Monday, March 16, 2015

Staircase Remodel Reveal & Tutorial

 It may have taken nearly two months to complete, but we are finally done with the staircase remodel!  I have wanted to do this project for about two years now, but I've been too scared to try.  I'm glad we did it, because the end result is so pretty! 

Isn't she a beauty? :)


Ok enough pretty pictures for now.  Let's move onto the nitty gritty! 

There are a lot of tutorials out there that have excellent advice and instructions on how to do a project like this.  While each project comes with its own unique challenges, my staircase had a feature both unique and awful that made this project more difficult and intimidating. 


The way the carpet went past the spindles and wrapped around the edge of the stairs, creating a not-so-glorious homage to the 80s was pretty hideous, if I do say so myself.  

Since this was such a big project, I've decided to break it down into stages for you guys.  I tried really hard to make this a detailed and easy to follow tutorial, but if you have questions, just leave me a comment!  

SIDE NOTE: In between pretty much every single stage we cleaned the stairs thoroughly.

Some before photos: 

Ugh! Those carpet edges! I hate them so much. 

 Stage 1:
Remove carpet and carpet padding.  

I used needle nose pliers, a razor blade, and good old fashioned elbow grease for this part.  I removed the carpet in about four pieces, so I wasn't forced to carry one heavy piece all the way to the trash.  At the top step, I cut the carpet with the razor blade with the intention of wrapping the carpet around the edge of the top step for a nice even transition into the carpeted upstairs area.  Here's what it looked like at this stage:

At this point I realized that our staircase was in MUCH rougher shape than most I had seen on Pinterest and other blogs.  What the heck was I going to do about all those gaps, cracks and stains?  Most staircases I'd seen basically just needed a good sanding and fresh coat of paint. This was not the case with mine.  But, there was no turning back now, so I was determined to figure it out!

Stage 2: 
Remove the staples and carpet tack strips.  

To remove the tack strips, I gently wedged a flat head screw driver underneath the strips and gently tapped the end of the screw driver with a hammer until I could pry them up and off.  For the staples, I relied on my needle nose pliers again.  I'm guessing there are tons of staples in every staircase, but there were probably twice as many in mine because they used so many staples to secure the carpet around those stupid edges. 

Stage 3:

Reid decided to purchase a belt sander for about $60 because our palm sander has definitely seen better days.  It was a great investment because that sander made quick work of those stairs.  I'd say Reid had them sanded in about an hour.  He couldn't get into all the nooks and crannies, particularly around the spindles because of the size of the sander, so I followed behind him and sanded those areas by hand using 60 grit sandpaper.  After we were done sanding we vacuumed the stairs thoroughly and then gently wiped them down with a damp rag.

Extra Tip:  Before you sand each step, triple check that you've removed every last staple.  There are so many that it is easy to miss one or two along the way, and running over one with your sander can rip up your paper and slow you down. Not that I know from experience ;)

 We taped things off as best we could to minimize the mess. 

Here's what they looked like after sanding: 

It may not look like much, but they were already looking so much better at this point. Here is the difference:
Not to mention you could now safely walk on them without the fear of stabbing your foot with a rusty staple :)

Stage 4:
Fixing the Squeaks.

Our stairs have always been a bit creaky, but once we removed the carpet the sound was no longer muffled, and it was pretty loud and very annoying.  This was a very easy fix.  All we did was add some extra screws into each of the creaky stairs to ensure that they were securely fastened to the joists. 

Make sure your screws aren't too thick, or they can split the joists. #8 was recommended when we researched online, so that is what we went with.  Also, make sure your screws are long enough to reach all the way through your stair tread and deep enough into the joist to get a good grip.

In case you don't know what a joist is, here is a visual.  You can see that we screwed the screws into the tread very deep so as to not create a trip hazard. 

Stage 5:
Filling the cracks along the edges.

There were small cracks along the edges of the stairs that had been covered by the carpet, but were now exposed.   They looked like this:

I found a really creative idea for filling these cracks over at Centsational Girl.  We used spray foam to fill them!

The can says for gaps up to 1 inch, but it honestly works for larger gaps too. 

After you spray the foam, you let it sit for about 8 hours while it expands and hardens.  Reid got a little excited and overfilled our gaps, so when we woke up the next morning, they looked like this: 

We used a serrated kitchen knife to cut off the excess. It is important to use a serrated blade, as a smooth one doesn't work nearly as well.  After we'd trimmed the excess, this is what we had:

Later on you will cover these edges with wood filler and sand it thoroughly to get a smooth finish, but more on that later. 

Stage 6: 
Installing new risers.

Now that the gaps along the sides of the treads were filled, we needed to focus on the larger gaps in the risers.  We decided to make inserts for the risers, since the gaps were so large.   I went to Lowe's and purchased 1/4" thick plywood that came in 2 ft x 4 ft sheets.  They cost $8.44 per sheet.  Then I measured the height and length of each riser so we could cut the plywood to size.  I numbered the stairs 1 through 14, starting at the bottom, and wrote the numbers on the plywood so we would know which insert went into which step.  Reid cut them using a table saw.

Measure twice, cut once : )
Then we just used my father-in-law's compressor nail gun to nail them in place.  
This was my first time to use one of these.  They are super cool and I am totally hooked.  That's going on my Christmas list this year for sure.

Stage 7:
Filling the nail holes and imperfections.

Next, we had to fill all the holes in the treads that were left from the nails, screws, and staples. 

  We used the following (again, purchased at Lowe's for about $6):

We ended up needing three cans to fill all our holes.  We used it to fill the nail holes, all the imperfections in our treads (and there were a lot since when this staircase was built, the intention was to cover it with carpet), and to also cover the edges that we had filled with foam.  This product worked extremely well although the fumes were intense.  Make sure you wear a protective mask.  We opened all our windows and brought in a box fan to help circulate the air.  It took about 18 hours for the smell to completely dissipate.

After applying, we let it sit for 15 minutes to dry.  Then we had to give the entire staircase another thorough sanding. 

SIDE NOTE:  For the sake of full disclosure, I should reiterate how important it is to really fill all the imperfections in your stairs with the wood filler VERY carefully and then sand them very well.  There were quite a few imperfections that we thought had been properly filled and sanded, but after we started painting they became highly visible and we had to stop painting and re-fill them and then sand all over again.  Imperfections like this:

It was such a pain to have to start back over again, but it was necessary to get a nice finish.  One tip we learned when sanding: shine a light directly onto the areas with the dried filler, because it brings out all the small imperfections and makes it much easier to see what your finish truly looks like. Also, when you think you are done sanding, sand again.  And again.  And again.  I think we spent about 3 hours sanding and once we shined the light on the newly filled spots, we realized we still needed to sand some areas better.  Our stairs were in pretty rough shape though, so hopefully yours won't be as bad and will require less wood filler and patches :)  

Stage 8:
Trimming the edges. 

The exposed edges of the staircase was unfinished and rough, like this:

To make the edges look clean and finished, we attached trim pieces of poplar wood (1.5'' in size) to the edges. 

For the exposed vertical edges, we used left over plywood from the risers to cut out 2" thick pieces to trim them out.  We used our neighbors jig saw for this part, and it worked much better than a table saw for these smaller, more precise cuts. If you only have a table saw, you can certainly use it for this part, but you'll just have to take your time and be more precise in order to get a good, clean cut.  Once they were all nailed in place, we used more foam spray to fill in the cracks and gaps around the edges better.  Again, we had to let the foam dry for about 8 hours before trimming off the excess.

Stage 9:

The foam we used was perfect for the larger gaps and cracks, but there will still lots of smaller edges that needed to be caulked for a clean and professional looking finish.  Here is a good tip: once you've applied a bead of caulk, smooth it out by lightly running the edge of a credit card along it.  This will remove any excess caulk and give you the best finish possible. 

Stage 10:

Clean your stairs well before priming. We used Kilz (latex) for the primer. 

Stage 11:

The painting was done in 450 steps.   Or maybe it just felt that way.

We wanted to paint the treads grey, but weren't sure exactly what shade we wanted, so it was off to Lowe's I went, to pick up some samples. 

 Insert 50 Shades of Grey joke here. 

We decided to sleep on it, so we could see the color choices at night time and in the day light. Ultimately, we chose a color called Rocky Bluffs (contender #1 pictured above):

We liked this one the best because it had a subtle hint of khaki in it, and we felt it tied in best with our floors and with the tan-ish color on the walls in this room.  We bought a floor-grade paint by Valspar.

We taped each tread off to minimize the mess. 
 As we painted, we skipped a step so that we could still go up and down.

It took three coats of the floor-grade paint to get full coverage. 

Remember those edges we filled with foam? Here is a recap on their evolution:
Not bad, huh? I don't think you can tell that there was ever a crack there to begin with :)

Next, we primed the wall that the stairs are on.  This wall had to be repainted from all the work that had been done on the stairs, and after much deliberation we decided to paint it an accent color, rather that the same tan that is throughout the living room.  Here is it primed: 

Then we painted the risers.

We went with Ultra White because we wanted a very crisp and clean look.

BONUS TIP:  Since you want the edges where the risers and the treads meet to be perfectly crisp, tape them off first.  When you apply the paint to the risers, make sure there isn't too much paint on the brush, or the excess can seep through underneath the tape.  After you've cut in the edges of the risers, remove the tape before the paint has time to dry.  You should have crisp, clean edges.  If you still have any imperfections, use a small craft brush for your touch ups. 

Then, simply because we were within probably an hour of being done, I decided that the oak hand rails had to go and decided to paint them.  This added another week's worth of work, but the end result is worth it.   We sanded, primed, and painted about 4 coats of white to get an even finish. 

Update:  I've gotten several questions about what kind of paint we used for the trim and railings.  We used an oil based paint by Valspar, in Ultra White gloss finish.  The smell is strong, so open up some windows. 

After all this, there were quite a few touch ups we had to do.  Spots where grey paint had gotten onto the trim, or trim paint had gotten onto the treads.  All the fun little details that give you a finished a clean look.  I recommend that you switch to a small craft brush for this part, its much easier to get into small corners and edges that way.  
Then, the sun will shine down on your face, and the warmth from it will touch you deep in your soul.  Because you are finally DONE!

Phew, that was a long post.   Let me know if I left anything out, I'm happy to answer questions.  Since you made it through until the bitter end with me,  I'll thank you by sharing some more pretty pictures :)

Now that I'm all done, I am excited to start putting my collage wall back together.  I've got some fun changes planned for it, and I think you guys will like them.  Be on the lookout for some new projects in the coming weeks.  

As always, thanks for taking the time to stop by.  For more ideas and tidbits, you can follow me on Pinterest and Instagram


  1. Your stairs turned out wonderful. We started on ours a year ago and stopped. Need to get back to them.

    1. Thank you! It was a lot of work, but it feels great to be done. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. We painted our new doors and trim with oil based paint. If you set out bowls of white vinegar it will absorb the smell. I did not believe it until we tried it. I leave the bowls out all the time now. It absorbs all the smells associated with remodeling.

    1. Oh wow, what an interesting idea! Thanks for the tip, and for stopping by :)

    2. All your hard work payed off!!! as THE KIDS USED TO SAY SWEET!!!

    3. Thanks Pauline! I appreciate the "sweet" comment ;)

  3. Wow! The transformation is amazing! I'm gearing up to do this same thing on our stairs. I sure hope that mine are in better shape underneath the carpet! Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thanks Jeanette! Good luck with yours!! I certainly hope it is in better shape too!

  4. Can you give me any more information on the landing at the bottom? I am planning to redo my stairs and I have this odd shaped landing at the top and bottom.

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