Painting Stair Steps and Staircases

Give a fresh look to one of the focal points of your home's design by painting the steps.

Painting Steps

Some structural elements in the interior of a home just naturally become focal points. Fireplaces are one such example. Staircases are another. Because they play so dominant a role in the design of a room, staircases deserve special attention.

In many older homes with painted stairs, you'll find quality hardwoods under the paint. You may want to first decide whether to strip the paint and refinish with a stained and varnished surface, or simply repaint it. This is a decision you should make when you're planning the room, so the finish and color of the staircase will fit harmoniously into the overall appearance of the space.

To find out what kind of wood is hidden by the paint, scrape the paint from an inconspicuous spot. If you don't recognize the wood, call in a carpenter.

Even with an expensive hardwood, you still might not want to go to the trouble of removing the paint. Experiment with a section, applying stripper and removing the paint. If the paint was applied over undamaged varnish, stripping it will only be messy, not difficult. If the varnish had deteriorated, however, the paint may lie in the grain of the wood, and removing it may require extensive and careful work with stiff brushes and stripper.

Prestart Checklist

Will vary with the size of the staircase and the complexity of its design

Putty knife, preparation tools as required

Repairing and preparing wood, and refinishing or painting

Repair and clean damaged surfaces

Sandpaper, painter's tape, paintbrushes, roller, primer, paint

Stairways: Below the railing

Stairways can pose painting problems different from other projects -- chiefly those associated with height. Use ladders to reach outside surfaces. Don't hang over the railing to paint one side. It's dangerous and you're bound to miss spots.

Stairways: Upper walls

When you're painting a stairwell, you might find the upper walls out of reach, even with an extension handle. And without some kind of platform, cutting in the edges at the ceiling will be impossible. Make yourself a scaffold platform with two ladders as shown, clamping the plank to a step on the top ladder. Adjust the other ladder until the plank is level.

Stairways: Lower walls

Painting the lower walls may require only one stepladder and a scaffold plank. Make sure the plank is level and clamped to the ladder. Move the plank down the ladder and steps as you work.

Painting a staircase: Step 1

Carefully mask off the steps with heavy butcher paper and painter's tape. Starting at the top of the stairs and using a 2-inch trim brush, paint the handrail first, working the brush carefully to get paint on all the surfaces. Finish each section by brushing with the grain.

Painting a staircase: Step 2

If the balusters will be painted a different color than the rest of the staircase, make sure to mask them off carefully where they meet the steps. If everything will be the same color, keep a dampened cloth handy to wipe up drips and spatters. Even though they might be the same color, they'll dry as lumps.

Painting a staircase: Step 3

After you have finished painting the handrail and balusters, start at the top of the steps and paint the underside of the first nosing. Then paint the first riser.

Painting a staircase: Step 4

Paint the tread next and continue down the steps in the same order, applying paint to every other step. Leaving alternate steps unpainted will allow you to use the stairs while the paint dries. When the paint is dry, lightly tape 4-inch squares of cardboard to the painted stairs and paint the remainder. The cardboard will remind family members which treads they can step on.

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