Get sanding and staining tips for wooden stairs. Learn about bleaching dark spots, using the right sandpaper, and staining a wooden staircase.
LESLIE: Margaret in New York is doing some work on a staircase . How can we help you with the project?
MARGARET: We have an 8-year-old oak staircase. It was covered with about, I don’t know, six to eight layers of varnish and paint over the years. So we were trying to strip it. We did a lot of the stripping  with a product called Peel Away.
MARGARET: And we got a lot of the paint off. Our problem is now that we’re trying to finish up the project and get to the staining part, there’s a lot of dark spots still on the staircase. And we’ve sanded it and we’ve done other things to it but they don’t seem to come off and I’m worried that it’s going to affect the way the stain looks on the staircase.
TOM: What kind of stain are you going to put on this? Is it a lighter stain or a darker stain?
MARGARET: A darker stain.
TOM: Well, I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to find out that that darker stain will blend in those existing stains that are on the staircase as best as it possibly can. You know, I have a really old house and did a staircase project just like this and after we got absolutely as much of the old finish off as we could, we used a dark stain and it really evened everything out quite nicely. So I don’t think it’s going to hurt it. If anything, it’s going to make it blend in.
MARGARET: Right. And to make the staircase a little smoother, do we – I mean how much do we have to sand ? Like it’s – you know, we’ve been working on this for a while.
TOM: OK, if it’s oak …
TOM: … and you’re using – you probably need to use just a medium-grit sandpaper on that. That will give you a pretty good finish. So around 100-grit sandpaper.
TOM: And so, if we’re using that that’s probably the best that you can do. As you get to the end of the sanding project, make sure you’re sanding with the grain. Have you used any machines to sand? Like orbital sanders or anything like that?
MARGARET: We did. We did.
TOM: OK. So make sure your last coat has got some fine paper on it so that you don’t leave any sanding marks because they will show up.
MARGARET: So meaning, after we stain one coat we should – after we stain whatever …
TOM: Oh, no. After you – no, no. Before you stain.
TOM: [You start sanding] (ph) before you stain and then you stain and then you put on your polyurethane on top of that. Just let it…
LESLIE: And you sand between the levels of polyurethane.
LESLIE: Now, Margaret, the only suggestion I have in dealing with some odd stains or tonations of wood is there are wood bleaching products on the market. Some are peroxide, some are chlorine-based and some are even oxilic or oxalic. You can get them at the home centers. They are kind of tough to work with. They really are made only to work on that one spot.
LESLIE: But if you know kind of what’s caused that stain – which I think, in your case, is over time – you know, the folks at a paint shop, a good one, will be able to recommend the right type of bleach and you might be able to lighten that one area. But you want to make sure you don’t over-lighten it to now cause a different problem.
MARGARET: Right. I guess most of the areas where we have the trouble is in the detail work of the staircase itself. There’s like small detail work and in there, in those crevices, it’s very hard to …
TOM: It’s tough. Yeah, it’s tough to get into those spots.
TOM: You know, that’s why you do the best you can. Put some stain on there to even it out, finish and move on.
MARGARET: OK, great. Thanks so much. I appreciate your help.
TOM: You’re welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.