I was curious about 2 things(Love, love what you have done). Have you like having no carpet on the stairs? What was the cost of refinishing the wood floors? Thanks. i hope our project can turn out as awesome as yours
Thank you! I love how the carpetless stairs look and how easy they are to keep clean, but I do have admit they can be a little slippery. Eventually, I’ll probably have to get a runner. As far as cost, we paid a little over $3 per square foot for the refinishing. Hope this helps & good luck!
Your home is beautiful!! I had a very successful result staining our master bath vanity and am going to tackle the banister next! What brand of liquid sander did you use, and what type of cloth did you use to apply it? I sanded my vanity and it was messy, so this sounds perfect! Thank you in advance!!
Thanks very much! You’re becoming a staining pro! Up above in my post I link to all the products that I used. Keep in mind with the liquid sander you’re trying to knock down the shiny finish, not get down to raw wood (you wouldn’t be able to with this product!) Gel stain is more dense than traditional stain, applies more like a paint rather than seeping into the wood. Hope this helps and good luck!
Fantastic job! We are only trying to stain an oak table – 4 coats of jacobean and one coat of ebony and my husband is about to sand it all down again (for the third time) with 150 grit instead of 220 and then try it again. The grain is just not soaking into the grain and giving us that dark color that we desire :(. Thanks for the tutorial. We also have a small oak banister that I detest! If this table project ever ends I will work on the banister.
Thank you! Yeah, we discovered oak is a difficult wood to get dark. You just want that rich chocolatey espresso and oak doesn’t want to cooperate, right? Ha! I was expecting our floors to be more even with a darker stain, but the grain seemed to soak up most of the stain while the rest of the wood was quite resistant! Good luck with that table – and definitely go for the gel stain on the banisters – so much easier then sanding and staining!
I love your bannisters! We had to take ours out (not fun) for floor guys to sand stairs. We were also told to just replace them. We were going to paint the large posts black and just stain the rails, but I like your idea and we may opt for that. Pics when done!
They took out many of our balusters, but them popped them back in after so we didn’t have to replace them. Would love to see your finished project – good luck!
So funny…our house layout and staircase is almost exactly like this and currently all honey oak. Even our walls are revere pewter… So funny. Anyway, we are getting our floors refinished next week, and I was wondering if you could tell me if the ebony/jacobean mix was 50/50 or something different?! Thanks so much. Everything looks beautiful by the way!!
Thank you!!! Sorry I’m a touch late on the reply. Our foyers are twinning! I honestly don’t know the exact mix, but it is over 50% ebony because the 50/50 mix was our starting point and we added more ebony gradually to darken.
Love your tutorial !!! Did you do your stair risers yourself too!
No, not that skilled! The company who refinished our floors also did the risers.
is the gel finish durable enough for furniture? I have oak bunk beds in my son’s room that we would both love more if they were darker but can’t fathom all the sanding and staining of the nooks and crannies.
It’s all about the top coat when it comes to durability, not so much the gel stain itself. I recently painted cabinets and used General Finishes High Performance Poly and so far it’s held up great. You have to do quite a few coats and it does have a long cure time (to be fully cured), so the bunk beds would be out of commission for a little bit. If you used a high quality poly like that, I think the gel staining would work. Good luck!
I found your post on Pinterest and I am SO glad I did! I just completed our banisters and they look AMAZING!! It barely took any of the gel stain to complete the project so there is plenty more staining left to do. My next project will be our master bathroom cabinets. Thanks for sharing such a great, inspirational tutorial!
Yay! So happy to hear that! One more oak banister eliminated! LOL! I’d love to see pictures!
Love your stairs. We have a contempory rail and posts and i am considering the same. ours are not oak but some softer wood that appears to be some kind of pine i guess. I am not sure if we will just paint the whole thing white or use something different on the hand rail.
Thank you! Whatever you choose to do just make sure you use a good poly over it! Good luck!
Thanks for the inspiration and instructions! Nervous but going to try! Also a type-A Virgo named Kelli!! haha!!
You’re welcome! Don’t be nervous, it’s really quite simple… especially for “our type” LOL! Good luck!
Hi, Love you tips and advise. I have used General Finishes Java Gel Stain on my kitchen cabinets and LOVE them. I did not know I could use it on railing and stairs? Did you use the floor stain on the stairs or the Java Gel stain on the stairs? I want to stain the stairs with Gel and just want to know if someone already did that.
Thank you! I only used the gel stain on my banisters, not on my stairs. I had professionals strip and stain the stairs. They used Minwax stain.
Did anyone ever do the java gel on stairs or floors? I love this stuff… i think I am going to risk it tomorrow… so share… soon if want to stop me…! I did all my windows and LOVE it… my doors, my baseboards… why should floor be so different ( other projects I did not remove finish… but I am going to sand floors and… wish me luck!
Hi Ann. I personally have not used it on floors, so unfortunately I can’t speak to the durability of Gel Stain on floors – only banisters! I suggest visiting General Finishes’ website for more information and doing some sound research before you jump in. We had our floors refinished professionally and it’s quite a job! They used Minwax (details above) and a squeegee like device to spread it around the floor. They did a second coat once the first was dry, then once completely dry they sealed it with a Minwax topcoat. Good luck with your project!
We plan on doing the same to our oak banister, thank you for the info!! But did you have solid treads under your carpet or did you have to rebuild a whole new tread, or somehow patch the area where the carpet had been? That’s what I’m stuck on — we don’t have a solid tread, under the carpet is just subfloor.
You’re welcome – glad you found the tutorial helpful! We did have solid treads under the carpet, so it was simply a matter of refinishing for us. Good luck with your project, would love to see the final results!
Love the new look! Recently bought a home (built 1996) and that golden oak is everywhere! Kitchen cabinets, island, bannister, floor, fireplace mantle, room columns…. I’m overwhelmed! Not to mention brass everywhere too! If I start staining the floors or bannister, do I have to stain everything too? Seems like a big and $$$ project!
Wish I had you to come over and walk me through this
Thank you so much! Oh boy oh boy do I know the feeling of all-oak-everything! We started on a path to complete oak-elimination and haven’t looked back, BUT I’ve seen some great examples of minimizing oak. Like here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/238127899019970048/ The floors are a major, expensive project, but gel staining a banister, painting under oak stairs/risers white, even painting/staining cabinets (lots of labor here, but little cost) are ways to start minimizing the everywhere oak. After a few projects and a couple of area rugs, you may actually find you like it on the floor! Good luck!!!
Beautiful!! Thank you so much for sharing the pics and details of how to do this. I too have an “all oak–golden/orangy” house and want to update it without going all white. Your stairs turned out beautiful and you have given me the courage I need to begin–as soon as I get the hubby on board! I’m hesitant on using the sock method though–I’m imagining a mess knowing me–did you go back over it with a brush to smooth it out? Also, it appears you added the wainscoting in the living room? It too is beautiful and makes a huge difference! Thank you again for sharing your knowledge and experience!
Yay, another convert! LOL! Thanks so much for all your kind words! (and for noticing my DIY wainscoting!) The sock method allowed me to get better coverage than a brush. I really just used the brush on the edges that touched the wall and for touch ups. The gel stain is gel-like, not liquidy like paint or stain, so it’s a bit harder to make a mess. Using a sock also allowed me to get into the nooks and crannies much easier than a brush did. Didn’t need to go back over it with a brush, came out nice and smooth. Give it a shot and if its not your cup of tea, switch to the brush or you could even try using a staining pad. Good luck, and please let me know how it turns out!
Are the steps themselves made of oak? We pulled up carpet on our stairs and they are not oak they are a different wood. I was just wondering because I’m hoping to not have to put oak treads in but stain them with the gel stain.
Yes, our treads are solid oak. We didn’t gel stain them, we had the company who refinished our floors sand and stain them with the Minwax, then we painted the unders and sides. Good luck with your project!
First let me say this staircase doesn’t even look like the same one the change is beyond amazing!!! LOVE it! Do you think the same process could be done on the treads of the stairs? Ours are not oak, I think they are birch. I need to do something with mine and was wondering, don’t really want to hire someone to come in right now, just got done putting a new roof on the house…..so ya, you know. Thanks!
Thanks so much! As far as doing the treads, I’m honestly not sure it will hold up. Ours were sanded down by hand then stained with Minwax + Poly, like our floors. My concern with gel staining over your existing treads would be durability. Think of gel stain as more of a paint. The color doesn’t get absorbed it lays on top, then is locked in by the poly. (Unless you sand the treads down, and in that case gel stain isn’t the best option anyway.) A railing doesn’t need the very high durability of stair treads, so this works well for it and even cabinets, but with the amount of traffic treads will get, my gut says this may not hold up too well… I sympathize with the pain of roofing costs (we did a tear-off last year) but I would get a professional in on this project! Good luck!
Thanks for the reply. I’m thinking this is a project that will wait until another time. We did a total tear off too, so have to save more money for future improvements! I have a LONG list of things I want to do!!!
Great job on this project! we are in this house 1 year and replaced everything but the banister/staircase. and NOW I know how to do this. Thank you!
You’re welcome! Good luck!
I love your banister and am getting ready to do mine the exact same way. How has yours held up? Chips? Scratches?
Thank you! They’ve held up quite well. Only one teeny tiny chip (which I touched up with gel stain + a q-tip) where I accidentally rammed my laundry basket into the post at the bottom of the steps. I also only did one coat of poly. The more coats of poly, the stronger your finish! Good luck!!!
I have several bits that have chipped off. I’m not sure if that is because I didn’t use enough liquid sander in that area. When you touched up your area that was chipped did you have to do the liquid sander to that area and then do all the steps again?
Hmm, my area was teenie tiny (and caused my cluziness!) so I simply took a q-tip with gel stain on it to the spot and it disappeared. Not sure I would mess with the liquid sander in those spots, as it may effect the gel stain in the surrounding area. After you touch up the areas you may want to consider another coat or 2 of poly if you’re having chipping. It definitely shouldn’t chip off if the banister was properly prepped and polied. Hope this helps!
Was your banister covered in polyurethane prior? Our banister is polyurethaned. We want to paint the banister, but feeling reluctant to remove the poly :/ TIA
Yes it did have an existing poly coating, but it was 14 years old and quite worn down. This is where the liquid sander came into play. As long as your poly isn’t brand new, a couple applications of the liquid sander should knock it down enough to the point you won’t need to sand. My gel stain method doesn’t require getting down to the raw wood, but does require proper prep to make sure the stain sticks. If you’re painting and not gel staining you may want to consider a coat of primer in between the liquid sander and painting steps. This should help with adhesion. Check out my cabinet painting tutorial for more information on a good primer. Good luck with your banister!
Awesome job! What color white did you use for the spindles and on the treads?
Thanks! Under the treads and spindles are Benjamin Moore Regal Select in Semi-Gloss. Didn’t add any color, just when for the straight bright white out of the can!
Did you gel stain or paint the spindles first? Just wonder which should be done first? You Rock!!
Thanks! Gel stain first, spindles second as they probably will get some gel stain on them.
I absolutely love your transformation! Nicely done! My husband and I recently bought a house that is going to get the Gel Stain Treatment Your tips and tricks should come in handy!! Thank you for the wonderful tutorial! What color are your walls?
Hooray, another gel-stainer! Thanks for the kind words. The wall color is Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter. Congrats on the house and good luck with your project!
I saw your oak banister transformation on Pinterest and I jumped in and now our ugly oak is gone. Unfortunately I used the same process on our oak stairs (6 coats of poly so it would be extra durable). The first day the stairs were used, there are scuff marks on the risers that took off the poly and the stain. I didn’t read far enough into your comments that you wouldn’t recommend these products for the stairs. After literally weeks of painting, staining, touch ups and poly sadly I am going to have to strip the stairs or have a runner installed. I hope no one makes the same mistake I did. The banister is beautiful though and I am so happy with how it has turned out. I also gel stained my ugly oak bathroom cabinets and they are beautiful although I’m doubting the durability. I used 4 coats of poly and have 3 scratches from my fingernails.
Sorry to hear about your other gel stain troubles, but glad your banister came out beautiful! Though I never gel stained cabinets, I know many others have successfully. You may want to look into a different poly. Head over to my cabinet painting tutorial and check out what I used. That poly is used by the pros and dries to a durable finish after the full curing time.
Love your tutorial. But My general finishes, after one coat did not really dry. When I went to put on the second coat it literally took off the first. I don’t know what I did wrong. I used a Deglosser desander liquid and also sanded some areas prior to application. I actually followed your steps precisely. Suggestions? I’m so aggravated and frustrated. Thanksgiving is coming up ! Help me
It could be a few things: 1) If it’s applied too thick, it can effect drying time, or just won’t dry. Thin even coats are key. 2) Are you pressing to hard? Remember this isn’t a stain, this is like a paint. It sits on top of the wood. If you’re pressing too hard you will wipe off the coat before. 3) If you live in a humid climate that can also effect the drying process. I live in the Northeast, this was not an issue for me. 4) Drying time. Are you allowing it to dry long enough? 5) If your banister had a shiny poly in good condition on it before and you didn’t knock it down enough with the liquid sander/deglosser it may not be adhering. Mine was worn down so I did a round to knock down the shine that was left. It definitely doesn’t need to be completely off, as mine was not, but I can see that possibly being an issue. If all else fails, here’s what I would try (no guarantees as I have never done this, but this seems logical): Wipe the banisters down then prime them. Then try the gel staining process again. Hope this helps!
Thanks doll! It took 5 days to dry!!! I’m in Poly phase I. I’m using min-wax poly wipe on.
Yay! Glad it dried – crazy it took so long! Must be the climate and/or weather. The poly is the best part because you see it come to life! Final stretch!!!
I had the same drying issue for the banister. It has actually been almost 2 weeks!!
Not sure how to approach it. What kind of primer would I use? Do you think is should strip them instead??
Hi Victoria. Sorry to hear about your issue. There have been a lot of people who have successfully completed this project, and many have reported back that the drying times vary quite greatly. If you’re in a humid environment it could take over 2 weeks to dry. Also using too much gel stain in each coat could extend the drying time too. Before you abandon ship, I would try keeping your house very dry and blowing fans directly on the banisters for a few days and see if they dry up.
So beautiful!! I’ve been trying to find the right dark stain to get my oak to actually get dark and this is exactly the look I’m going for!! Question – can you use that gel stain on oak doors? Also, how messy is it to use a deglosser? It must be different than stripping it? Thanks!!
Thank you! I know that others have done oak cabinet doors with gel stain, not sure about other oak doors. The liquid sander/deglosser isn’t as messy as sanding. You simply saturate a lint free rag then rub it on in circular motions, constantly folding over the rag as to not reapply what you just deglossed. It’s not stripping, it’s just taking down a previously existing finish to get proper adhesion. The finish on my banister was quite worn down already, but if you have a thicker, glossier, newer finish deglossing will take a round or two, or you may have to use a primer before gel staining. Hope this helps!
Love the banister! I’m in the midst of doing the same! Did you sand between each stain coat/poly coat? Just watching a few general finishing videos to see if it’s needed.
Thanks! Nope! I followed the steps I listed above exactly!
I found your tutorial after I tried staining my oak bannister today. Couldn’t get the color right. Right now it reminds me of 1970’s wood paneling! We decided to order the stain you used in your tutorial. Would you recommend sanding down the stain I just applied today? We also ordered a palm sander which should help! Thanks!
Oh no from 90’s oak to 70’s paneling! Don’t worry, you’ll get it right! If you sanded, used traditional stain, and did not poly, there’s no need to sand it down before using the General Finishes Java Gel Stain. It goes on more like a paint and will easily cover your previous attempt with a few coats. If you applied poly over your previous attempt, you may want to try a liquid sander to knock down the poly before you dive into actually sanding it off. It’s probably not cured, since you just did it, the liquid sander may knock down the poly finish enough to gel stain over. Hope this helps – Good luck!!!
Looks great. I am planning to do this. Do you recommend having the floors done first and then doing the railing. (Keep in mind I will also have to paint my balusters white.) Or do all my white painting, then stain and then floors? Not sure which order would be best.
Thanks! My floors and stair risers were done first, then I tackled this project. When doing the floors they popped out about 20 of the balusters, then put them back in place after. The ones that stayed in got some stain on the bottoms. When I gel stained the railing, I taped off the top of the balusters and was very careful not to get stain on them, but still got it in a few small places. You would definitely want to do the floor first, then the railing, then paint the balusters last! (I recommend using a good quality white paint, otherwise you’ll be doing many, many coats of white for coverage!) Good luck with your project!
I am so happy I found your post on staining ugly oak banisters. You have offered the exact color I am looking for. I am having a professional painter take on the job. My question is what is your thought on staining the spindles the same color instead of painting them. My trim color is SW Pavillion Beige and walls are SW Sanderling. Should the spindles by the Pavillion Beige?
Hmm… Gel staining both the banister and balusters in my space would have been much too dark because my floor is also dark (in my opinion, of course!) If you have a lighter floor color, it may work better so you still get a nice contrast. Kind of like this or this. I would recommend doing a deep Pinterest search on banister combinations to try and visualize it both ways before you make a move! Good luck!
Great job! There’s a long thread of info and I’m not sure if you’ve answered this already so my apologies in advance if you have. I know you mentioned using white gloss on the treads. Did you also do the white spindles/balusters yourself or did you hire someone to paint them white? Thanks
Hi Jean, Thanks so much! Yes, I painted the balusters. They were white to begin with, but they needed some refreshing. The same paint that I used under the treads is also what used on the balusters.
Love the dark floors and stairs!!
Do you think you could gel stain a wood floor?? I have old worn down wood floors, and
i don’t want the hassle of striping – sanding etc….. I am in NY one bedroom apartment.
The thought and cost to move furniture out, and the mess of sanding !!! I know I am trying to shortcut. But I am very handy and crafty .
Thank you! Unfortunately I would not recommend gel staining over a floor without properly stripping it down. Floors are high traffic and take a beating daily. I don’t believe it would hold up very well. Sorry!
I have been putting off painting and staining our UGLY oak railing for over 4 years, although have been dreaming of how nice it would look done in white and ebony the whole time. Your Pinterest post has convinced me to just do it! We just took the leap and redid our oak kitchen cabinets painting them antique white and I absolutely love them! The railing I’m going to tackle is at our front entrance (split level) and the stairs are carpet which is new and I don’t want to change it. The only issue I can see myself having is how to protect the carpet at the bottom of the baluster where they meet. Is there something other than just paint tape that I should use or do you think that the tape will work?
Yay! Glad you’re moving forward with your banister! With carpet I would be EXTRA careful! You probably want to use tape, some rose paper, a sheet of plastic, and possibly some more tape on top. Whatever you get the gel stain on, it’s likely not coming off easily or at all. It may be a bit of a hassle to protect, but better safe than sorry.
Well, unlike all the commentators here, I’m the husband who will need to convince my lovely wife that we should AND can do a makeover on our heavily, heavily oak-dominant 22 year old home (that we’ve had for just under 2 years). Oak trim is everywhere — every wall, every door, every window as well as all the bannisters, the kitchen, the family room wall around the fireplace, and even all the built-ins in my home office (I’m a university professor but the old-style oak is even too much for me). All this trim is matched by the hardwood floor finish, which I detest, only because I’ve always preferred a nice walnut-stained floor offset by a nice light neutral paint on the walls. Wish I could show you the whole enchilada of what needs to be done here, and you could recommend which step to take first. We have a 4 year old, so I need to be conscious of time and safety, etc. I’m wondering if the floors should be done first (thankfully, just the first floor as the stairs and 2nd floor are both carpeted)? However, the oak everywhere else would look much more out of place that if we did the reverse (leave the floors for last), which is more likely given that all of these jobs will take probably 2-3 summers. I’m also thinking that tackling my office might be a first step, if only because if I screw it up, it won’t be as noticeable as anywhere else in the house (I can just shut the door!). Any thoughts? In the end, the kitchen will be the big job — and I’ve read your other article on the kitchen job, which is how I’m steeling myself to share the idea(s) with my spouse. Thanks for all the details you’ve provided. If you were close, I’d bribe you with some pinot grigio (also my fave and definitely the best) to get you to give my wife a pep talk! Seriously — great website and great advice, thanks!
Oh my goodness, you’re swimming in quite the sea of oak! LOL! Yes, you are going to be busy for quite some time, but making a game plan is the first step! Based on all the oak you identified, I’d normally agree with you and say start with the floors, but you may want to start with all the trim. Painting trim is relatively simple in the grand scheme of things. Once you complete that, all the rooms will almost instantly look much more up to date and it won’t clash with the floors as-is. (assuming you’re painting the trim a neutral color) Next, I’d tackle your office built-ins. Get familiar with the process before you launch in to the very life disturbing kitchen cabinet painting. I’d probably leave the floors and banister (for matching reasons) until the end, because you may find eliminating all the other oak makes the floors more tolerable. The real issue here is that having your floors refinished is a major project. All furniture needs to be moved and covered, everything gets terribly dusty (I had to swiffer my walls!), you can’t walk on it for quite a few days, and the smell is incredibly powerful. You’ll need to go away for a week while the floors are being done, especially with a little one. We had ours done before we moved in, which was ideal. Good luck with all the projects… and convincing your wife! (Does she take Pinot Grigio bribes? Ha!) I know it seems daunting, but you’ll feel like you’re making strides out of the 90’s with each oak-limination project!
Great, thanks for those comments, good ideas here. One thought I’m having: why not replace as much of the oak trim as possible with white MDF? Would save a great deal of time (& a little money) instead of doing all that painting. The baseboards make the most sense, although all the oak trim around the doors might not be do-able as the oak is all tightly done together. You’re probably right about the floors, too. In our last house, I had it done over a week or so before anyone moved in, so that was perfect. I was thinking of doing the job myself this time (I did a floor job when I was in university but of course I was 22 and a lot less careful, not to mention energetic, than I am now) just to save money; probably not worth the hassle though! Again, thank you! I’ll be coming to your website a lot more often now (and steer my better half to it, too)
I am about ready to tackle my railings and cabinets, doing both at the same time, due to the dry time. I feel like Dory in Saving Nemo – just keep swimming. I have 2 questions:
My first question is about GF stain colors. I did a sample with mahogany brown and it wasn’t red enough for me. I tried Georgian Cherry and it is a bit to red. Can I mix the two, for a more reddish brown? or should I do one coat of the cherry, then further coats with the Brown?
Second: How long do you leave the stain on before you wipe it off? How will you know if you have too little or too much stain on the cabinet? Or wipe off too much or not enough?
Thanks in advance for your help.
Hi Sharyn! As far as the gel stain colors, I’m only familiar with the Java color that I used. Because it’s so dark it provides maximum coverage, unfortunately I can’t vouch for any other color.
Using the method I laid out above you do not sand, so you do not wipe the gel stain off the banister. It’s used as more of a paint despite the name stain.
Read the tutorial above again to make sure you’re absolutely clear on the instructions before you begin. I don’t want you to be stuck with a mess on your hands! Also, I created the tutorial above for banisters, never tried it on cabinets. You may want to research some other sites that have gel stained cabinets if you haven’t already. Good luck and keep swimming!
Thank you so much for this post! I just finished our bannister and it came out great! It’s so much prettier and has such a nice impact when you walk into our home now. Thanks to you, I am in love with gel stain! This was my final de-oaking project – purchased a paint sprayer and refinished all of our cabinets to white over the last couple of years. I wanted to match the bannister to our dark floors. Yay for no more light oak!
You’re so welcome! A huge congrats on taking care of the last of the oak! It’s amazing what a little stain and paint can do!
Thank you SO much for introducing me to Java Gel Stain! Last summer I painted the risers on our stairs to cover some of the 2002 oak masterpiece staircase. We installed bamboo flooring a couple years ago and it’s Ebony. We priced out the cost to replace the remaining oak floors and that was as expensive as it would be to do the stairs! Crazy! So, we let that go, until I painted the treads white. I didn’t have to strip/sand the poly. I found a paint at Lowe’s that advertised it would cover over well, and it did! It came out very nicely. However, I’m planning to refinish our overly worn, oversized coffee table and end tables this summer. I’ve been playing with Minwax stains, and nothing is hitting the sweet spot. Chalk paint is quite good and covers very well. So, now I have my plan, Chalk paint (not to be confused with chalkboard paint) the legs and under pieces and gel staining the stops! Awesome job, by the way! Thank you!
Thank you! Another gel stain convert! LOL! I use it for so much now! To touch up tiny dinks in my wood floor, to touch up furniture, to paint old frames – gel stain is the greatest!
My gel stain feels sticky after about 3 hours of drying… will the poly make it less sticky??
No, 3 hours is not nearly long enough. The gel stain must fully dry before going for another coat or applying poly over. Mine took around 24 hours for each coat to dry. Depending on your climate, it can take as long as 5 days to completely dry. Good luck.
Hello, I love your results! I currently have an all oak staircase (banister, steps, spindles). I purchased Citristrip stripping gel to apply to entire staircase since I plan to paint risers, spindles, and sides white and stain the steps and banister. So…I was wondering if I should skip the Citristrip because it strips it down to the wood and just use deglosser??? I am also wondering if I can use the gel stain on the steps too???
Hi – thank you! I did not strip down the finish, just used the liquid sander/deglosser. The finish on my banister was pretty worn down before I started so this worked well for me. If your finish is newer or still very much intact you may want to use the stripper not to get everything off, but to knock down the shiny finish a bit to allow for good adhesion. As far as gel staining steps, many people have asked that and I personally wouldn’t recommend doing that unless you are sanding the steps down to the bare wood first. Good luck!
Is the Java gel ok to use for kitchen Ana bathroom cabinets? Thank you
I have never used gel stain on cabinets, but I know there are people who have. Hop on Pinterest and search there for some tutorials
I am so sorry but I am not following all your abbreviations! What is IMO and TSP? Everything is just beautiful. I have oak floors but they have lost of dark in them also. Was thinking of leaving the floors and just doing the bannisters. What do you think?
Thanks! A dark banister with oak floors can look really good! Hop on over to Pinterest and see if you can find some images. IMO = In my opinion TSP = Is a type of cleaner, there’s also TSP substitute. Good luck!
Beautiful work! Did the 1/2 pint of stain get you through the whole project? Did you have any to spare?
Thank you! Yes, I had lots of gel stain left over! A little bit goes a long way!
Great tutorial! I followed all the steps and everything came out looking great! Very happy with the Java color and the entryway doesn’t even look like the same house as before, thank you for the step by step guide!
Don’t let the tiny size of the stain can fool you, you won’t use it all. I have 15 stairs and another separate railing that lines the back side of the hallway and I still have almost a half a can leftover.
You’re welcome! Isn’t it amazing what a little gel stain can do? Really updates the look! Enjoy the results!
Hi! I just tried this project and love the results so far. Just one quick question: did you poly both the bannister (the gel stained area) and the spindles (I covered mine with latex paint)?
Hi Holly – Great to hear! I only applied poly to the gel stained railing, not the painted balusters. Good luck on the final step (all puns intended LOL!)
Hi! Thanks SO much for posting this! We just had our floors refinished too and I was preparing myself to have to sand and stain everything else oak! Quick question – would you recommend using this same method for wooden window trim? Thanks!
Hi Allison, you’re welcome! Never tried it so I can’t say for sure, but I don’t see why this process wouldn’t work for oak window trim. It would be quite laborious doing all those windows though! Good luck with your project
Hi Allison! I saw a video on you tube of a girl who redid all her trim and kitchen in her house with GF java gel stain. If I find it, I’ll send you the link.
Hi! This looks beautiful! My husband and I have been in our home for a little over a year and we’re tackling the “sea of oak.” We’ve chalk painted most of the cabinets. I want to stain our stair railing with the gel stain. I realize it takes 24 hours to dry between coats. I plan on using the oil-based top coat recommended be General Finishes. My question is how long does it take for that final coat to dry and really be in use? I’m trying to time my project around a party.
Hi Allison, thank you! I used Mixwax wipe on poly in gloss, which dried to the touch after 12-ish hours, but I didn’t use the banister for a few days after, just to be sure! Drying times on the gel stain vary based on season and climate. I’ve heard for some people it took a few days to dry, so you may want to do a little patch test under the railing before you begin, just in case! Good luck!
Thanks so much for the tutorial! Just finished up the touch ups and I’m now ready to poly and be DONE! My wife and I are expecting a baby boy in November so the projects to get done are getting a little overwhelming! Just wanted to say thanks for the gel stain recommendation! May be my new favorite product! I was actually curious if you had tried any of the other colors besides java? I saw a wide variety of everything from cherry to mahogany. I would post my before and after, but I have no idea how to do that Thanks again!
Hey Seth, you’re welcome! Congrats on the incoming little one and trying to get it all in before the arrival There are other gel stain colors, but I have not used them. I have read some success stories (via Pinterest) of people using the Mahogany, but not any other colors. The reason the Java works so well its that it’s highly pigmented, more like a paint, less of a stain. I’d suggest ordering a small sample of another color before you tackle a whole project with it – just to make sure it’s the look/result you want!
I’m one coat in and it’s feeling sticky. It’s been drying just over 15 hours I’m planning to add the second coat but just want to make sure this is normal?
No they should not be sticky. Drying times vary, wait until they are fully dry before continuing. Thin coats are KEY, as are non-humid conditions. Good luck!
I did use the gel stain on my steps. We had complete oak staircase (steps, risers, railing, baseboards, and spindles). We started with all the white first. Since we did all the work ourselves, I saved the steps for last because I wanted to find someone to do it for us. Plus, when we sanded, there were areas that sanded differently, and there were some scratches in between the spindles. We got a friend to do it while we were on vacation. It took more coats than expected, but I feel he must have applied thin coats. Our steps were down to the wood…which scared me too. I read on home depot website you can use it on steps but don’t sand down to bare wood, and use a prestain first. The stain won’t set into the wood like regular stain, so it’s the topcoat that makes the difference in protecting the stain. Looking back, I wish a topcoat was used and was applied thicker or left to set longer before wiping, but I just had to be thankful it was stained and polyed when we got home. Still an improvement from all that oak!
I love your work and the detail explanation, you have inspired me to change the stairs in my house. I am second owner and the previous owner painted the entire stairs white. I have asked around and because they are painted white and not the original wood I cannot stain, is this true? If I cannot stain do you know of any type of paint I can use or things I can use to have a glossy finish, I want to paint them black but just the rail and the newel posts.
Thank you so much! If they are already painted I wouldn’t gel stain on top of the paint, not sure how it would react. You should be able to paint over the paint, but you would need to identify what kind of paint is currently there first (oil vs. water based) to ensure you use the right primer for the job. Once you identify that, you can prime them then use a high quality trim and cabinet paint like Sherwin Williams Pro Classic. Definitely finish with a poly. If you’re looking for high shine, go with a gloss finish. That’s what I used on my banisters – Minwax Wipe On Poly. Very easy to apply and is holding up nicely. Good luck with your project!
Thank you Kelly after much research I have decided to sand off all the paint so that I can stain which is what I wanted to do from the very beginning. I can’t wait, I know it is going to be a lot of work but a friend is lending me her electric sander. I am looking to stain it with an espresso brown color.
Thank you for the awesome tutorial! Found it on Pinterest and I’m looking to do the same to my new staircase. My balusters are oak as well, though, and I’m wondering what would be your recommendation for painting/staining them? Seems stains are only in darker colors, and from your description staining wouldn’t necessarily work as well for the light color anyway. Some sort of glossy white paint? What’s the best way to match it with the poly coat in terms of sheen/glossiness? Once the poly is dry, is it ready to tape in order to start painting the balusters? Thanks again for the detailed how to!
You’re welcome! What to do with the balusters is really personal preference. I know some people like staining everything the same color, and other’s (like myself) opt for the dark railing with the white balusters. Depends on the look you’re going for. I used a high quality white paint in a gloss finish for my balusters. If you choose to paint them, you may want to use a primer before you paint them for better coverage/adhesion since you’re going from wood to white. The glossy finish on my railing is more shiny than my white balusters, but I personally think it looks good. If you want them to have them same finish I would suggest using the poly on everything, though I do warn you that poly over white paint has a tendency to yellow over time. If you stain the railing first, let it FULLY dry (I’d give it at least 2 weeks) before putting any tape on the finish. And I’d use super delicate painters tape. Good luck!
I am doing this right now! I had to have new treads made so was forced to paint all my balusters first before new treads were installed. Used the java on thetreads as well. Love them. However, my spindles are still sticky I deglossed, primed and put two coats on. I still have to do the banister.. scared to death the paint will come off with tape… I did not use an oil based white paint. Will they harden over time?
If your paint is still sticky, it’s not dry just yet. I wouldn’t put the tape on them until they are 100% dry. Sometimes climate plays a role in drying time, so try to keep it dry in the house and aim a fan at them for a few days! Good luck!
I am LOVING your instructions for staining my banister!!!! I have 2 staircases, and a long balcony, full of oak banisters. Yesterday, I gathered my supplies. I literally made a shopping list from your blog! I also did all of the prep and used the deglosser. Today it was coat#1 of my stain. I am doing the black General Finishes Gel Stain because I have black photo frames and black light fixtures near by. I already LOVE coat #1!!!
What I have learned so far: 1.) Tape your balusters, (spindles), several inches. I got stain on my spindles because I initially only covered them about an inch. 2.) If you are staining a balcony, stain the outside first. You will be leaning over freshly stained wood, otherwise. 3.) My original banisters had 20 year old poly on them. The Kleanstrip deglosser seemed to “gunk” up the old poly. Once it dried, I went over it with a very fine grit sandpaper and a damp rag. Once dry, I checked for smoothness. Then, I was ready to stain! Still a whole lot easier than stripping and scraping wood Tomorrow, I apply coat #2 of stain, and then see if I need coat #3. . I am SOOOOO grateful for this blog! Your instructions are super easy to follow. I am no stranger to DIY-ing. (just finished a 4 month kitchen reno with my husband). Your blog gave me power to know I can do this banister myself! 1996 called and asked for their honey oak pine back! I was grateful to oblige! LOL!!
Oak is a respectable wood. Known for being a sturdy, solid and reliable building material, it became the builder-grade material of choice for contractors in the 1990’s. Oak floors, oak cabinets, oak banisters…
Our home was the poster-child for 90’s construction.
This is the previous owner’s stuff swimming in a sea of oak. After 14 years of soaking up the sun and being handled on a daily basis, the finish was worn, the grain was dark and the mere sight of it burned my eyes, because it was just so ugly. As my husband said, “It looks like a well used, middle school gym floor.” (No offense to all you oak lovers out there, it’s just not my thing…)
BUT, we saw the possibilities of what this house could be, so we made it our very first project to refinish all the oak floors and stair treads. And by very first we mean it was literally started 5 minutes after leaving the closing table, and by we I mean we hired people. The key to a happy marriage and keeping sane when renovating is knowing what projects you’re physically capable of, and which are beyond your skill set. This was one of those latter times.
Our floors soon became a gorgeous mix of Minwax Ebony and Jacobean, but we had one little big problem:
The OAK banisters. The flooring company we hired told us because of all the nooks and crannies in the banisters, sanding them down and staining them as dark as we wanted never really comes out great and that our best bet was replacing them.
“ABSURD!”, I thought.
So I checked with a couple other companies, whom all basically said the same thing. One company said they could do it, but it was to the tune of a couple mortgage payments. Yeah, no. And replacing the banisters was also an obscene cost. Determined to find a solution, I turned to the one resource I knew could help… Google. And that is where I learned the magic of Gel Stain.
So this whole long winded setup finally leads to a tutorial: How to Gel Stain (ugly) Oak Banisters.
This project requires NO sanding and a beginner DIY skill level.
This project is easy, but time consuming because of drying times. Allow yourself 4-5 days to have this project finished. Choose days when you can have the windows open as the stain and poly are a bit stinky and you probably shouldn’t be breathing all that stinkyness in. The end result is more of a paint like finish, not that of a stain. With stain you’ll get variations of color and really see the wood. This is very opaque, yet with oak, you will still see the definition of the grain. The color in person is a very dark brown that matches the darkest grain in our floor, it’s not black. See the close ups below.
You will need:
1 can of General Finishes Java Gel Stain (You must, I repeat, MUST use General Finishes Java Gel Stain. It’s consistency and coverage are unlike any other gel stain on the market. The color also matters. Java being so dark gives great coverage – I can’t vouch for any other color. A little goes a LONG way, so get the smallest size possible!)
1 small can of Minwax Wipe On Poly. (I used Gloss)
Painter’s tape. (I used delicate tack which is easier to remove IMO)
A degreaser (TSP or TSP Substitute) OR if the poly finish isn’t worn down like ours was, use a Liquid Sander/Deglosser instead to take a bit of the finish off.
A couple pairs of disposable gloves. I love nitrate gloves because they don’t rip, stain doesn’t penetrate them, they stay in place, and you can rinse them off so they’re reusable!
A couple of old white socks (Don’t use brand new socks, they need to be lint free.)
Staining Pads (I used ones like these.)
El cheapo small foam paint brushes. (What’s up Dollar Tree craft aisle?)
A small tray to pour the poly in (I used a clean plastic take out container.)
Rosepaper, newspaper or a tarp to protect the floor.
Mineral Spirits (Optional. This allows for easy clean up of the Gel Stain should you want to save brushes or if you accidentally splatter it someplace.)
Step #1: Tape and protect.
Tape off whatever you do not want the gel stain touching. I was just doing the banisters and end posts, not the balusters, so we taped off the top of each baluster to avoid staining them. We also taped where the banisters and posts met the walls. Once taping is complete, lay down your floor protection.
Step #2: Open the windows.
This project contains lots of stink, so make sure the area is well ventilated!
Step #3: Prep for total oak destruction.
Use your degreaser or liquid sander/deglosser on all of the areas you will be gel staining. Don’t forget UNDER the banister! Follow the instructions on the package, but don’t break too much a of sweat on this step. You’re not looking to strip the wood, you’re simply looking to take down the shine a bit and create a clean, grease-free surface to apply the gel stain to. After it’s all clean, wipe the surface down with a damp cloth and let it dry.
Step #4: Gel application #1.
Open the gel stain and give it a mix-a-roo. Glove yourself, then put a sock over the glove of your working hand. Dip the socked, gloved hand into the gel stain and begin your application. Nice even strokes of awesome oak destruction. Not wiping it all away, yet not leaving too much globby gel stain behind. The first coat will not, I repeat, will not cover all oak and it will, I repeat, will be streaky. Once that first coat is on you will need to wait 12-24 hours to apply the next coat.
Step #5: Take a break.
You deserve it! It’s important to make sure it’s dry before the next coat otherwise when you apply more stain, it will lift the stain that’s still wet.
Step #6: Gel application #2.
Same process as Step 4. Remember, no glove, no love. This stuff stains hands beyond repair. At this point you’ll have anywhere from 85% – 100% coverage of that awful oak. Wait for it to dry completely and see if step 7 is needed.
Step #7: Gel application #3 (if needed.)
If you still see oak and you’re looking a bit streaky, you’ll need to do a 3rd coat. I know, I know. You’re sick and tired of the mess in your hall, but you’re almost there and it’s going to look great. Keep going! BTW, if the color is starting to look flat, don’t worry, the poly is going to bring it back to life.
Step #8: Itty bitty touch ups.
Chances are you missed a few teenie, tiny areas. Probably under the banister where the ballusters connect. Places only you, the Virgo type-A perfectionist will see or know, but there’s no way in hell you’re leaving them. This may be a DIY job, but it MUST come out perfect. I digress…
So umm yeah, take that tiny foam brush and touchup areas needing it. If you’re touching up on the top of the banister, light blended strokes are recommended (this stuff isn’t self leveling, so you’ll see big ol’ globs when it dries if you leave them as big o’ globs.)
Step #9: STOP!
No you cannot poly just yet. I know, you’re getting impatient, but please wait for the touchups to dry completely. Let’s not screw this up now… Kill some time by reading how I turned a sink into a garden. Or just lose yourself in my Pinterest boards for hours. (shameless self promotion.)
Step #10: POLY TIME!
Make sure all the gel stain is dry, then shake the poly and dump some into a tray. Open the windows if they aren’t already. Poly stinks worse than the stain. Glove yourself then grab a staining pad. Dip it in, and slightly ring it out so it’s loaded, but not sopping. Then my friend, the moment of truth… swipe that poly on! Nice and evenly. Check the area you’re working on to ensure you have everything covered before moving onto the next area. Touch ups once the poly begins to dry look awful, so a careful eye is need to get an even finish. Let it dry for 24 hours, you know the drill…
Step #11: Done? Or not?
At this point, I was happy with the finish so I removed the tape and admired my work. But if you want a higher gloss finish or your banisters get a lot of use, you may want to go for round #2 of poly.
And now for the reveal…
From so much oak, to no more oak! Well, in this room at least… but I did just knock off one more oak project – my kitchen cabinets! Read about it here.
This oak eliminating banister project came in at just $55 for supplies. Which is a bargain compared to the ridiculous quotes we were given. Time wise it took about 9 hours, spread over 4 days (not including painting the white under the treads.)
So, are you ready to take on your banisters?! Please share links and pictures if you do!
Oh, and in case you’re wondering:
• We painted the oak trim and under the treads high gloss white, used liquid deglosser, then one coat of primer before painting.
• The stain on the floor and stair treads is a blend of Minwax Jacobean and Ebony. The finish is a custom blend to be something between matte and gloss. As stated earlier, we HIRED people to stain the floors and treads. The wood is a mix of red and yellow oak.
• The wall color is Benjamin Moore, Revere Pewter.
• The mirrored chest is from HomeGoods, $149 clearance!
• I’m not done decorating in here, so please ignore the mess of candlesticks on the chest!
This post is not sponsored, all opinions and instructions are my own. Please DIY at your own risk. This post does contain affiliate links.
Original article and pictures take http://www.practicallyspoiled.com/2014/10/23/how-to-gel-stain-oak-banisters/ site