Strip or sand oak stairs

Q: I have relatively new oak stairs that were finished very poorly by the contractor who built the home. 6 years later, the poly is still in good shape mechanically, but I would like to improve the cosmetics. Since this a small but time consuming job, I was going to put in the labor myself when the family is away at the lake this summer. I plan to simply remove the small strips of decorative molding under each tread and re-install new as refinishing these pieces is not worth the hassle.

I have a compound mitre saws and pneumatic brad and finish nailer, etc. Hence only the treads will be refinished. would you consider a chemical stripper for this type of work, or do you prefer sanding for all refinishing work? Have you ever used a detail sander around the balusters (“pickets”) or always a hand-scraper?

A: If you are not experienced with sanding with an edger, then I would not recommend you try it on your stairs. You would be better off with a chemical stripper. A detail sander does work around the pickets but is slower than a hand scraper. Along with a hand scraper, you will also need a fine tooth file to sharpen the blade.

Similar Q: I have wood flooring. The polyurethane is worn/wearing off. I have tried sanding it with a hand sander, but can not get it all off. Can I use a stripper?

A: Sure, you can use stripper and then use your little hand sander. It’s a tough go even with professional equipment. With small hand tools it is labour intense.