How to Stain Stair Railings

view looking up a staircase with a handrail
  • 48 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 60-160
What You'll Need
Fine grit sand paper
Tack cloth
Drop cloth
Mineral spirits if using oil based stain
Varnish (optional)

If you are renovating your home or completing a new home, your stair railings may need to be stained. This is an easy project although perhaps a big one that may take a few days. Follow these steps to easily stain your hand railings.

Step 1 - Preparation

If you have furniture or decorative objects in the area of the staircase and railings, remove them from the vicinity to avoid the risk of splattering stain on them. Be sure that the railings are free of dust, oil from your body, and cleaners. Wipe the dust away and use the fine grit sandpaper to remove the surface if the stair railings have been used or handled. Wipe away the dust with a tack cloth. Place your drop cloth on the floor around the area to avoid staining walls and any furniture that you haven't moved.

Step 2 - Apply Stain

sponge paintbrush next to can of stain

There are two types of stain: latex and oil based. Both are applied the same way. The difference between the two is that oil-based stain must be cleaned up with mineral spirits and has a stronger odor. Many people believe that oil-based stains give a deeper stain on the wood and a nicer color. It is mostly a matter of personal preference so use the color chart and ease of use as your guide.

Stir the stain until it is well mixed and no sediment remains at the bottom of the can. Dip your brush only part way on the bristles and work it against the rim of the can. You don't want a dripping brush. Since you are applying the stain to a vertical or semi vertical surface, runs can be a problem.

Runs that aren't corrected will remain as dark streaks on your finished product. Apply the stain starting at the top of the piece and working toward the bottom. Do only a small section at a time and wait at least 10 minutes before you wipe the residual stain away with a cloth. If you want a darker color, leave the stain on longer.

When you have finished the entire stair rail, let it dry overnight to see the true color. If you decide the rail needs a second coat, be sure the first coat has thoroughly dried before applying a second one. To make this determination, look to see if the surface of the wood is standing up or appears to be almost fuzzy. When the stain is dry, use the sandpaper to lightly sand away any imperfections and rub them down with the tack cloth again.

Apply a second coat of stain and allow it to dry completely. You can repeat this step until the color you achieve matches the desired color.

Step 3 - Finish

Since stair railings get a lot of use in most homes, you may want to consider applying at least one coat of varnish to the entire stair railing in order to protect it and add a bit of luster.