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DIY Refinishing Oak Stars-Part 2

Last week I told you about a brand new toy, my orbital sander, and that I intended to put it to good use refinishing the stairs in my house.  Well, today I am happy to report that the project is well underway.  When last we left this saga I had completed three hours of prep work on three of the twelve stairs needing refinishing.  I chose the flight of three stairs above the landing as my starting point thinking the landing was an appropriate separation point for the work.  I'm expecting this project to take a few (maybe several) weeks to complete.  It makes sense to divide the work into multiple parts.

Those three stairs got another hour and a half of sanding and then some dings and holes in the treads were filled with wood filler.

Not being certain about whether my prep work was sufficient, I decided to go ahead and stain just one stair as a test.  That way I could assess how the stain would take to the wood, whether the stain color would be satisfactory, and if I needed to sand some more.  I crossed my fingers, hoping I was good to go.

The stain was applied easily and evenly with a cotton rag and the color was just right.  The water-based polyurethane went on smoothly using a nylon brush.  The stain I used was Zar, #119 mocha.

I've moved on to finish the other two stairs in that section of the stairway.  They are looking very good and I am breathing a sigh of relief that I didn't start a project that was too much for me to complete.

One thing to remember about refinishing stairs is that your plan needs to allow for you and your family to access the area of your home usually accessible by the steps.  If you are staining and coating your steps with polyurethane you want to allow plenty of time for the finish to dry and cure.  In my case, the stairs lead to the bedrooms so access was critical.  I handled the challenge by refinishing every other stair.  That's why you see the "Walk Here" sign on the stair in the picture.   This approach also extended the timeline for the project,  I allowed for a week of dry time for the polyurethane on each tread.

Now I'm ready to move on to complete the main flight of nine stairs.  That is going to take me a while, but I believe I have worked out the kinks in my process.  I have learned some things in this project so far that I'd like to share with you in case you are planning a similar project.

Tips for Refinishing Projects
  • Research is important.  Talk to as many people as you can find who may have done this work before.  If you ask for advice from associates at local hardware stores, paint shops or the Home Depot be sure to ask them if they have actually done the work,or used the products and tools you are purchasing.  YouTube videos can be very helpful.  Take the time to check them out.
  • Gather your tools. Assemble all the tools you will need for the project before you get started.  You don't want to be running to the store every half-hour once you start the project.
  • Remove non-essential items.  Refinishing stairs is dirty work.  Remove household items from the area where you will be working.  There will be lots of dust.
  • Clean up as you go.  You'll want a dustpan and brush handy.  Keep a shop vac and damp cloths within arms reach as you work.
  • Pace yourself.  Plan your work schedule to give you adequate time to fully complete a step in the process and clean up each day.  Don't try to do too much at one time.  You'll only get frustrated.
  • Don't rush the prep work.  The quality of your end product is dependent on the quality of your prep work. 
I'll be busy working on those remaining stairs over the next few weeks.  Wish me luck!


  1. Great article. Really helpful to someone taking on this project. Man, what a woman! You cook and refinish floors!

    1. Allie, you flatter me...This seemed like a project I could tackle. It just takes some patience and perseverence.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I have been wanting to sand and refinish the landing step between our mud room and kitchen and you have given me the faith to start!

    1. Go for it, Quiltingranny. Take it one step at a time and don't rush it. It takes some elbow grease to do it well, but I'm sure you can do it.

  3. Donna, you are my hero! I absolutely hate my stairs and you have given me hope! What kind and color stain is that? I love it. I am running to Home Depot to buy a kit! Kathy

    1. Hi, Kathy. Thanks so much! The stain I used was Zar brand, #119 Mocha. I don't think they carry that brand at Home Depot. I bought mine at a locally owned Benjamin Moore paint store.


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