Lifting the face of the stairs

Karl here. I’ve been working on the stairs over the past two months and while they aren’t quite complete, they are looking pretty good. I’m really pleased with the results and hope the photos convey the actual results. Lets review the progression of events:

May 1: We move into the house and discover that cat and dog hair were included with the purchase.
May 2: Meredith’s lips start to tingle. Perhaps you remember this. Administer Benadryl.
May 3: Meredith’s tongue starts to tingle. More Benadryl. Meredith is too sedated to walk (ok, maybe not).
May 4: Meredith’s throat starts to tingle. Karl, RN, tells her to go to Urgent Care while he rips up the dirty carpet runner that had been collecting nasties since Desert Storm. Friends come over to help clean (thanks!)

You can see the not-so-vibrant colors of the carpet runner! I was able to yank and bag the separate pieces that were affixed with dozens hundreds of staples. The carpet was curbside pretty quickly but it took a few hours to pull the staples one-by-one with a needle-nose pliers.

Then the sanding began.
And continued.
For a month.
60 grit. 120 grit. 220 grit.
platform. tread. risers.
random orbital sander. 1/3 sheet sander. mouse sander.
dust in my hair. dust in my shoes. dust in my boogers.
Then the sanding was done.

We wanted to match the stair color with the wood alongside the stairs (moulding, or “string”), which required a stain to darken the natural oak color. I used Minwax “Early American.” What I found was that certain areas of the stairs still had some of the previous wood sealer which prevented the new stain from soaking into the wood. For the bigger areas where the wood appeared two-toned, it meant that I needed to sand deeper, so I busted out the sander and went after it. This repeat sanding was very irritating and once again messy.

(Tembo, the trusty sidekick)

The final process was to seal the stairs with several coats of polycrylic. Most of the poly-type products for floors are oil-based and reportedly smell to high hell. Numerous websites discuss the terrible volatile organic compounds (VOC) content of oil -based polyurethane so I was weary when it came to making the decision of going this route. I mean, we have to be able to live in the house during this process. Another consideration and final reason why I chose water-based polycrylic was drying time — 2-3 hours as opposed to 12ish hours.

I’ve put about 3-4 coats of high gloss poly so far and probably need to add another couple. I went with high gloss for the initial coats because I understand that it dries harder than other finishes. I intend to switch to a satin finish for the final coats because nobody needs to be blinded with glare while walking up the stairs. It is possible, I suppose, that satin would be less slippery — right now I may as well be walking on a banana peel.

The original plan was to put another carpet runner on the stairs in the medium-term, but since we removed the old one so quickly and I’ve put lots of time into the face lift, I think the wood deserves to be displayed. I imagine this will be a topic of discussion…

Total cost was around $100.

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