This is an adventure in refinishing my hardwood staircase, told by an amateur artist and homeowner. This may not be how the pros would do it, but it's done for about $150 in materials and a few days of my time.

We floundered a bit in figuring it out, but here I'll share the things I've figured out. Most of this uses low-odor quick-drying options, because I'm working in a house with small children in wintertime. (They're not home while I'm working, but they need to sleep here at night.)

Tools and Materials:

+ orbital hand sander (or two)
+ plastic drop cloth
+ safety goggles
+ dust masks (buy a multi-pack)
+ ear plugs
+ vinyl-palmed work gloves
+ vinyl or latex disposable gloves
+ cheap throw-away paintbrush for chemical paint stripper
+ paint scraper
+ screwdriver
+ hammer
+ small wood chisel
+ 2.5" angled natural bristle paintbrush
+ small paint tray
+ 40 grit sanding pads (be sure to get the right size pads with the right number of holes - they're for ventilation and your sander will overheat without the right ones) I used about 15 pads for 14 steps and a landing
+ 40 or 60 grit sandpaper and a sanding block, if desired
+ 2" wide painters tape
+ spool of cotton twine
+ Hi-Speed Ready Strip Citrus Paint & Varnish Remover (this project used one half gallon jug)
+ MinWax Wood Finish (this project uses 2 qt sized cans of golden pecan stain) 
+ low-odor mineral spirits
+ MinWax Water Based Polyurethane for Floors (this project uses one gallon of clear satin finish poly)

Here you see the old staircase. Someone had painted that beautiful wood a chocolate brown when the house was built. It was old and dingy and banged up. The dark color robbed the stairwell of all light, making it a dark area even in midday.

Step 1: Stripping the Old Paint, Part 1: Chemical Stripper

After spending too much time on the first step, trying to sand away many layers of 30 year old chocolate brown stairs, along with the knicks and dents in the wood, we got smart and used a chemical paint stripper. Many of the "safer" ones say they work in as little as four hours, but I chose Back to Nature brand Hi-Speed Ready-Strip which says it works in about a half an hour. The half gallon container was more than enough.

1. Open your windows and turn on a fan. It might be "low-odor and environmentally safe", but it stinks.
2. Shake the bottle really well - it's very separated.
3. Pour some liquid onto the top step. Using a cheap paintbrush, spread over the step in a thick layer. Make sure to get the corners and edges well.
4. Move down the steps to the bottom, and throw away your paintbrush, then find something else to do for about 2 hours. I started the bottom step after a half an hour, and worked my way back up. But during the rest of the paint removal process, the upper stairs that had had the stripper on them for about three hours took a third of the time it took to remove the paint from the lower steps.
5. Using a paint scraper, scrape across the step with the grain of the wood. The old polyurethane comes up with the stripper goo. Wipe the goo off of the scraper, and continue (don't bother trying to rinse it off). I scraped it into an old shoe box, but where doesn't really matter. Scraping takes off most of the stripping agent, I didn't bother to wipe off the remaining.

These steps are old and dinged up, and the dark stain penetrated into the wood, and it's imperfections. I was removing the many layers of old poly with the chemicals in order to get closer to the wood and to get started. The picture here shows the stairs AFTER the chemical stripper was scraped off. It was only the first step of removing the old color, but it made the rest of the project move much more quickly. The time (a day) and cost of the stripper was less than the time and cost of using sanding pads to get through that old poly. Not to mention - much easier on my back. I wore work gloves for all of this step, I really didn't get any on myself.

<p>I sanded floors for 3 years working for my dad that was 35 years ago I still do it on occasion, I prefered joining the Froces because sanding floors is a hard job ! but you guys did a super job !!! looks very nice....we used to plug holes and small cracks with lacquer and saw dust from the 12'' sanders pouch, the good thing is that lacquer dries very fast so we could sand over it in minutes.</p>
<p>I sanded floors for 3 years working for my dad that was 35 years ago I still do it on occasion, I prefered joining the Froces because sanding floors is a hard job ! but you guys did a super job !!! looks very nice....we used to plug holes and small cracks with lacquer and saw dust from the 12'' sanders pouch, the good thing is that lacquer dries very fast so we could sand over it in minutes.</p>
<p>Great post. I found other useful tips in &lt;a href=&quot;http://www.refinishingpro.com/hardwood-floor-refinishing-nyc/&quot;&gt;REfinishing Pro&lt;/a&gt;</p><p>I'm planing on doing my stairs since we just painted the House. Again, nice post and keep it up!</p>
How does one refinish the stair handrails and the spikes below?
I am so grateful for this information.Our home here in S.W. Pennsylvania as built in 1928. The wife and I pulledup the carpet from the stairs just this past weekend. We moved into this home in Jan. 2008. It had been refurbished completely and given beautiful hardwood flooring throughout EXCEPT the old stairs. Its such a shame that it wasnt done as well. Our stairs look very much like your stairs--amazing likeness! Your instructions are awesome. I am following them to a 'T'. However,ours have nail holes and small chunks that need filled with something. What do I do aout that as I dont know of any filler that will take stain! I need help with that please.Again,thanks ad God Bless!
Awesome. My wife feels the same way about the charm in the nicks and holes.We will follow your lead and I'll get pictures going too as we go. We picked up a new sander last night at HD.We have bitten into too much as we have the livingroom to finish painting (now just the trim-round the door and windows) ,and other tasks need caught up. I'll be cutting some grass today. It's so nice today here in Houston,PA,andI love cutting grass! So...on we go. Thank you very much for your kind response!!
I've heard that a lot of fillers really don't take stain well. But if you're refinishing an old staircase, those nail holes are part of the charm. And if you can't fix it, flaunt it, right? <br>I'd suggest that, if you have little nail holes, like carpet-tack holes, just let the stain get them while you're staining, and let the polyurethane fill them in when you paint. <br> <br>If they're big nail holes, I'd get a wood filler that's two or three shades darker than the stain you're going to use, in the same color-family, push it in tight, let it dry, and sand it well so it's just a little dark circle; then stain and poly over it. <br> <br>The nail holes might just be what makes your 1928 home look like it has almost 100 years of memories walking up and down those stairs!
I have sanded floors professionally in the past. If you end up doing this again, or for those who read this and want to tackle this themselves - forget the chisel, get a good ol' Red Devil scraper. 1 1/2 inch blade (just the blade and make your own handle if you have to, that what we did and do). You will get much better results.<br>60, 80, 100 ARE finishing grits when it comes to floor sanding. Forget what the salespeople try to sell you.
We just bought an older house (early 1900's) and I want to do the very same thing to the stairs and the whole house. Thank-you for the excellent instructions!! This will make my job much easier. Thanks again!!
Nice job...Im impressed, most women I know would never dream of tackling a job like this with no xp and no backup help, well my sis-inlaw would but would then get me and my bothers to finish and correct ;) Im planing on doing my mother's stairs since we just painted the hallway. Again, nice job and keep it up!
great project! looks great!
As a postscript: <br>The staircase no longer squeaks like it did. Nearly all of the steps squeaked quite loudly before. Now there is only one squeak on one part of the landing, and none on the stairs at all! <br>I do not have an explanation for this, but it is an interesting bonus!
Nice job, you should be quite happy with the results. I agree with your choice of the MiniWax poly, it does a nice job. Frankly you have a lot of courage and clearly lots of tenacity tackling those stairs. Your method of packing the old strip flooring with cotton strings is quite innovative. I hope it works well for you. Congratulations for a job well done and a nice clear instructable.
Thank you very much!

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