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Stairway Makeover Phase 2

Stairway Makeover Phase 2

Thanks to some health issues, we’re a bit behind in sharing some of our projects. Case in point: We conquered Phase 2 of our Stairway Makeover around the frigid cold winter months in 2016. This is one home improvement project that we will never forget. We won’t soon forget how we immediately regretted applying General Finishes stain to our banisters/railings. BUT… after we determined the mistakes that were made, this product became one of our all-time FAVORITES.

what you need to know before using gel stain on your stairway makeover


Normally, the 1st coat of anything {paint, stain, nail polish, etc.} looks like complete shit. But this project looked like complete shit up until the final coat of the stain. After the first coat of stain… & for 3 days after the 1st coat, I literally cried, cursed & had a meltdown…. questioning whether we should have used a de-glosser or lightly sanded to allow the stain to adhere better (even though it wasn’t recommended.) I was seriously so angry that I wanted to chop-down the shitty-looking banisters with a chainsaw…. because clearly, I’m a rational person.

a shitty start to a stairway makeover

Unfazed by my meltdown-mode, hubby was cool as a cucumber, troubleshooting what went wrong. Thank {imaginary} god one of us in this marriage is rational! After Jonathan determined the mistakes we made, we corrected them without any extra elbow grease required. Jonathan gets ALL the credit for this transformation… & talking his crazy wife off the ledge.

close-up of the crappy 1st coat of stain


PHASE 1 (all completed):

? Remove ugly brass light fixture

? Create a DIY modern light fixture

? Create large-scale DIY art pieces

? Paint

PHASE 2 (this post):

? Update banisters

PHASE 3 (to be completed):

? Demo carpet

? Upgrade treads, risers & landing



Although our condo isn’t more than 10 years old, the banisters are straight outta the eighties! The only “thing” allowed in our home from the eighties is me {T}… haha! We came up with our “upgrade builder-grade” solution from seeing everyone & their brother on vlogs & blogs using General Finishes stain. Unfortunately, none of those people showed nor explained the “tricky temperament” of this stain. Staying true to H&S fashion, we’re showing you the really shitty parts ALONG with the amazing transformation.

Of course, we couldn’t be “normal” with our paint prep. Yes, that’s actual Christmas wrapping paper & brown paper bags. Since our plans for phase 3 is to replace the carpeted stairs, we deemed it useless & unnecessary to protect something that we’d be ripping out in a few months… or a year later. Trust me, the carpeted stairs were already gross & beyond cleaning or repair and we even started looking at a stain remover to try and get rid of them. With that being said, yes you will see stain on the carpeted stairs with the reveal of our banister makeover. If that bothers you, click out now…


  • General Finishes Gel Stain – we used Java
  • General Finishes Gel Top Coat
  • GLOVES – this is important!!! You don’t want your hands to look like you just wiped your ass without toilet paper.
  • Paint brushes & craft foam brushes
  • Old socks?? (Yay or nah? We’ll explain…)
  • Small space heater (Yay or nah? We’ll explain…)
  • Mineral Oil – to remove the Hershey Squirts from the wall or floor {does NOT work on carpet!}
  • Protective cloth for your floors IF you’re NOT planning on replacing them


Aside from our colorful paint prep, we had imperfections to fix with wood fill. This stain does not disguise the wood grain NOR any imperfections that weren’t fixed prior to staining.

General Finishes stain up-close…


close-up comparisions of the wood grain with & without flash


IF you have “chew marks” that you don’t want to see in the final product, apply a few layers of wood fill, sanding in-between each layer until filled.

chew marks on the spindles from the previous owner or his dog


After the 1st coat of stain, our upgrade attempt made us feel like we had just put lipstick on a pig… sticky, tacky lipstick that did not want to adhere… or cure for 3 days!!! After application & up until day 3, it felt tacky & sticky. Where the hell did we go wrong???? We actually followed the directions & didn’t sand {other than the wood-filled spots} or use a de-glosser. Should we have done things our way like normal??…

We figured out our first mistake almost immediately…


We initially thought we were such geniuses for “hacking” our way to stain the spindles. We thought, let’s put 2 pairs of gloves on & put socks {that lost their sole-mates} over top of the gloves & we’ll be done in no-time. TOTAL FAIL! Not only did putting stain on the sock actually waste the product, but as soon as we’d apply the stain, it also seemed to be removing 80% of it at the same time.

No more “jerking” the spindles…

We reverted to Plan B for this stairway makeover & used a combo of paint brushes & cheap craft foam brushes.

terribly splotchy first coat of General Finishes gel stain in Java


We figured out the 2nd mistake … 3 days after the 1st coat of stain cured. The manufacturer advises that although cure time should take between 12-24 hours, cold or damp conditions can prolong the drying time. Do you remember that we conquered this in the frigid winter months? Apparently our furnace wasn’t providing enough heat for the stain to cure.

An easy peasy, lemon-squeezy solution…

For the 2nd & 3rd coats of the Java gel stain, we used 2 small space heaters to help the stain cure faster. The 2nd coat of Java gel stain cured within 24 hours. The extra heat also helped the stain adhere better than the 1st coat, although it still looked a bit splotchy in a few spots. However, we did reach complete perfection with the 3rd & final coat of the gel stain.

use a space heater to cure the gel stain



As much as we try to prevent mistakes from happening, we’re still Messy Marvins. Java gel stain still made its way onto our painted walls. door trim, doors & on the hardwood floor in our kitchen.

The quick fix…

Mineral Oil is the super easy fix that cleans up the Hershey squirts messes. (Can you tell I have Keystone humor? Ha!) HOWEVER, if your walls are a flat finish, I highly doubt mineral oil would help.

before, during & after cleaning stain mess with mineral oil



After all of our hard work & patience for each coat of stain to cure, it was time to protect our hard work. Although the application was faster than applying the stain, it still needed 24 hours to cure.

So how many gel top coats did we apply??…

3 coats of Java gel stain on left & beginning of 1st top coat on the right

We applied a total of 3 coats of the gel top coat with a cheap craft foam brush. If you’re going to stain something, you should take the time to protect it with a top coat. This gel top coat made the whole transformation “come together.”

Tips to avoid crusty boogers from appearing in your top coat…

  • Be very stingy & apply this top coat sparingly.
  • When applied sparingly, it will dry clear
  • The consistency of this top coat is VERY thick.
  • Any area that’s heavily coated will dry a hue of yellow & look like crusty boogers.
  • If you get dried boogers, carefully sand with an ultra fine grit sand paper.


With an incredible amount of patience & troubleshooting 3 problem areas, phase 2 of our stairway makeover is complete. It’s so weird, but the things in life that I initially hate {including people}, actually become my favorite things in life. We came to LOVE General Finishes stain so much that we used it again a few months later on another project. While this is a super easy project, it does require tons of patience.





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