We moved out of our starter home in November of 2011, and bought a house one street over. Literally. Our new home was less than a mile away from our first house.
I loved everything about the new house. The floor plan was perfect for our family. My kids would continue to attend the same elementary school, and our “commute” to school dropped from a mile to about a quarter of a mile. The street was full of my kids’ friends, and the backyard had room for a pool.
I loved everything about the house, except for the VAST amount of golden oak. It was EVERYWHERE. Golden oak kitchen cabinets, golden oak bathroom cabinets, golden oak laundry room cabinets. Golden oak staircase banister and spindles. The hardwood floor that covered almost the entire downstairs? Yep…golden oak. Read More
Coming in the front door of our house, you walk into a room with high ceilings and a u-shaped staircase. It’s the kind of layout that can be really striking and make you say “Wow!” when you walk in the door. Instead, all that really came to mind was a meek, “meh.” It definitely needed some pizzazz.
I wanted a darker handrail, and my first thought was to paint the spindles white. Gel stain and some white paint would definitely be the most cost-effective way to go. But, I was nervous to get started. Between the handrails, posts and 72 (yes, 72) spindles, there would be a LOT of nooks and crannies to clean, sand and paint. I wasn’t afraid of the project being overly-difficult or challenging, but I knew that it would take a ton of time. I’m not always the most careful painter, and I was afraid I’d end up with a lot of drips and glops on the spindles. I would need to really take my time to make sure it was done right.
I knew that cleaning, sanding and painting 72 spindles was going to be incredibly tedious, so I ultimately decided to just replace them all with wrought iron.
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I figured gel stain was the way to go. I had used gel stain on the master bathroom cabinets at our old house, and I didn’t like the way it turned out. Because our staircase is the first thing you see when you walk into out home, I did NOT want this project to be a flop. So, I turned to Pinterest, and my fellow DIY-ers for guidance.
If you spend any time on Pinterest looking up gel stain, you will find that EVERYONE is talking about General Finishes Java Gel Stain. It’s kind of the current “It Girl” of the DIY world. The stuff is easy to work with, and the results are GORGEOUS! It was more expensive than the gel stain I had used in the past, but this stuff is worth every penny.
A HUGE thank you to the folks at Make It & Love It and View Along the Way – their tutorials were my bibles during this project. I took their suggestions, and coupled with my own experience in painting and staining woodwork, and followed the steps below:
Depending on which tutorial you follow, some folks say that it’s ok to skip the first two steps listed below. I didn’t skip them. I trust my fellow DIY-ers; if they say that they didn’t do steps X, Y, or Z and that it turned out just fine, I believe them. However, because our staircase is SO prominent, and because of the amount of wear and tear the handrails receive, I wanted to set this project up with the best chance of success to stand up to lots of grubby hands. Plus, steps one and two really don’t take that long. You’re investing a lot of time in this project, so go the extra mile and do the prep work.
Since I was replacing the oak spindles with wrought iron, I went ahead and removed the spindles prior to starting the staining part of the project. I figured that would give me a smoother, final finish by not having to work around the existing spindles. I took advantage of the fact that were removing the carpet (and installing new hardwood floors), so I cut a strip of the carpet away from the landing tread so that I had better access.
If your handrails are anything like mine, they get a LOT of usage. After thirteen years, they were due for a good cleaning. I use TSP to clean any woodwork that I’m going to paint. I bought one small box several years ago, and it’s lasted me through two kitchen makeovers and several Spring-cleanings. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for mixing with water – I use a big bucket and mix up about a gallon. I’d recommend that you wear some heavy-duty rubber gloves to protect your hands.
Dip a large sponge into your TSP/water solution, ring out the excess and then get scrubbing! Put a little extra effort into the areas that get more usage – the handrails. The posts probably haven’t received nearly as much handling, and shouldn’t be as dirty. Honestly, I didn’t spend a ton of time on this step – just enough to feel like I’d giving the whole bannister a good once-over.
Use painter’s tape to mask off any area that you’re not planning to stain. For the first time, I invested in the Frog painter’s tape (I used the “Delicate Surfaces” version.) My mom swears by this stuff, but I didn’t think it was worth the added expense. Having used it now, I don’t think I’ll go back to the standard blue tape. I’m not exactly sure why it works so much better, but the Frog Tape seems to make a much better seal with the surface, so you don’t get nearly as much leakage under the tape. Less leakage is a good thing – it means less touch-up at the end!
Any time I’ve painted or gel-stained any woodwork, I’ve always sanded to rough up the surface so that the new paint has a better chance to stick. Sanding is cheap (just the cost of sandpaper), and doesn’t take a lot of brain-power. With that being said, sanding is tedious and MESSY.
Holy schmoly, why am I just now finding this stuff??? Liquid sander/deglosser does the same thing as a light sand – it roughs up the previously-sealed surface so that the new primer/paint/gel stain can stick. It’s easy and inexpensive. It doesn’t create a bunch of dust that gets everywhere and seems to stay in your house forever!
Start by putting on some heavy-duty gloves. Put an old sock over one gloved hand. Pour a little bit of the liquid sander/deglosser on the sock – enough to get it wet, but not so much that it’s dripping all over the place. Rub that stuff on the wood – spend about the same about of time in each spot as you did when you were cleaning. When I first got started with this stuff, I spent a while in one area, trying to see if I could see a difference in the wood. I couldn’t. I also couldn’t really feel a difference either. But, when I got started with the gel stain, it stuck just fine, so the sander/degelosser had obviously done it’s job.
Helpful tip: Use heavy-duty gloves when you use the liquid sander/deglosser. I used regular, light-weight latex gloves for this step. The liquid sander/deglosser ripped up the gloves, and my fingers (and especially my fingernails) got pretty dried out. It wasn’t anything horrible, but I’ll use more heavy-duty gloves next time I use the liquid sander/deglosser and save the wear and tear on my hands.
Now comes one of the best parts of using the sander/deglosser: you don’t have to do anything else! You don’t have to scrap, and you don’t have to wipe it off. Just let it dry, and then you’re ready for Step Four.
This is where it gets fun, and you’ll get a glimpse of what your finished project is going to look like.
There is a bit of trim along the wall, and I wanted that to be white. I primed, and then painted, and then taped the trim pieces before I got started with the gel stain. This is where the Frog Tape “Newly painted Surfaces” came in really handy!
Put on some latex gloves, and put a fresh sock on one gloved hand. Dip your socked-up hand into that beautiful Java gel – get about a tablespoon on there to start. Working in small areas, rub the stain on the wood.
If it works better for you, you can use a sponge brush to apply the gel stain. I found that the sock method gave me better control – I was able to get a more even and consistent coverage. Plus, it was easier to get into all of the nooks and crannies.
You’re going for even coverage, but you don’t want to slap it on too thick. It’s better to do more, thinner coats, rather than fewer, thick coats. The gel stain does NOT self-level, so you want to make sure you’re getting a good smooth coat. If you are leaving glops of gel stain behind, they’re going to dry like that.
Now, I’m impatient when it comes to projects – especially when it means that my house will be tore up and in a state of chaos for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Trust me on this one – be patient and wait the 24 hours.
I stored my gel-covered sock in a Ziplock baggie, and was able to reuse it for the second coat of gel stain.
When your first coat is dry to the touch (and NOT tacky), do a second coat of the Java gel stain. At this point, you might be getting to your desired color. Wait another 24 hours to dry. I liked the color, so I just did my touch-ups at this point, getting any areas that I missed on those first two coats.
By now you’re tired of your house being a mess and you just want this project to be DONE, but you’ll need to stop. Do NOT pass go. Before you can apply your topcoat, you’ll need to wait 72 hours. Wait…what??? 72 hours??? Yep, seventy-two hours. You’re putting a water-based topcoat over an oil-based gel stain, and that gel stain needs to be dry.
After 72 excruciating hours, it’s time to apply the topcoat. Throw on a clean pair of latex gloes, and a fresh sock. Dip your sock-covered hand in the top coat, and then rub it on the wood. Again, you’re going for thin, even coats, so don’t go dipping your entire hand in the can of topcoat. This stuff is much more liquidy than the gel stain, and you’ll end up dripping all over the place.
Let that first coat of topcoat dry for XXX hours. Apply a second coat. You’ll want to decide how shiny you want your finished project. Each coat of the topcoat will increase the shine. After two coats, I was happy with the level of shine, and I felt comfortable that two coats would be a sold layer of protection for that beautiful Java gel stain underneath.
Step back, grab a (large) glass of wine, and admire your beautiful new staircase!