Refinishing pine stairs

Looks like my last Littlest House update was a while ago so I thought I would share another update on the renovation front. I completed this project some time ago and I think it was one of the funnest and most rewarding projects in the house so far!

My house is 1.5 stories tall, there is a small set of stairs with two small landings that starts in the corner of the living room and leads upstairs. Imagine something pine and cottag-y and you’ve probably got a pretty accurate picture.

Here’s what I started with on move-in day in November 2008:

Pine stairs, sunshine yellow walls… it doesn’t get any better!

When trying to find out how to refinish pine stairs I found out that basically it’s A LOT of sanding and A LOT of cleaning up dust. Here’s a short breakdown of what I learned after many google searches and one Home Depot visit.

1. If you don’t want your ENTIRE house covered in dust, pick up a roll of plastic and use painters tape to seal every window, every door and every area that dust may float to. Contain the area you’re working in as best you can, you don’t want to clean your entire house after this project.

2. Figure out what is on the stairs now. Mine were polyurethaned when they were installed so all I had to do was sand that mofo till you can’t sand no more. If you’ve got paint on them you should make sure the paint isn’t toxic etc (lead) before you start working away.

Layer by layer

3. Sand, sand, sand. Sanding and sanding properly does absolute miracles to wood! Start with the rough stuff, gradually working your way up to 200 grit. Stairs are made of wood, you’re not going to sand THROUGH them so go for it. I used a regular sander and a detail sander (and a lot of sweat equity) to get into all the nooks and crannys. (I also took this chance to paint the walls, install a new window and add new trim)

Almost like new

After you’ve sanded it all down and everything feels smooth, it’s time to wait. Why wait? To let the dust in the air settle. If you start polyurethaning something in the same room you’ve just finished sanding in, you’ll end up with dust in your beautiful shiny new surface. I went with oil based poly because I wasn’t sure what was on the stairs before, which meant I vacated the house for a few days since it was impossible to escape the smell because the stairs are central in the house.


You’ll notice I also decided to paint the risers and trim white instead of polying them. I love the classic look of white risers. Don’t do as I do, wait with the paint until you’ve completely finished sanding everything as I got the white primer all scuffed up while finishing sanding the treads.

And now for the finished product (three coats of poly, a light sand in between and a few days later) Tada!


The new paint on the walls really freshens things up. The new window was super-easy to install (ordered an insert to size, then added new trim on the inside and kept the exterior original trim. It’s been a huge savings going from single paned with no storm window to double paned with mosquito netting) and the stairs turned out much nicer than I ever expected!

Finished product

Not bad huh? Scroll up for a comparison.

Have you ever tackled a set of stairs?

16 thoughts on “Refinishing pine stairs

  1. They look amazing! I've never done stairs but I redid ALL the hardwood floors in my house before I moved in. Not looking forward to stripping them down in a few years to do them all over again! I had to wear a hairnet because I kept shedding all over the place.

    That yellow paint was atrocious… I'll never understand why people make some of the color choices they do. Looking great now though!

    1. I had sunshine yellow paint in the upstairs bedroom too, cottoncandy pink in the sunroom and mintgreen in the living room. The bathroom is still blue… *sigh* :p

  2. Those look great! As Andrea comments above, I too have never redone stairs. But I can tell by those pictures that you really turned around the appearance of the stairs and the finish. Also, I like how the wall was repainted, the colors look good together. Impressive!

  3. One day when I buy a house, I am going come ask you for tips on reno projects :))) Amazing job! [removed outdated url February 25, 2014]

    1. The entire ground floor was covered in a thin film of dust… lol, good thing my house is small and easy to clean! In a big house you absolutely have to plastic everything off very well, the better the prep, the easier the whole project will be!

  4. I suspect that under all the paint, my staircase is also pine. Unfortunately, I also suspect that contained within the chemicals of said pain is lead. It looks like my next stair remodel will be carpet.

    I love the look! Excellent job refinishing it must have been a lot of work.

  5. What would you do if all the floors are hardwood but the stairs and the
    Y have been painted an ugly gray. They are in bad shape. It's a rental and we are on a time table to get it done

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