Come on friends; it’s time to take a little journey.
I wish we were going on a classic road trip, complete with car-dancing, crazy wind-blown hair and more Mike-and-Ikes than one digestive system is equipped to handle, but it’s not that kind of trip: we’re headed down memory lane, buds.
(By the way, I’m fully aware that in normal life, my singing voice sounds like a dying cat… who might also be mating, but is definitely suffering in some way. But I’m convinced that there’s a magical phenomenon that happens on road trips – maybe the “acoustics” of the vehicle and the blaring volume of the music – that morphs my voice into something like Adele’s temporarily. Anyone else become a beautiful vocalist at 75 MPH?)
ANYWAY. Memory lane. When we bought our house, the entryway looked like this:
And, as I mentioned in this post where I showed you all our befores-and-afters, we changed the railings to look like this shortly after we moved in:
I’ve gotten soooo many questions about how we stained the railings and replaced the balusters with iron, so I’m finally, finally sharing how we did it. It’s a simple, inexpensive change with a big ol’ honkin’ impact: my favorite kind of update!
This project has two parts:
1. Stain the railings. (Which I’ll tell you about right this very minute.)
2. Add the iron balusters. (See how to do that right here!)
First: a caveat. We did this project pre-blogging, so I’m workin’ with the photos I can track down from the abyss of our hard drive, and recreating the stain process on a random scrap of wood so I can show you how it works. We’re going to have to play make-believe, just a smidge.
Materials You’ll Need
- Wood stripper. I used Citristrip. It’s a little safer and less fumey than normal stripper, but it’s also a little less magical because it doesn’t bubble. Since we’re not moving the railings outside to stain them, it’s probably smarter to use something safer indoors.
- Refinishing gloves. (YES. You need them. Signed: your mom.) I used these 3M Tekk gloves.
- Wood stain. I used this Minwax Dark Walnut.
- Polyurethane. This is what I used.
- Scouring pad or steel wool
- Paintbrush and/or foam brush. (An old, crappy brush is perfect!)
- Plastic scrapers, like these.
- Mineral Spirits like this
- Paper towels and/or rags
These links all take you to my affiliate shop.
1. Remove the balusters
First we gotta bust out the white wooden balusters!
If you’re trying to save the white wooden balusters to reuse them, go this route: Holding one hand at the top of the baluster and the other hand at the bottom, slooooooowly twist the baluster until it loosens the nail holding it in, then lift it up and out of the railing. You MIGHT be able to save a few of them, but be prepared for many of them to break.
But if you know you’re replacing the balusters, go with our method: UNAPOLOGETIC DESTRUCTION! Just wiggle the balusters up and down, or saw them in half with something sharp and power-tooly, until they break and you can pull them out of the railings. Once you take them all out, reach in the holes where the balusters used to be and make sure there aren’t any lingering nails. If there are, just tug ‘em out with needle-nose pliers.
2. Protect the walls and floor.
Use painter’s tape and/or newspaper to cover the walls where the railings meet the wall, so you don’t get any stain on the walls. MIGHT want to protect the floors too, if you’re an impatient, messy DIYer. #JoinTheClub
3. Strip the existing finish
Adios, honey oak! Your days are over!
Pour some of the Citristrip into a metal container and brush it all over the wooden railings.
Remember when I said we were going to play make-believe since I don’t have photos from when we actually did this project? Pretend this honey oak-stained piece of wood is a railing. We did this whole process without removing the railing, so pretend like this whole process was done inside, on the installed railings.
After you’ve brushed the stripper all over the wooden railings, let it sit. With this particular stripper, you can let it sit between 30 minutes and 24 hours. After about 5 hours, our pretend-railing had turned a milky pink-white like this:
If you used a more chemically, intense stripper, the finish would be bubbling up, which is incredibly fun and satisfying. So you will need to weigh that in your stripper purchasing decision. (Immature snicker.)
After somewhere between 30 minutes and 24 hours (according to the directions on the stripper), use your plastic scraper to test a small portion of the railing. Scrape a little bit of the stripper away and see if the finish comes off with it. If it removes the shiny finish to reveal the raw wood beneath, you’re good to go. If not, let it sit a while longer.
Once I knew it was ready, I used my plastic scraper to scrape the finish away. It worked okay, but I also tried a metal scraper. The metal was speedy and fun, but it also removed a little bit of the wood and created splinters if I got a little crazy with it, as I am known to do.
Once you’ve removed the finish from the main parts of the railings, you’ll need to get in all those crevices. A scouring pad is perfect for the detailed portions of your railings that are a little harder to get with a flat scraper.
The goal here is to remove the stripper and the shiny finish on the wood so you see the raw wood. Once you have it all the way off, go over it with a piece of sandpaper. We just used 180-grit sandpaper and did a very quick once-over by hand with a loose sheet of sandpaper to smooth out any imperfections. Then just wipe it all down with a paper towel and mineral spirits, to clean it and reveal the luscious raw wood underneath!
Now you’re all set to stain! Look at you go!
4. Stain that junk!
SO EASY. Stir your stain with a paint stick, then dip a paper towel or scrap rag in the stain and rub it onto the wood in the direction of the grain.
The way I just said that sounds like it’s a careful, methodical procedure, but it’s not. It’s messy and it’s simple and you can hardly mess it up, promise. NOTE: Wood stain is VERY thin, so if you’re in a spot where drippy stain will ruin your floors, go with a gel stain instead. It’s a little thicker and won’t be so watery.
Do the staining process in sections so you can keep the color consistent. Do one section, let it sit, then wipe off the excess stain with a dry rag. The longer you leave it, the darker the final finish will be. I think we left it about five minutes to get to this color. Make sure you keep track of how long you let the stain sit on the first section before wiping, because you’ll need to try to be pretty consistent. If it’s not dark enough the first time, reapply the stain, let it sit, and wipe it off again. We did two coats on our railings.
Let it dry about 24 hours… and you’re almost done!
5. Add Polyurethane
Once the stain is dry and you’re happy with the color, brush on some polyurethane to protect the finish and make it shiny and glorious.
This is the shininess we got after one coat of Polyurethane. If you’re trying to be an overachiever and get that super SUPER glossy finish, you can lightly run some sandpaper over it and add another coat of polyurethane.
It’s really a straightforward job and it makes a huuuuge difference. The hardest part is definitely scraping off the stripper, but you can do it.
Just pop on some Adele and pretend you’re halfway to the beach, and you’ll be done before you know it.
At this point your railings should look kinda like this, with sad little holes where the balusters belong. Bare hanging light bulb optional.
You can either stick some plain white wooden balusters right back in those holes now, or you can add iron balusters, which is SUCH AN EASY JOB, you guys. You won’t even believe it. See how to install iron balusters.
Who’s ready to eradicate some honey oak? Is anyone else a road-trip Grammy winner?