How to Stain Oak Stairs

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Wood floors eventually show their age, especially on areas that are as heavily trafficked as a stairway. You can revitalize aging oak stairs with a coat of new stain, but first you'll have to remove the old finish. If you are new to home repair, it's best to hire a professional for this step; a misstep with a sander or floor scraper can damage the wood. If you wish to do this step yourself, proceed slowly and carefully. Once the old finish has been removed, the staining process is straightforward and easy---the hardest part is avoiding the stairs while the stain and polyurethane are drying, which can take anywhere from four to 24 hours.

Things You'll Need

  • Sander
  • Floor scraper
  • Tack cloth
  • Broom
  • Oak floor stain
  • Polyurethane
  • Rags
  • Remove the old stain and polyurethane finish with a sander. If you don't own one, you can rent a sander from a home improvement center. By removing the old stain, you'll be better able to apply a thin, uniform coat of translucent stain.

  • Remove any remaining finish with a floor scraper. This tool will also help you remove the finish from the nooks and crannies around the banisters. If you're worried about gouging your stair rail, hire a professional to remove the finish for you.

  • Clean the stair surface by sweeping away debris, and then wiping down the wood with a tack cloth.

  • Rub on the new stain using a rag while working with the grain of the wood. Do not apply the stain too thickly; if you begin to notice smear marks from the rag, this means you have applied too much stain. If you want the stain to have a darker look, apply two coats instead.

  • Wait for the stain to dry. Humidity or rain will lengthen the drying time by several hours, so choose a dry day to stain if you can. In dry weather with little humidity, the stain should dry in one hour and you can apply a second coat at that time. Test the stain's level of dryness by touching it with a finger; if it's tacky to the touch, it's still wet.

  • Apply a coat of protective polyurethane with a rag once the stain has dried, being sure to work with the grain of the wood. Allow the polyurethane to dry completely before walking on the stairs (see the Tips section for more information about polyurethane).

Tips & Warnings

  • Water-based polyurethane dries faster than oil-based versions, and it remains clear when it ages. Oil-based polyurethane is easier to work with for newcomers to home repair, but it yellows somewhat with age, and takes 24 hours to dry. You can use either types of polyurethane to finish your wooden floor and stairs.

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