How to stain a railing

We have had these ugly oak railings in our home since it was built and they never really bothered me until we decided to put in new flooring. Once I took a good look at them, the only thing I could think was, "Eeeeww". They have been overlooked all these years because I've had my focus on other areas of the house, but now it is time to tackle the railings.
Here are the supplies you will need to begin:
  1. Stain or paint (I chose to go with Minwax Polyshade stain which is a stain polyurethane mix) 
  2. Sanding block (I used a medium grit sand paper)
  3. Tack cloth
  4. Steel Wool (not shown, but if you don't know what it is, Google it)
  5. Mask (because the fumes will knock you on your ass)
  6. Foam brush
  7. Stolen old t-shirt from hubbies dresser cut into strips
  8. Disposable gloves (get lots of them)

We put it dark hardwood floors so I purchased the darker stain for the railing.  In the end, it still didn't turn out as dark as the photo on the can, but I got tired of putting on coats of stain and it's good enough. (That's right, I've learned it doesn't have to be perfect)
Tape off your wall and floor around the railing.  I didn't bother with the floor because the tile was being removed the next week.  Bye Bye terracotta disaster! (I've had to decorate around that damn floor for the last 14 years)

Here are the steps (sorry no photos of me working on them....that would take too much time and I needed to get this finished!)
  1. Sand the railing with the medium grit sand paper.  You don't have to sand all the way to the original wood, you just need to take off the top layer of polyurethane and all the other gunk that has built up on your railing over the years. 
  2. Use the tack cloth to wipe away all the excess dust and debris.  I also went over the bottom rail with the vacuum cleaner attachment.  
  3. Put on your mask and gloves (I really hope I don't have to tell you this, but just in case you forget I'm giving you a little reminder.)
  4. Apply the stain.  Experts recommend applying the stain with a soft cloth (i.e husbands ripped up t-shirt) and I found that worked really well for the spindles.  However, in order to get the look I wanted without putting on a bazillion coats of stain, I used the kids foam paint brush shown above and it worked great.  I used the foam brush to apply, working in small sections and then used the t-shirt to carefully wipe away the excess.  Timing is key here.  If you wipe away the excess too soon, the stain you just applied will come off (and you'll need to apply about 100 more coats to get the look).  If you wait too long, the stain will be really tacky and you won't be able to wipe it away.  So don't be afraid to play with a small section before getting started.  
  5. Let the stain dry....this was painstaking for me.  Each coat needs about 24 hours to dry completely.  
  6. After the stain is dry use the steel wool gently.
  7. Use the tack cloth to remove any debris
  8. Repeat stain.
  9. Repeat steps 3-7 until you achieve the desired result.  (It took me 4 coats to get this look)  Probably could use 1 more, but it's good enough.
I know,the floor made a HUGE difference too.  

I'd love to hear from you if you decide to tackle your own railings or any other staining projects for that matter.  
Happy staining,


  1. Looks great, Lisa! We have old school stained rails in our home, too. I may have to give this one a go!

    1. I have lots more stain Michelle if you like this color, it's yours!

  2. It looks great Lisa and I LOVE the new floor!

  3. Oh, Lisa - I destroyed our stair railings so badly we had to get them all replaced. Me + sander = huge mess. Yours look great!

    1. Oh no Dana, did you use an electric sander?