Tips for Refinishing Stairs

We have tackled many different DIY projects with the #totsreno house but refinishing our stairs has had to be the best (so far). 

One of the biggest eyesores of the #totsreno house was the stairs which lead from baby girl’s playroom to the upstairs bedrooms.

When I say eye sores, I truly mean it.

They were filthy, disgusting, mispainted, cracked, one one place tiled-over and in all cases looked unsafe.

In most cases, they also felt unsafe.


It is easier than you think to refinish your stairs. Find out how we took our stairs from ugly to beautiful.


We put up with said stairs for months but with company coming recently for Canadian Thanksgiving, we knew they needed to be addressed.

It was another one of those projects I thought I could handle myself but since I’d never done it before, I wasn’t sure.


Tips for Refinishing Stairs

It turned into a bit of an adventure and took way longer than I expected but the finished product drew raves from our guests, especially those who braved the old stairs.

This was a budget conscious project so months ago, we bought the new stair treads when they happened to be on sale.

We decided against new kickers because of the price and decided instead to paint them.

The original plan called for white, but having seen white paper get scuffed around the stairs in the months since we moved in, we decided instead to go with a dark, chocolatey brown, to pull dark tones from the stained steps.

The stain itself was purchased at a Habitat For Humanity ReStore.

It was a full can for about 20 percent of the cost of the same material at typical hardware store.

The job itself was fairly simple.

Step one was cutting off the existing overhang (bull nose) from the stairs.

The new treads had this built in.

In a dusty and slightly annoying job, I used a jigsaw to cut as much as I could until it reached the edges and was no longer functional.

On the first few steps, I used my trusty Dremel straight blade to trim the rest.

It took much longer than I thought.

So I stopped working on one step at a time and simply cut the overhang off all the steps.

This was a great plan until the jigsaw blade broke and I burned myself trying to take it out of the saw.

Turns out they get pretty hot.

Who knew?

With the blade handle firmly stuck in the saw, it was time for Plan B.

I took out the trusty reciprocating saw.

With far less accuracy, I had to be a lot more careful about my cuts.

But I found overall, this saw did a much better job, so much so that I used it to trim up all the edges and go over a few spots where the jigsaw, despite its laser guideline, wandered off the path.

Total time for the cutting was about an hour and a half.

As a side note, it was two days, needle-nose pliers and a small leverage bar before I was able to get the blade pieces out of my jigsaw and get a new blade back in.


The second step was cutting the new stairs to fit lengthwise over the existing stairs.

I have to admit I cheated on this step.

Knowing we planned to use trim around the edges of the stairs, I cut each board with a mitre saw just a margin shorter than necessary to allow ease of installation.

The 1/8 inch gap on each side will be covered by the trim.

My dear wife took care of step 3, staining the boards.

Two coats of stain later, we were ready for the big install.

This was around the time everyone at home got sick and my project fell by the wayside for a week.

When it resumed, my wife finished painting the sides and the kickers.

From there, it was a simple 1.5 hour job to glue and then nail gun each step in place.

I used two-inch nails with the air compressor and drove nails every inch along the sides and back.

We wanted to make sure they were secured well as we took test walks up the stairs with less nails and found there was some movement.

I also drove nails every three inches along the front and put five nails across the middle of the step to hold it down.

That left a lot of small nail holes to fill with putty (or plastic wood) but safety was my priority so it was well worth it.

Besides, the putty can be stained to match your wood too.

In the day that followed, as the stairs were used and settled, we had a few nails resurface.

This was handled easily with a nail set and a hammer.

This may have been my favorite renovation so far.

It was one with immediate gratification.

There was no real delay like you have with tearing down and redoing a wall where you go from 2x4s to drywall, to mudding to paint.

This was a simple cut off old stairs, cut new ones, stain and install.

It could have easily been done in a weekend.

But it wasn’t. And that’s OK too!

Did you enjoy this article?
Signup today and receive free updates straight in your inbox. We will never share or sell your email address.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )


  1. Emily
  2. Alison
    • Katrina

Add Comment