refinishing hardwood stairs

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Old 07-19-16, 09:33 AM
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refinishing hardwood stairs

Hello,
I want to refinish my hardwood staircase, as the finish is extremely worn and the carpet runner on the stairs is a mess. (The house was a foreclosure and was never well cared for.)
The stairway is off my front entry, split with 7 steps going up and 6 going down. I've already purchased a new carpet runner and have researched installing it. My question is about sanding and re-finishing the hardwood stairs prior.

I do not believe my floors and stairs are stained, they are just polyurethaned oak from 1993- so my plan is just to remove the old carpet, sand them down and re-poly. I would really prefer to use water-based poly, because we can't leave the house due to the odor from oil based- and the faster drying time is also a big factor.

Some of the deciding factors between water and oil based products are not much concern, such as the wear factor- as the only exposed area will be the sides of the stairs, and the traffic will be contained to the runner, I don't expect the poly to wear out sooner because of the use of water-based products.

Will putting water-based polyurethane on them completely change the look to the point that they are completely, totally different from the existing hardwood floors at the top?

I've attached a photo so you can see (that's the new carpet I plan to use laid over the old existing runner.)

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  #2  
Old 07-19-16, 10:02 AM
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Oil based poly adds a little amber color while water based theoretically adds nothing. Hence, if the whole floor is oil based and you sand off part and replace with water based, you may see a difference.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 10:04 AM
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As you are going to replace the runner why not pull a piece of old runner up and test the water poly to see how it looks. Water base does not amber the floor as oil based would do. How bad are the edges as they shouldn't have had much foot traffic? Also, why not pull the old runner and just poly the edges.....the middle will be covered by the new runner anyway.
You have all the necessary info to install the new runner?
 
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Old 07-19-16, 10:47 AM
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I feel pretty good about installing the carpet, yes. I'm sure I will test in the middle under where the carpet will cover, but I"ll be at a loss of what to do if the water-based doesn't cut it, as moving out for a week to do oil-based isn't really an option.

I have no good answer for why the edges of the stairs are in such horrible shape since they don't get traffic. This house is full of things that make you say "wth???" I can tell you that with my family under the roof, it won't happen again. We also don't punch holes in walls, kick down doors, or do any number of bizarre things that this house has had.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 10:49 AM
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Why do you think you need to move out for a week if you use oil based poly? I wouldn't hesitate to use it on this project and I would not be planning to leave the house at all.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 11:35 AM
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Everything I've read online said the fumes from an oil-based poly are horrendous- is that not the case? Also, the quicker drying time is helpful given that I have animals who will have to be locked in rooms.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 11:42 AM
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If you use the oil based poly just cut back the edges of the existing runner and poly up to these edges....the new runner will cover them. No reason to re-poly the part of the stairs that will be covered with the new runner. With most of the old runner in place you will be able to walk the stairs as the poly dries. The small amount of oil based poly that you will be using shouldn't force you out of the house due to smell......open windows and maybe use a fan while you are in the house. If you want even less poly smell then do a step a day.
To test the smell factor spread some poly on a piece of scrap wood.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 11:47 AM
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In a large open area it isn't that bad.....test it to see how bad you find it. People have different sensitivities. Set up a small box fan and open some windows. If the animals don't like it they will stay away. To keep the little folks away from it prop some cardboard on the runner and lean against the walls. If you apply it early in the day the smell should dissipate in several hours....this will be temperature and humidity dependent.
Buy a small can and test it on a piece of scrap that you can put outdoors if the smell is too much for you.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 11:56 AM
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I wouldn't poly the whole floor in a room and then sit in there but I work in the basement in the winter instead of the garage and have applied poly (I've only ever used oil based) many times without leaving.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 11:58 AM
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Ha, you're right! That's a good idea, leaving the center of the stairs undone to allow walking. So the square footage being done greatly affects the odor? IE, doing an entire house worth of floors will smell much worse than just doing a set of steps? I guess I should give it a try. Anyone have a particular product they recommend? I was just looking up the Minwax Super Fast-Drying Polyurethane for Floors.

Ok, an unrelated question but still pertaining to the project- I want to repaint the risers and the white trim that go up the wall alongside the stairs. Where in the project would you do that? Obviously before the runner goes down, but before or after poly?
 
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Old 07-19-16, 12:06 PM
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Minwax is typically the brand I use. It doesn't smell worse if you do more, the smell is just stronger and takes longer to dissipate.

Generally speaking, you want to work from the top down. Hence, I would paint the risers first, since you're more likely to drip paint from them onto the treads than vice-versa with the poly.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 12:21 PM
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Yes, a whole house full will smell worse than a small area.....more product will be curing (off-gassing). Last N Last is an excellent high end poly. But, because the area you are doing will essentially have no foot traffic you could use a lesser product. e.g. MinWax, etc. Ditto on working top to bottom...also don't want the poly oil to seep into the risers and skirts as it may adversely affect paint adherence.
 

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Old 07-19-16, 12:26 PM
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Thank you both for your help! One last question- what do you recommend for an applicator? The Minwax directions all say "Apply a thin coat using a lambswool or synthetic pad applicator, or a natural bristle brush"

I've never worked with anything other than a synthetic brush, I believe. Would an applicator pad be better for this, or a brush? And what exactly is a natural bristle brush? I dont think I've ever encountered one (or didnt realize it if I did.)
 
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Old 07-19-16, 12:33 PM
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It will say natural bristle brush on the brush when you buy it. Synthetic is good for latex products but you don't want the solvents in the paint/stain/poly to attack the bristles in the brush so you use natural bristles for solvent based products.

Any of those products would be fine, you just have to remember to apply the poly, smooth it out and then stop - it's easy to try to overwork the surface.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 12:47 PM
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Foam brushes work very well. Get good ones....not the ones where you get 10 for $1.00. The good foam brushes will be firm and have a better edge. If you use regular brushes you will have to clean them after each use.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 03:41 PM
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Personally I don't like foam brushes [or foam rollers] A lambswool pad is great if you are doing an entire room but for just the stairs a brush is fine. Sometimes it's beneficial to thin the poly slightly to make if flow better.

As noted above, oil base poly ambers as it ages, it also deepens the color that is naturally in the wood. Basically water based poly does nothing [color wise] but add sheen. To get the same color using water based poly you'd need to first apply a stain.

I'd paint the risers after the treads are sealed with poly but prior to the final coat of poly. That way any drips can easily be wiped up ..... or sanded/scraped off if you miss them while wet.
 
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Old 07-20-16, 04:30 AM
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You've gotten good advice. I just finished a similar project using oil based Minwax and a natural bristle brush. Came out fine. Odor- no problem, especially this time of year when you can open windows. Another trick when finishing entire stair treads is to do every other one first, then a few days later do the others. This way you can always use (carefully) the stairs. Good luck, Steve
 
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