How to Paint Wood Stair Railings

Lead Image
  • 2-4 hours
  • Beginner
  • 45-130
What You'll Need
Fine or P180 sandpaper, depending on circumstances
Drop cloths
Oi-based gloss paint
Masking tape
Tack rag
Lint-free cloth
Brackets and bracket installation tools (optional)

Painting your wooden stair railings is a simple way to revamp your living space. Once you’ve chosen your paint color, all you need are some basic DIY techniques. Get started with the steps provided here.

Step 1 – Preparing

First, mask off any areas with tape that you do not want to be painted. This includes the floor alongside the other side of the railing, since you may drip paint onto it while you're working. Then, wipe down the stair railings with a tack rag to remove any excess dust or debris. Lay down the drop cloths around the floor and adjacent walls to protect them from dust or paint splatters.

Then, check your railing for any damage before continuing. If you notice any wobbling or loose rails, reinforce your railing with brackets.

Step 2 – Sanding

If your wooden stair railings have never been painted, you can sand them with a fine sandpaper to promote paint adhesion. However, if you are painting over old paint, you should use a piece of P180-grade sandpaper. Sand down the railings until the sheen has been removed. Some of the wood may start to show through on areas where previous paint application wasn’t as thick, but this is OK.

Before painting, pick out which color you'd like to use. As an alternative, consider staining your wooden stair railing.

Step 3 – Priming

Warning: Only paint in well-ventilated areas, and wear the proper safety gear as suggested by your paint’s manufacturer.

Using an oil-based primer to protect the wood surface, apply a thin coat of primer to the wood stair railings. Layer the paint thinly to prevent paint from congealing and forming any thick drip marks on the rails. Always paint your wood stair railings with brushstrokes going with the direction of the grain, as cross-grain painting will ruin the look of your finish.

Step 4 – Painting

After you’ve let your primer cure thoroughly, you can begin painting your wooden stair rails. Apply the first coat of paint evenly and thinly, so that the wood grain can still breathe. Coating wood in thick layers of paint can make the corners of the wood look dull and rounded. Follow the grain of wood. When painting, perform occasional visual checks to make sure the coverage is uniform.

Applying a Second Coat

Once the first coat is dry, you can apply a topcoat of paint to your wood stair railings. Keep the brushstrokes even.

Step 6 – Removing Tape

Leave the masking tape in place until the topcoat is tacky. Then, you can remove the tape. Never leave the tape in place once the paint is completely dry, or the tape can peel away the edges of your newly finished paint job on your railing.