How to Restain a Wood Banister

A hand sits on a finished wooden banister.
What You'll Need
Paint stripper solvent
Old rags
Plastic paint scraper
Painter's tape
Plastic or newspaper to protect stair treads
Paint brushes
Stain or varnish
Polyurethane clear coat

If your old wood banister's finish is dull, faded, or scratched, you can give it new life simply by applying new stain or varnish. When done properly, re-staining a tired-looking banister will make it look brand new again. Better still, re-staining is much easier than you might think. So, here is a simple step-by-step guide that will show you how to successfully complete this project.

Step 1 - Strip the old Stain

Apply liberal amounts of the paint stripper solvent to the banister with old rags. Work in small areas to keep the solvent from drying out. Be careful not to get any of the stripper on the spindles, and if you do wipe it off with a rag immediately. After this sits for five to 10 minutes, scrape the stain or varnish away with a plastic paint scraper. The rags will be helpful for working solvent into any cracks and crevices that can't be reached with the scraper.

Step 2 - Sand the Banister

Once the banister has dried, go over it with sandpaper to remove any stain or varnish that was not taken care of by the solvent. Try to make the wood as smooth as possible, and then wipe away any dust with a clean rag.

Step 3 - Tape Spindles and Newel Posts

Use the painter's tape and newspaper to tape off the spindles and newel posts. This will prevent you from getting stain on them as you reapply it to the banister. This is especially important if the spindles are of a different color.

Step 4 - Apply First Coat of Stain or Varnish

Take your paintbrush and apply a thin coat of stain or varnish to the banister. Always make sure that strokes are in the same direction and that they are as long as possible. You may be tempted to apply a heavy coat, but lighter coats will ultimately result in a much more professional job.

Step 5 - Wait to Apply Additional Coats

Allow the stain of varnish to sit about 10 or 15 minutes before applying the second coat. Although the stain or varnish won't dry completely in this time, it will have cured enough so that it won't run when the second coat is applied.

Apply at least two or three more coats of stain or varnish. Remember to wait 10 to 15 minutes between each coat.

Step 6 - Apply Polyurethane Clear Coat

After the stain or varnish has dried (refer to the directions on the can), apply the first coat of polyurethane clear coat. Again, brush the sealant on in small sections and keep your strokes in the same direction.

Step 7 - Sand Lightly

Give the polyurethane ample time to dry, and then use a high grit sandpaper (320 or above) and lightly sand the banister. You're not trying to sand off the polyurethane; you just want to rough up the surface for better adherence.

Step 8 - Apply More Polyurethane

Apply two or more additional coats of polyurethane on top of the initial layer to give the banister a high gloss finish. Remember to lightly sand again in between the coat application.

Your banister's new finish should refresh even the oldest and most worn wood with little cost to you.