DIY Staircase Makeover

  • DIY Staircase Makeover - after
  • DIY Staircase Makeover - before

Handyman contributor Frank Gardner is a self-confessed compulsive renovator, but even he admits there are some projects at home that have been neglected.
One of the jobs on the DIY to-do list was a steep and narrow staircase that led to a downstairs rumpus area.
‘I pulled up the old worn carpet on the staircase to find lovely maple treads I wanted to keep,’ says Frank.
‘The walls had been painted after the stairs were carpeted, leaving a border showing at the sides.
‘Not only was the timber patchy but the handrail had been removed while the walls were painted and never replaced, making the stairs dangerous too. The family started calling them the Death Stairs and avoided using them,’ he says.
When Frank decided to renovate the rumpus room for his grandkids he knew he had to fix the staircase.
‘After the rumpus reno I tackled the stairs right away. I refinished the timber, painted the walls and added a handrail. The family can’t believe the difference. I don’t think they’ll call them the Death Stairs anymore.’

Refinishing the treads and risers

The stairs had been finished with polyurethane before being carpeted so Frank applied two coats of a finish to the treads and risers.
TIP If any part of the finish has worn through to bare timber then the entire surface must be sanded right back.

Applying a finish to a timber staircase

The treads were finished using a small roller

Sand the timber

The first job on the makeover agenda was to remove the unsightly patches of paint left on the stringers when Frank removed the old carpet.
The paint was rough and lumpy, requiring a fair bit of sanding with a detail sander using both 60 and 120 grit abrasive paper.
The maple treads showed damage from the nails that secured the carpet, plus general wear and tear.
‘I repaired and patched as much as I could then sanded each tread and riser using a random orbital sander and detail sander,’ says Frank.
The best results were obtained using 120 and 180 grit abrasive paper.

Secure the trim

For a neat finish against the walls, the stringers were topped with lengths of 12mm pine quad trim that had been painted to match.
They were measured and cut to fit with mitred corners at the base then attached using 30 x 2mm panel pins spaced every 300mm.
The nail holes were filled using Polyfilla interior timber filler then sanded before the trim was given a final coat of paint.

Paint the walls

Frank repainted the staircase walls in white paint to brighten the area.
The most important part of the paint job was setting up scaffolding over the stairs to create a safe and stable working platform.
‘The lower wall was a pale blue and required two coats but the dark blue feature wall needed four coats before I was happy with the result,’ says Frank.

Make the handrail

A new handrail was cut from a length of Tasmanian oak with a semi-round profile and sanded twice using 120 and 180 grit abrasive paper.
‘It’s the preparation that is the most important to get a really smooth finish,’ says Frank.
After sanding, three coats of CFP Floor were applied with a brush using even strokes and following the grain.
TIP This flooring product is ideal for a timber handrail as it provides a tough, abrasion-resistant finish.

Adding a handrail

To increase safety a handrail was attached to one wall. To meet Australian Building Standards the top of the rail has to be at least 865mm above the tread nosings. 


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