DIY Nightmares: Handrail Edition Part One

Back in October when we had the floors re-finished, the contract with the flooring folks didn’t include the stair banister or handrail.  No problem we thought.  We asked the guys to leave us a bit of stain, which they did no problem, and we planned to tackle these soon after.

I don’t really know what happened, I blame winter, but we didn’t get around to it until sometime after the first of the year.  The good news (we thought) was that in that time, my favorite home-bloggers, Sherry and John from Young House Love, had tackled a similar project at their house only they used a gel-type product called Minwax Poly Shades instead of straight stain.  The benefit of this product is that you don’t have to fully sand the wood before applying the gel/stain.  You just give it a light sanding and then apply like paint, no removing the excess.

Sherry and  John got great results with this product.  Their goal was to “ebonize”
the handrails so that they were almost black.  This technique is quite popular and Mark and I considered it, but ultimately we decided to be boring traditional and just stain ours to match the floors.  The Poly Shades products comes in a variety of stains so we went for the one that seems closest to our floor color; Antique Walnut.

One day, Mark applied a coat first to the hand rail and when it dried it looked nice enough but wasn’t really as dark as we wanted.  So he went and bought the “Espresso” finish and tried that and it looked great.  It matched the hardwoods and looked shiny and new.  On to the banister.

Ok here’s where things took a turn for the worse.  It turns out that for some reason, the banister is made out of maple, not oak like the hand rail.  This is baffling to us as literally every other piece of original wood in our house is oak.  Why in the world is the banister maple?  The reason we know that it wasn’t the same species as the oak is because when we applied to Poly Shades to the banister, it looked like this.

IMG_0980 (480x640)

Not. Good.  We lived with it like this for about a month or so trying to figure out what to do.  We figured that while we could sand the whole thing down to bare wood and stain it, since it’s not the same species of wood, it would still likely not look the same as the floors and the hand rail.  Plus sanding such a curvy piece (in place since we didn’t want to remove it) would be a huge time suck.

As we thought more about it, we came back around to the idea of ebonizing it.  It wasn’t our first choice, but it’s not a bad one.  I love the look of black and white and it’s a good way to hide the fact that the wood isn’t oak.  I thought with a few more coats of the Poly Shades in Espresso, which is the shade John and Sherry used to create their ebonized look, and we would be golden black.

Cue the sad trombone, after three more coats of the Poly Shades, the banister still looked like the same striped tiger mess.  One morning I was staring at it, trying to figure out what to do and I decided that we were pretty close to having to admit defeat and buy a new oak banister.  This depressed me because it would be a $200+ investment and I just didn’t want to spend the money.

But I rationalized that since we were almost to that point, there was no harm in trying one last thing.  I went out to the garage and brought back the sample sized can of Minwax Jacobean stain that we bought when we were testing stain colors for the floor.  Jacobean was the darkest sample we tested and I thought on top of the poly shades, it might appear almost back.

I just wanted to try it so I didn’t use the traditional stain method, I just got a cheap foam paint brushed and started brushing the stain on as lightly as I could.  Magically, this worked really well!  The stain did a good job of covering the stripes and making everything nice and dark and even.  It look three really light coats to cover it all.  It was a somewhat messy process and I certainly don’t recommend the technique, but it worked for me.  The only issue was that the finish was very glossy.  So I just a little fine grit steel wool to buff off the shine without taking off any of the stain.  Here is the finished product.

IMG_1116 (480x640)

I was very pleased with how we grasped victory from the jaws of defeat and was excited to apply the same technique to the hand rail so that they both were dark and bee-u-tiful.

And here is where things really started to come unhinged.  Stay tuned…

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