Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Stairwell

P and I took the autumn off to raise a puppy.  Vivian joined our little household last August about two weeks before I went back to school. When I went back to school, life got really hectic and we pretty much stopped doing any major work on the house.  We did a few minor jobs and I'll post about that later on in the week.  But mostly, we were going to puppy class and trying to keep Ms. Vivian from destroying the house we had just put together.

Gratuitous puppy pictures:

But, it's a new year and we decided it was time to get cranked up again.  The first project on the agenda, the stairwell.  I'd been putting this job off for a while.  I was supposed to do it last summer, and then over winter break, and here it is January, so we thought we'd take advantage of the long weekend.  I was putting this off because I knew this was going to get ugly before it got pretty.  

Just to refresh your memory, the before.  Note the paneling and carpeting. 

And this is how it looked in October.  Hey, I had to take advantage of how scary this beast was.

Gross, huh?  

Part of me wanted to just slap some paint on this sucker and call it a day.  Easy, straightforward, simple. No brainer.  But this is a NICE stairwell, or it could be something really pretty, under all that ugly. Paint wasn't going to make it really pretty, paint was going to be like putting a crapload of foundation on a zit.  You know, when it gets all caked up and cracked.  Nice mental image, eh?  No, in order for this stairwell to be pretty again, I was going to have to strip off a good bit of the ugly and that much ugly meant a big job.  I wasn't fully convinced yet that the foundation trick wouldn't work, so I got started.

I started with something easy, puttying the holes in the risers.  I knew that they would then need some sanding once the putty dried.

I decided to try sanding the handrail a bit to smooth it out.  The putty paint started to come off very easily.  I sanded some more and more paint came off easily.  Hey, maybe this wouldn't be such a horrible job.  Never count your chickens...   So, I sanded and sanded and sanded and after a few hours, most of the putty paint was off the top of the handrail, that was the easy part, slightly rounded, but level and smooth.  The sides are curvy and end in a cove-type shape and that wasn't so easy.  The paint wasn't coming off easily and the sanding wasn't going so well.  I finally called it quits after several hours.

I started up the next morning by pulling out the big guns.  A while back I bought a big tub of Peel-Away paint stripper.  I'd read that this stuff was the best.  The idea is that you apply the stripping material, smoosh some special paper over it, let it sit for hours, and then peel off the paint.  Easy peasy, right?  The label claims you can remove up to 30 layers of paint with one application.   I thought that I would be able to use it on the sides and those really difficult places.

This stuff has the consistency of warm cake icing.  And in many ways, it works quite well.  A couple of things to remember, don't let it dry, and cover it all with the special paper.  

Our stairwell has fat spindles on the corners and skinny spindles in between.  I knew that originally, the fat spindles and handrail were stained and the skinny spindles painted, so I decided to go ahead and strip the fat spindles. I slathered them with the cake icing stuff, and stuck the paper too them.  

Then I started to just peel away the first strips I put on.  Mostly, it came off well.  The curvyness of the sides of the handrail are still a bit problematic, but a little bit of sanding will take what remains off.  It does leave this gooey dark oily mess.  Not sure how that's going to come off.

Where the icing dried is going to need some work. I have to scrub it off with warm water, but I ran out of weekend.  I did some more work on it Tuesday, a snow day.  I still need to scrub it, sand it in some places, and then neutralize it.


  1. You poor thing ... I SOOO feel your pain. Have you tried a heat gun to strip paint yet? If not, I can give you a quick lesson or two, and you'll be a pro in no time. I have stripped ALL of the trim in this old house, and most of the walls, and the only thing that got me through it was my trusty heat gun and some weird scraping tools. (my best tool for scraping concave surfaces is a melon baller.) The thing I like best about heat stripping is that there is no messy stuff to clean up after the paint is off the wood ... just chips to sweep up, and maybe a bit of sanding, and you're good to go ... I don't have your email, do I?

  2. Oh, thank you! I have tried with the heat gun. The problem is that it sets off the fire alarms which are hard wired and not able to be deactivated. The other problem is that the heat gun sends up nasty fumes. And the third problem is that I've heard the heat gun atomizes the lead paint and makes it that much easier to get into your system. So, I limit my usage of the heat gun. Saturday I got most of the lower part of the staircase cleaned out. I will try and get it finished this weekend.

    My email address is up on the top right. It's

    I need to email you as I want to set up a small formal red and white rose garden in the front yard. I don't' have any experience with roses and hate black I'm at a loss.