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How to Stain/Paint an Oak Banister (the shortcut method…no sanding needed!)

Our house was built in 2000.  I’m pretty sure that was right at the height of using orange oak for trim work, kitchen cupboards, and banisters…..because this house was FULL of it when we moved in.  (Remember the kitchen we overhauled??  And the window trimming we changed? Oh, and the fireplace mantel and hearth we built? Yep lots of orange oak.)  I actually like using natural wood pieces in my decor and have nothing against exposed wood.  However, the orange-y stain that this house was saturated with, just really made my eyeballs hurt.  And you know, some people can create magic and make it work, but for me…..decorating with orange-y oak is such a bugger.  Grrrrrr.

So, right after we moved in, we started transforming and/or replacing anything orange.  We replaced doors, trim, hardwood floors, window trim, blinds, etc.  The last thing to get hacked, was the banister.  Mostly because we considered for a long time tearing the whole thing out and building new chunky Cratfsman style Newel Posts, maybe adding iron spindles, possibly tearing out the carpet and installing wood steps, etc.  But to really overhaul it, was going to get really expensive and take a lot of time.  (We even had 2 different woodworkers come in and give us a quote for overhauling the whole banister/posts, so we could work on other things.  One quoted us $10,000 and the other $14,000.  Uhhhh……yeah, no.  I mean, really?!?!)  And the more I thought about wood steps, the more I realized that UN-cushioned steps are just not for my family.  The kids fall down the stairs all the time.  And heck, so do I.  Steve has even fallen down them a time or two.  So, I realized that wood steps would sure be beautiful…but totally not practical for us.

So, we decided to stain the banister and newel posts (and the wood that runs along the base of the spindles) and to paint each of the spindles a creamy white color.  And let me tell you…….for about $50, it turned out beautifully!!!!

And just so you can see what it looked like before we began, in all its orange-y glory —

The stain we used is a really deep Java brown color that I absolutely love.  Not quite black but a really rich tone that pulls in the darker colors in the walnut flooring.  And in case you’re worried??  The stain was the easiest part.  And no, we DIDN’T sand for hours and hours and hours.  In fact, we spent about 20 minutes sanding rough spots and gouges in the wood from the previous owners.  But no need to sand off the old stain and polyurethane.  Nope, you don’t need to! (More info about that below.)

If your spindles are already white, jump on this PRONTO!  This really won’t be a terribly time-consuming project (except taping will take some time).  Or if you don’t care for the two-toned look and want to stain everything the same color — this would be a relatively quick project!  But if you have to paint your spindles like we did…..that takes a little more time.  Okay, a lot more time.  But for a savings of thousands of dollars??  Worth it!

And now, my friends, all of the orange in our home is gone (okay, not the basement….shhhh!!)  And everything ties together and makes me so happy!

***The “Home State” Scrap Wood Art hanging on the wall in the background…is another tutorial.

Oh wait — some of you have seen little snippets of the finished banister and even saw me writing about it a little bit on Instagram over a year ago.  Aaaaaaand, here’s why:

We started the banister process right before Thanksgiving of 2013.  Yes, over a year ago.  However, once the staining was done, I was pregnant with little Oliver.  So this project halted right then and there.  Because, well, pregnancy is a pukey time for me. ;)  So we lived with a dark stained banister and orange spindles for a looooong time.  (Yep, really ugly…but with a head in the toilet, I didn’t care At. All.)  But once Oliver was born (this past summer), we jumped on it and painted those spindles.  It took about a week of painting 10-20 spindles each night, after the kids were in bed.

And then, I still couldn’t stomach sharing a photo here of the finished banister because we hadn’t replaced the carpet yet.  You’ll see down below that we cut along the sides of the old carpet to get it away from the wood while staining and were careless with the carpet since we knew we were replacing it.  So it was ugly.  But, we didn’t want to replace the carpet until we finished all the baseboards upstairs in the all the bedroom closets and painting all the door frames.  Anyway, blah, blah, blah….this house has been a process!  But, we just had our carpets replaced a few days ago and HALLELUJAH — new carpet!!!!

So, I can safely say that even after a year, the stain on the banister and posts has been fantastic!!  And most of that time, it didn’t even have the protective clear coat on it……and it still held up so well!  But now that the clear coat has been applied, it’s even more protected and slightly shiny.  (We opted for a satin finish, which is still plenty shiny, but not a super high gloss.)

I think spindles are typically installed right down into the steps of your stairs.  Ours, however, are attached to some wood that runs along both sides of the steps.  So, beneath the stained wood, we added a bit of painted trim, that really makes the stained wood pop. And I absolutely love this detail all the way around the stairs!

Up at the top of the stairs, there’s a little lookout onto the family room down below, with more spindles and banister.  We stained and painted that too.

I know you either love or hate the two-toned banister/spindle look……but I really love it!  It just gives the eye so much to look at — and is such a cool contrast.

***The “Home State” Scrap Wood Art hanging on the wall in the background…is another tutorial.

Okay, and since I’m a sucker for a good before/after shot……here’s another (even though the angle is slightly different).

***Oh, and do you see those light fixtures that I re-painted so long ago?  I love seeing the before/after of those too!  Painting Light Fixture tutorial HERE.

Okay, I know I took a trillion pictures of this ol’ banister, but I’m just so happy the carpet’s installed.  And that I can finally say the banisters are DONE!  And for very little cost and several shortcuts……this project was very VERY worth it!!!

Want me to show you how to transform your banister??

Okay, you’ve got this! ((fist bump))


  • Gel Stain, General Finishes Brand, Color: Java (I have used a variety of stain over the years and this brand worked really well to cover the orange.  It really soaks in and wears really well.)
  • Polyacrylic Top Coat, General Finishes Brand (we used a water based top coat so that it would dry faster and was less smelly. we also opted for a satin finish…so it wasn’t overly glossy.)
  • sponge brush (for applying stain and top coat)
  • soft cloths (for wiping off excess stain)
  • rubber gloves (the stain will stain your skin and doesn’t come off with soap and water.  because it’s oil based, you’ll need a paint thinner to remove this…so USE GLOVES!)
  • Primer Paint (if you’re painting spindles, a coat of primer helps to seal everything and give yourself a nice base coat before adding your tinted paint)
  • Semi-Gloss Paint (if you’re painting spindles.  if yours are already white, then you don’t need this.  and in case you’re wondering, I painted mine with Swiss Coffee by Benjamin Moore but color matched at Home Depot, just like all the trim/doors/baseboards in my home)
  • Paint brush (if you’re painting spindles)
  • Face mask (the stain is strong and since we stained ours in the winter and couldn’t leave the doors/windows open, we bought a respirator mask for about $25
  • Painters tape (for taping around edges that touch the wall, floor, and/or spindles)

Okay, I know I told you that sanding wasn’t necessary.  And it’s not.  But the banister on our stairs was so beat up in some areas.  So, we sanded in several areas, just to even out the nicks and bumps.  But you don’t need to sand down to the un-stained wood.  There’s no need. :)

And your stairs may not have the wood along the base like ours does, but if you do, we found this sponge sander that got into cracks a little better than the mouse sander.

And again, we only sanded down here to even out the nicks and scrapes in the wood.

If you sanded anything at all, just be sure to wipe off the dust with a wet cloth.

For all the staining that I did, I only needed a quart plus about half of a pint of the stain.  That was it. :)  (I bought this at a local woodworking store. But I’ve also seen it HERE  on Amazon.)

To apply the stain, we used a wide sponge brush and completely covered the banister in a coat of the stain.  Be sure to apply even and smooth coats, without any globbing.  We let the stain sit for about 5-10 minutes (yours may take longer or shorter…’ll need to experiment) and kinda soak in….

…and would then wipe off the excess with a soft cloth.  Only work a section at a time so that the stain doesn’t dry in globs.  Once you wipe the stain, you’ll see some of the orange peeking through, and that’s okay.

Oh, and if you’re painting your spindles anyway, don’t worry if you get some of the stain onto them.  Just be sure to smooth out any globs, or it will look bumpy after you paint.  (However, if your spindles are already white, make sure and tape around each one so that your stain doesn’t get onto them.)

Oh, and if you are getting rid of your carpet, consider cutting some of the old carpet so you can really get the stain down where it needs to go.  Otherwise, you’ll need to tape of your carpet too.

Repeat applying the stain, letting it set, and then wiping it off, until everything has been coated.

Then repeat with a second coat, and possibly a 3rd coat.  We waited a day between coats and always looked carefully at the stain in direct sunlight, to see if some areas needed another coat.

Once you’re happy with the stain, paint a coat of your primer onto your spindles.  Use a fine paintbrush around the edges that meet with the stain and be extra careful to not get any paint on the stain.  Then apply 1-2 coats of your semi-gloss paint to each of your spindles.  (We would paint in sections.  I would paint 10 or so spindles and then take a break and work on something else.  It gets a little monotonous…so break it up!)

We opted for this water based top-coat because we knew it would dry faster and not smell as strong.  It worked really well and gave a nice satin shiny finish. However, the lady at the woodworking store where we bought it, said that the more layers you apply, the glossier it will appear. Just an FYI.  (I also found it HERE on Amazon.)

We applied 2 layers with a clean sponge brush (making sure to keep it really smooth with no bubbles or smears) and were happy with the finish. Also, all brands are a little different, so be sure to read the instructions on your particular can. :)

And that’s it!  A complete transformation!

Now go on, be brave, and turn your banister into something you LOVE!


how to stain or paint wood stair railings (oak banisters and newel posts)

How to stain or paint wood stair railings for under $50 the easy way (Oak Banister Makeover)

Yield: Beautiful Stair Railings
Active Time: 1 day
Additional Time: 1 day
Total Time: 2 days
Difficulty: easy
Estimated Cost: $50

Learn how to stain or paint your wood stairs to get a makeover for under $50. Get suggestions on what paint colors to use for your railings, spindles and oak banister. Sanding optional.


  • Gel Stain (General Finishes Brand, Color: Java)
  • Polyacrylic Top Coat (General Finishes Brand)
  • Primer Paint
  • Semi-Gloss Paint


  • Sponge sander
  • Mouse Sander (optional for sanding)
  • Paint brush
  • Face mask
  • Painters tape
  • Sponge brush
  • Soft cloths
  • Rubber gloves


Sanding Optional:

If you decide to sand, start the project by first sanding down nicks and scrapes using a mouse and/or sponge sander. Wipe off the dust with a wet cloth.

    1. Stain (brand and color of your choice) the banister thoroughly using a wide sponge brush
      General Finish java gel stain
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    2. Wait for the stain to soak in and dry for about 10 minutes. Wipe off excess stain with a wet cloth.
      How to stain/paint an oak banister (the shortcut method…no sanding needed!)
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    3. Continue applying, drying, and wiping stain at different sections of the stairs until everything is coated.
      How to stain/paint an oak banister (the shortcut method…no sanding needed!)
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    4. Optional: add second or third coats between days.
      How to stain/paint an oak banister (the shortcut method…no sanding needed!)
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    5. Next, paint a coat of the primer onto your spindles. Use a fine paintbrush around the edges that meet with the stain and be extra careful to not get any paint on the stain.
      paint spindles
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    6. Next, apply 1-2 coats of your semi-gloss paint to each of your spindles, working one section or about 10 spindles at a time.
      polyacrylic top coat for wood stairs
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    7. Finally, apply 2 layers of the Polyacrylic Top Coat on the hand railings with a clean sponge brush to avoid bubbles or smears.
      How to stain/paint an oak banister (the shortcut method…no sanding needed!)
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    That's it. Here's the before-and-after:

    How to stain/paint an oak banister (the shortcut method…no sanding needed!)
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  1. Stain dry time could vary more or less than 10 minutes, depending on the brand. Keep an eye on it.
  2. If you get any stain on your spindles, which you're going to paint anyway, be sure to smooth out any globs to prevent bumps. If your spindles are white however, tape around them to avoid getting stain on them.
  3. If your stairs have carpet, cover with tape also.
  4. Look carefully at the stain in direct sunlight to see if some areas needed another coat.
  5. Water based Top Coat dries faster, doesn't smell as strong, and gives a nice satin shiny finish. Keep in mind, the more layers you apply, the glossier it will appear.

. . . . .

Looking for more house projects???

Check out how I used the same method to Stain Our Oak Bathroom Cabinets

DIY Board and Batten……ahhhh, I love this stuff!

Turn a naked window into a beautiful one…… Trimming Out Your Windows.

. . . . .

Something else a little fun for you……check out this quick video!!


Ashley Johnston

Administrator at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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