step and go to painting. Trust me, it doesn't work.

First coat of primer. I was beaming at this point because I could see that it was going to look how I wanted.

And it matches that entertainment center pretty well.

Finished with priming and so so so happy. This was it! Last step.

Step 5: Painting

I used white oil based paint. I used a foam paint roller for the larger areas like the wood panel across the base of the spindles and had a good quality 1 inch brush for everything else.

Now this is the view when I walk in from the garage.

Would I do this again? YES! It was worth every tedious minute. And in case you're wondering, I do plan on painting the baseboards across from the banister... I just had to draw the line somewhere for the time being. It will be a project for a different month.

Supply list:
- electric sander
- sandpaper (180 and 320 grit)
- mask and eye protection (I didn't use)
- latex gloves (for the staining process)
- stain (I used minwax ebony)
- a handful of paint stirrers
- painters tape
- clean cloth (like an old white T-shirt)
- 1 inch painters brush
- foam roller
- polyurethane
- oil based primer
- oil based paint
- paint thinner
- a lot of patience!

And there you have it! How to transform a banister in a little over a month.


  1. Love the banister!!! It looks so great. Your step-by-step is interesting and witty.

  2. Thanks Carrie. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  3. You are woman. Ahem, and when are you going to invite me over?? I want to visit my favorite Patrick and Elizabeth.

  4. Wow! Thank you! I'm so glad I found your blog.
    You've convinced me that my plans to refurbish my own banister will work!
    I had been wondering how it might look if I went ahead with my plans to have the spindles white and the rail and newels very dark stained.
    Your banister looks lovely and your pictures and narrative have been so helpful.

  5. In the process of doing the same thing at the moment. Very helpful and your banister is beautiful. The spindles are my worry although I done them before but is worked just ok. Bought a sheepskin glove last time but it is too big to work with.