How to Refurbish Wooden Stairs

In the post, I will show you how we took our worn carpeted stairs and transformed them into something beautiful. Please be advised that the finished look will very much depend on the condition of your stairs once you’ve lifted your carpet.

For this job you will need:

  • Pliers
  • Hammer
  • Mouse sander
  • Sander refills in 80 grit, 100 grit and 120 grit
  • Vacuum
  • White spirit
  • Soft cloth
  • Paint brushes (x 3)
  • Paint scraper
  • Heat gun or varnish remover depending on your preferred method
  • Wood varnish in your chosen colour
  • Dust mask
  • Protective gloves
  • Protective eye wear
  • Spade
  • Wood filler in a colour of your choice

Step One: Remove Carpet

Taking your time, find the edge of the carpet on your top stair and firmly pull working down each step as you go. You can use a Stanley knife at this stage to cut the carpet into manageable squares. Be careful when removing the carpet not to lose your balance on the stairs.

Once the carpet is removed, use your spade to get under any wooden tacking strips and carefully lever them up, being sure not to damage the wood underneath. Be sure to wear protective gloves when moving the tacking strips and they can be sharp.

Step Two: Remove staples and flatten nails

Taking your time on each stair, use your pliers to pull out any carpet staples. If you find any raised nails, hammer them down so the nail head sits just below the level of the wood face. You are now ready to tackle the paint/varnish.

Image of stairs after carpet has been removed

Step Three: Remove varnish/paint

Many staircases will have been painted or varnished at some point. Unless you are planning to paint your stairs complete, you need to remove the existing paint or varnish.

There are two ways to do this. You can buy a heat gun and carefully heat the varnish or paint until it begins to bubble and then scrape it off with a paint scraper. Alternatively, you can use a varnish remover such as Nitro Mors to chemically remove the varnish.

Step Four: Sand the surfaces

Sanding the surfaces is key to getting a smooth finish. Using a mouse sander with 80 grit sandpaper, sand the stair tread and riser moving your sander with the grain. Dampen a cloth with white spirit, clean the stair and leave to dry while you move onto the next stair. Be sure to check your sandpaper after each stair as it will lose its grit and will need to be replaced regularly.

When all the stairs have been done with 80 grit, change to 100 grit and repeat the process. And once again with 120 grit. When all stairs have been sanded and cleaned, use a quality wood filler to fill in any holes or gouges. We used Ronseal Multipurpose Wood Filler as this can be stained the same colour as the wood.

Step Five: Painting/varnishing

On our stairs, we choose to paint the risers white and stain the treads in a walnut varnish. We chose Ronseal Diamond Hard for this as its not slippery when day (a must for stairs!) and it takes a lot of wear and tear.

As we were painting the risers white, we first applied a coat of primer and left it to dry.

Primer on the risers and treads sanded, ready for varnish.

We then applied our varnish to the treads. To get the dark walnut colour we wanted this took around 4 coats of varnish but one tin did the lot. Be careful when you are varnishing to cover your surrounding areas to prevent them becoming stained.

When the risers were dry, we applied two coats of white gloss.

You can see a gap at the bottom of the stairs where the wooden floor used to meet the carpet.

Step Six: Filling in the gap

In our house, the wooden floor in the hall didn’t meet the stairs as their used to be carpet in the way. To remedy this we filled in the gap with PE Foam Strip and then filled in with wood filler, levelling it off with a scraper so it was level with the floor.

And there you have it, total stair transformation! If you have any questions, put them in the comments below!