One of the common dated features of cape homes is the orangey oak banisters. Our home has not 1, but 2 sets of these. If your banisters are in good condition, a semi-easy DIY project to get them looking more modern is refinishing them with a gel stain. A gel stain is great alternative to a full stain as its not as intensive of work, but produces a similar looking result.
I bought the supplies for this project at the beginning of March, and it took me until the middle of June (and upcoming home appraisal!) to get the courage to finally tackle this project. I had read reviews the gel stain was easy to work with, but messy. I was horrified I was going to make our banisters and recently professionally painted stairwell horrifyingly hideous with unremovable gel stain everywhere.
In reality, if you have painted a room before and could accomplish the job without dripping paint on the floors, ceiling, and molding, you can easily tackle this as well. While it is a fairly detailed oriented project, with a solid taping job and the right tools, it was fairly easy to get done. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it went and extremely proud of the result!
- Materials: <$100
- Labor: ~10 hours total including research for ~2 hours & ~8 hours of project work
- General Finishes Gel Stain – I used ‘Antique Walnut’ & loved it. I used 1 quart and had plenty left over for our 3 sections.
- General Finishes High Performance Top Coat
- Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner
- Striping pads
- Sand paper or sanding block, 220 grit
- 2 staining pads – do not use a sock
- Foam brushes
- Small paint brushes for details
- Painters tape
- Drop cloth or old sheet for keeping floors stain free
Step 1 – Research: Watch the YouTube tutorial by Pretty Distressed. Christina did an amazing job and gave me the confidence I needed to tackle this. I would also recommend reading the General Finishes website tips & tricks section for working with gel stain. I also saved my Instagram stories here as I was working through the project.
Step 2 – Prep area & remove existing stain: Wet your stripping pad with mineral spirits/paint thinner and apply to parts of the banister where you are looking to remove the existing stain. The mineral spirts can get everywhere and if not wiped up quickly, can remove/damage the paint/floor stain you want to keep. I’d highly recommend covering your floor with drop clothes/old sheets before starting. If you have parts of your banister with wall behind it, you can also put a layer of newspaper up with painters tape to help protect your paint. Once completed, let fully dry for 1 hour. By the time I got to the final section, it had been an hour and the top was already dry.
Step 3 – Sand: Give the wood a light sanding with ~220ish grit sand paper. All of the existing stain does not need to be removed to – it just needs to be roughed up a little in order to give the stain something to stick to. Next, use a slightly damp paper towel to remove any remaining dust.
Step 4 – Tape: Do this and do it well. Fix your mistakes. The more the merrier.
Step 5 – Stain Application & Excess Removal: Apply a thin layer of gel stain to the banister using a foam brush. I would highly recommend starting at the top of the stairs or a place that’s less visible- you’ll get better as you go. You’ll also want to apply the stain in the same direction as the grain of the wood. Use your small brush on the difficult sections. Next, you’ll want to remove any access with the staining pad, running the pad in the same direction as the grain of the wood again.
In this step, I wish I would have done 2 things differently:
- The first coat is the most important. Pay very close attention to how the stain is staying on the wood and correct for any uneven treatments that do not look ‘natural’. This was especially tricky on the end sections.
- I waited too long to remove the excess. I worked the entire section of the banister before removing any stain, which caused part of problem #1 above. The stain should sit for no more than a few minutes.
Step 6 – Wait & Apply Coat #2: Next comes the waiting – the gel stain can says to wait 12-24 hours for coat #2, the website says up to 72 hours. You’ll know the stain is fully dry when it is no longer sticky to the touch. Follow the exact steps from 5 again – apply stain & remove excess.
The first banister section where I successfully removed the excess stain in a few minutes was dry in less than 24 hours. The 2nd & 3rd sections that had more complicated sections and I waited too long were not fully dry after 24 hours. The website says you can wait up to 5 days for it to fully dry (if it doesn’t cure after 5 days it will never dry), or apply the second coat. I choose to apply the 2nd coat, and it worked great. Both sections were dry in <24 hours with the excess removed properly the 2nd time.
Step 7 – Apply 3 layers of top coat: Once coat #2 is fully dry (not sticky), using a clean foam brush, apply a thin layer of top coat. Each coat takes approximately ~an hour to dry. Similar to the stripping step, by the time I had finished with the bottom section, the top was fully dry.
When applying the top coat, apply in very THIN layers and pay close attention to make sure none is running over the edges. Use your small brush on the difficult sections.
Good luck – you’ve got this!