Staining versus Painting Stairs and Refinishing

I'm sharing my thoughts on a project I completed in Silver Spring, Maryland in restoring a stairway leading into the basement. The homeowner had stated they wanted to paint the treads black and install risers to be painted with white semi gloss finish. They had already purchased two gallons of Sherwin Williams tricorn Semi-gloss paint (waste of money) before getting an opinion of a professional painter. Tricorn is a color in the deep tone family of black. I explained to them by applying paint to wood that they would be covering up the true beauty of wood grain that exists underneath.

Well upon further inspection of the stairway - I recommended that they restore the stairs by refinishing them and applying ebony stain. The stairs were in good condition besides the heavy buildup of paint applied throughout the years. The wood grain was somewhat visible and I knew it would be a hassle to refinish but explained to them the end result would be well worth the money and time. I had told them if I were to paint them with black semi gloss paint - it's almost if they were putting lipstick on a pig, Lol. So they agreed with my decision to sand stairs, treat wood and apply ebony stain.

So first thing we did was to start sanding using 80 grit sandpaper. Most Diy'ers will make the mistake of using 40 or 60 grit which will severely scratch the wood surface beyond repair. Yes, this will remove the paint efficiently but will embed deep scratch swirls in the wood grain which are noticeable even when applying ebony stain which is very dark. Another common mistake is using harsh paint strippers which are rather difficult to work with. It's very messy, hard to contain, and you may end up stripping other areas that you wish not to such as your floor. So the key is patience and multiple passes with 80 grit wood sandpaper will do the trick.

Once surface is sanded and wood grain starts to appear, then you will need to clean surface with odorless mineral spirits to remove all dust particles. When wood surface is clean of dust, then you will apply wood conditioner. Wood conditioner prepares the wood grains for stain and prevents blotching. Blotching is when wood takes stain unevenly leaving a really not so pleasant look to the finish. To prevent blotching use higher grits of sand paper like I mention earlier such as 80, 100, 120 grit for stripping. Apply wood or pre-stain conditioner with a soft bristled brush or lint free cotton cloth. I would say wait about an hour before applying final coat of stain. When applying stain, apply lightly until you get your desired look. Remember patience is key and if you follow these steps your outcome should look like these photos. Good Luck on your next staining project and if you need help or advice - feel free to message us through our website at mwpainters.net.