I promised it would happen this weekend, and it finally, finally has (well, 98% of it has, but I really couldn't justify another trip to Home Depot this weekend). The stairs are complete!
Just in case you've totally forgotten what they looked like before (it's been a long 4.5 weeks, after all), here's a before/after shot.
And, because this project was way, way too intensive not to brag on some more, here are more angles.
Now this is not a how-to blog post, mostly because I don't feel like enough of an expert in anything that I did to instruct others in the process. I will, however, share my order of operations, the challenges I ran into, and how I chose to deal with them. So, without further ado, the staircase makeover process.
Step One: Remove the Carpet
This step took a lot of time for me. I wrote a post about it here. At any rate, this is pretty much a prerequisite for moving forward.
Step Two: Prepare the Staircase
In my case, preparing the staircase meant sanding the treads (finding more staples), and taping the bases of the spindles on the lower stairs, and the wall on the upper stairs, so that the treads could be stained. I did not sand the risers, as I was planning to cover them up (and I hate sanding).
Step Three: Stain the Treads (Also known as "Abandon the master bedroom to the cats for almost a week total" or "Find more staples")
Full disclosure: I've never stained anything before. But, I read a lot of blog posts on staining, and I felt like the worst case scenario was more sanding (which is a pretty bad scenario, but one that I was capable of working through). I followed the wise suggestion of staining every other stair, using Minwax Polyshades in Mission Oak. I used a natural bristle brush to paint the stain on, and then a rag to wipe it off. It looked great after the first coat. I did another coat the next night just to be safe, and was very pleased with the color, which matches our dining table nicely.
With the first set of steps, I also used a wood filler in between the first and second coat of stain. Several of our stairs had a crack that ran the length of the tread (presumably to allow some flex and prevent the tread from breaking). I wasn't really a fan of how this came out (though I probably didn't sand enough), so I didn't do it after the first two steps, preferring instead to leave the cracks.
I then moved on to staining the remaining steps (nights 3 and 4 of the staining process). For some reason, two coats didn't go on as dark for these steps (see picture: the ones with the blue tape in the middle were done first), so I did a third coat. Not really sure what the difference was, but I will say that it is massively humid in NC, so that could have had something to do with it.
Step Four: Stain the Banister
This was also a process that took more time than I thought that it might (is anyone sensing a theme here?). Knowing already that I really dislike sanding, I opted to use Minwax Gel Stain in Hickory.
So, gel stain is supposed to work by drying on top of a lightly sanded (but not completely bare) wood surface. It is not a penetrating stain, and in fact is roughly the consistency of chocolate pudding. Essentially, you paint on a thick coat, wait the specified time, and rub it off. First coat? Awesome. Seemed to work well, and the banister did get darker, but not nearly dark enough to match the treads. I put on another coat, and rubbed it off. This time, I managed to not only rub off the new stain, but also the previous stain (my guess is that I didn't wait long enough between coats, and it wasn't fully dry - see NC humidity).
What I ended up doing was painting on another thick coat (in sections), waiting about twice the recommended amount of time, and dabbing, rather than rubbing, the stain off. As a result, I did get some color variation, which I like, but I did lose a bit of the wood grain, because the stain was still kinda thick. Having never worked with this before, I was more or less just trying to figure out what worked, and that seemed to. It ended up taking ~3 coats, plus touch-up.
Step Five: Installing the Beadboard
The beadboard risers are actually one of my favorite parts of this reveal (which is not to say that they didn't come with their own set of frustrations). My original plan was to use beadboard wallpaper (disclaimer: I've never wallpapered anything either). So I bought a roll from the Home Depot, measured the risers, and got to it.
Initially, I was super thrilled with the wallpaper. It went on really easily, the texture was perfect, and it didn't require me to have a table saw. Unfortunately, while it went on well, 12-24 hours later, I discovered that the wallpaper on many of the risers had bubbled pretty badly. So I ripped off the wallpaper and started again. Same problem. My dad has suggested that it's possible that the untreated wood absorbed the water/glue/paste stuff too quickly, and did not allow the paper to properly adhere. Seems possible to me.
So, back to Home Depot I went, where I purchased three sheets of 3'x4' beadboard, which Home Depot was kind enough to cut for me. I then trimmed the pieces using a jig saw, and caulked the bottom seam between the risers and the treads. The downside of the beadboard was that it was more expensive, and I needed the wallpaper anyway, for the special case stair (foreshadowing, right there). The upside was that it was super easy to install, and now I have a nail gun!! Yay!!
Step Six: The Spindles and Trim
Even if our spindles/trim had already been bright white, they would have gotten painted. I say this because at some point over the course of the house's life, a small child ran up and down the stairs, dragging different coloring instruments. Black, blue, and red marks weren't really what I was going for. Two coats of bright white semi-gloss solved that problem. I opted to caulk the seam between the spindles and the stair treads, and then the trim, spindles, and beadboard risers were all painted bright white. My only suggestion here is to use lots of painters tape. It takes super long, but the clean lines look great!
Step Seven: Adding the Trim
I was surprised, but I thought that this part was going to be wildly worse than it was. I wanted the treads to seem a little more substantial, so I bought some 3/4" cove moulding. It came unstained, so I did two coats of the polyshades in hickory.
Cutting the moulding was pretty easy using my mitre box, and did I mention that I now have a nail gun? Truly, I buy me the best presents. The moulding had the added benefit of covering the top seam, between the top of the beadboard and the bottom of the tread - so no caulking necessary there!
Barring touch-ups, and the special stair, this is really kinda the end of the process. It's a doozy, but your staircase looks totally awesome!! Maybe like this!
Step Seven-Point-Five: The Special Stair
So, I do feel like this is worth mentioning, because it was a major pain to think through. As you can see from the picture above, our bottom stair is rounded and fancy. This wasn't the problem. It was also finished, and I planned to make the beadboard wallpaper work. Surprisingly enough, it did.
No, the problem here was that removing the carpet revealed a GIANT cut down the center of the stair, which continued to the riser below. Clearly, our builders (of the many, many staples), knew about this, and they covered it up with A LOT of caulk/wood filler. It looked awful, and was clearly not going to stain well.
My solution was to buy (from a different Home Depot) a sheet of iron-on wood veneer to cover the majority of the tread (the entire area between the spindles). The beadboard wallpaper would then cover the mystery cut in the riser. This has worked surprisingly well. The edges of that stair were stained using the gel stain, because they were finished, and the veneer was stained using the polyshades, because it was unfinished. I'll probably do a third layer of the polyshades, just because I'm a little worried that it's not as tough as the other stairs (and isn't quite as glossy). Overall, this strategy seems to be working well.
All that's left to do is buy and stain a piece of trim for where the bottom riser meets the tile. That said, I'm more or less calling this project complete!!
Let me know if you have any questions! I'm so happy with how everything turned out, and I'd love to hear if others have had similar experiences!