stair renovation

Snowmageddon stair renovation

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As soon as the afternoon of impending snow doom approached, I raced to Home Depot – even before the grocery store. The thought of being cooped up inside for days with over a foot of snow forced me to plan a big project to keep up productivity. Our basement flooded about two months ago and we put engineered hardwood in the basement but I didn’t like the thought of spending an additional $2,000 just to have the stairs done. Convinced that I could make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, I figured I could strip, sand, and refinish the stairs well enough so that we could put a runner and leave the outside four inches on either side exposed. I’d put the redo off until the floors were finished and the furniture had been delivered- not to mention some uninterrupted time to work.

Tearing off the carpet was pretty quick. Carpet is usually laid in two stair increments, but our full stairs were laid in two very long, heavy, sharp pieces. I removed the carpet, padding, tack strips, and all nails and staples in about an hour.

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After removing everything I was disappointed to see that is wasn’t just the offspray of trim paint underneath, and in my move in renovation haste I’d forgotten that the previous owners had painted the stairs with thick gray paint. I used Citristrip paint stripper that is better for indoor use, has less fumes, and works in about 30 minutes. It’s about $20 for the large size and I used half of the container for the full flight of stairs. When stripping the stairs I worked on every other stair to allow a clean stair to walk on. Paint stripper makes the surface pretty gummy and messy so wear shoes that the sole can get dirty.

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The stripper took of all of the white and some gray, leaving me no choice but to sand with a palm sander using 50 and 60 grit sandpaper. I did feel foolish when my dad said be careful not to tear off too much of the stair with such a coarse grit, but believe it or not the paint was on there so thick I went through multiple packs of sandpaper before it was ground off and ready for stain.

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At this point, mid – project, I start feeling sorry for myself, overwhelmed, and thinking the project will never finish and what mind was I in to undertake such a preposterous task that was far above my skill level. I photograph the various maladies I’ve incurred under said project and the disheveled state of tools and supplies.

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Then I turn the corner and things start looking up. The paint was sufficiently stripped, color tests commenced, and the tops were stained gunstock. It is redder than I would have liked but finished is more prized.

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I stained the tops before working on the risers because it is easier to cover stain that bleeds to the edge with paint than to try to control watery stain in reverse. I taped the edge and used a $2 quart of custom mix-oops paint-that I will never know the real color of-but liked it well enough anyway. I applied two coats in close succession because flat dries quick and nicely.

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A couple of hours later, I finished by cutting in around the trim work with white semi gloss – also taping the stairs with two long strips of frog tape from top to bottom of the stair case to prevent any bleeding into the stained top or cream painted riser. I pull off the tape before things are fully dried from bad experiences with the old style masking tape, but Frog Tape is worth its weight in gold and fully deserves to be sold and stored in it’s own little clam shell jewelry box like splendor. The stuff is magic. Here’s a close up of just how perfect I’m talking. Crisp lines that do not hint at the grossness that was hiding underneath the carpet only days before. Remember- builder’s grade pine stairs refinished in about five work sessions (the first two pretty long and rough).

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Current status is one coat of polyurethane on the stair tops and I think I’ll leave it at that. I have an aerial view of after since I’m stuck at the top with no way downstairs. I’m so pleased with it I think I will forgo the runner until I get my next inkling for change or there is snow in the forecast. Cost break down- $2000 for solid hardwood – OR – redoing my pine stairs myself – $6 sandpaper, $20 stripper, $2 cream paint, $6 Frog Tape, $5 stain, $10 polyurethane – job done with my own two blistered hands – always priceless.

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