This is Part II of our staircase makeover!

I put a lot of work into removing old carpet from our stairs, and preparing and sanding the stairs, risers, and stringers.

Read DIY Staircase Makeover Part I: Removing Old Carpet

And DIY Staircase Makeover Part III: Painting the Stairs

The next step was to work on the railings. This was a very tedious job. We hated the old, dark stain, and the railings were also in rough shape. The wood was scratched, dented, and worn, and the previous owners had Great Danes that you could tell had scratched everything up.

All of this project had to be done in stages, since we need to use our stairs to get upstairs to our bedrooms. We have two kids and two cats, so I couldn’t just remove major portions of the railings.

Tools needed:

~ a mask (for during sanding and painting)
~ screwdriver
~ sander and sandpaper
~ scraper (I used a paint scraper tool to remove excess stain)

~ wood filler for repairs
~ vacuum

~ small paint rollers and handle
~ primer (such as Zinsser BIN Shellac Base Primer)
~ finish paint (I used a white paint)

~ a good surface to work on, and/or sawhorses for propping painted pieces

So for the before shot:

To start the railing redo, I removed every other balusters on the main part of the stairs, as well as a bunch of the lower balusters. Each individual piece was sanded so that primer and paint would stick. (In some spots where stain had been put on very thick, I scraped off thick areas and drip lines with a paint scraper).

The builder had done a sloppy job screwing in the balusters, so I wrote a number in small print on the back, so I would know where to put it back (otherwise the screw holes would not align).

Then, each was primed and painted, and I had to do several coats. For primer, I used Zinsser BIN Shellac base primer, which seals and blocks in stains. I did not want any of the previous stain to come through my final coat of paint, and the layers of primer and finish paint also helps to smooth out smaller imperfections.

This was extremely tedious and took a lot of time. I found myself priming two sides of the balusters before work, 2 sides on my lunch break, and then doing more coats of primer when I got home from work.

I sanded, primed, and painted the lower part of the outer stringer when the balusters were off.

I repeated this process of taking off balusters, sanding the stringer, and priming/painting the stringer.

(The red cup in the picture below is because I had to use it to cover a long, very sharp screw that I could not get out of the end of the railing until we were able to take it off and take it outside. Yet another frustration, as many of the screws were stripped, inserted at odd angles, etc).

The final step was to paint the railing. Now this was a big decision. Originally, we wanted to keep the railing a natural color, and that the stair treads would also be natural. However, the project evolved as we worked on it. The stair treads were too damaged to be able to refinish, and the railing was also quite gouged. We even looked into replacing the hand rail and the stair treads, both of which are very costly (especially with wood prices so high during the pandemic). Therefore, we decided to paint both.

I removed the railing on a warm weekend morning. I set up the railing on two carts. The stain had been applied so thick, that I used a scraper to remove a large amount of the stain before sanding. I was also appropriately prepared to sand a lot because of all the gouges in the railing. Once I had sanded the railing, I did two coats of primer and then the finish paint.

You can just see in the upper right side of this picture, where I had to weave cardboard through the upstairs balusters after removing half of them. I did not want the cats falling through (as they had already seemed very excited about me removing balusters!).

I finally was able to put all the railing pieces back in place.

This project took weeks to do, but it was absolutely worth it.

Read DIY Staircase Makeover Part III: Painting the Stairs