July 24, 2012

#3- Part 5- Finishing the Steps

As promised we' re near the finish line of our big, bad step project, but first I had to survive through one last Little Engine That Could weekend. I'm not going to lie to you, by Friday I was already spent. After about a week of step covering and then another week of trims, putty and sanding, this project had gone on way past my tolerance window. Whenever we take in a big project the rest of the house slowly seems to fall apart (dishes pile up, laundry overflows...) and this time was no exception, especially since the big, sawdust bomb mess was happening right through the center of our house.  And have I mentioned that I'm just getting way too pregnant for this? Baby Boomer has already seen 2 full bathroom guts and remodels this pregnancy, and it was time for this final project to meet the end, as I vowed to finish all big projects before the third trimester.  

The good news is that I had a full weekend ahead of me. The bad news is that since you can't really get between any 2 rooms in the house without using the steps, I couldn't finish them all at once. But if I could complete all the sanding on Friday, I could spend all day on Saturday applying multiple coats of poly to every other step, and then all day on Sunday applying coats to the opposite steps.

Game on. I had a few more sections to touch up putty and sand out on Friday. Bringing the mess like this:

From before:

To stain ready:

But I highly underestimated how much work was left, because this little piggy didn't get to bed until 2:30AM.  It reminded of our glory days a year ago when I'd be up to all hours in our new disaster house DIYing, but this time I was knocked up and exhausted. I couldn't quit though, I knew I would need a full day of finishing on Saturday and Sunday to meet my deadline, and I just wanted this thing over with.

The next morning my little monster woke me up at 7AM,  and we immediately got to work.  Sanding.  Again.  As much as I wanted to get started with the poly, in the light of day there were a few last spots to clean up, and I've learned once you poly you can't go back.  (Foreshadowing...)

Earlier in the week the hubs and I had tested dozens to of different stain and poly combinations. We decided on nothing but coats of water-based poly, which appeared to be the best color match to our floors. I was thrilled we were going the water-based route since its odor free, and although we could have opened the windows in the house, the heat and humidity would have slowed down our drying process dramatically.

We went with Varathane brand for wood flooring, since it is extra durable, quick drying and allows you to apply additional coats every 2 hours. It's basically the Beyonce of floor ploy - triple threat.

I started with applying a coat to the undersides of all the steps so that I could use the ladder first and then clear it out of the way. Once the undersides were done, I applied a coat to every other step, applying a PostIt to the dry steps so I could easily remember which were okay to walk on. By 10AM my first successful coat was applied, and my little man and I took off to the farmers market to enjoy the beautiful summer morning.  We bought veggies, sat in the sun and ate ice cream before noon. It was bliss.

When returned home and things went bad. Very bad.

The stairs without the PostIts aren't polyed, and the ones without the PostIts are.  Can't tell the difference?  Neither can I.  Problem.

Unlike oil-based poly (what I used to finish the maple wood door I built for the Main Bath) which brings out the natural color in your wood, water-based poly sits on top of your wood as a completely clear coat.  While our sample pieces looked right on, in reality putting just the water-based poly on top of these steps made them still appear raw and unfinished.  They would always look like we were still waiting to finish them.  I called the Hubs (who was unfortunately working all weekend), my Dad and even the paint desk at my home improvement store but no one answered.  Really, I didn't need anyone to pick up to tell me what I already knew, which was the only way these steps were going to look professional and finished was if I sanded off all of the poly I had just applied, and then either applied a oil-based poly, or a stain and water-based poly combo.  

I screamed, put Ryder down for a nap, took a deep breath, got my sanding block and made a new plan.  (Not necessarily in that order.)  I could have dwelled, but there was no time to waste.  I got back on the ladder, this time with 60 grit stripping sand paper, and started to work on the undersides of the steps repeating to myself out loud, "You can do this," "It's going to be worth it," and "Just two more sections."  I may have been borderline certifiable at this point. 

Luckily, 2 magic things happened at that moment:  Ryder took a 4 hour nap and my cousin Kenzie came by to help.  Kenzie is 21, back from college for the summer, and has an incredible "I  can take on anything" attitude.  She is fantastic, and just what I needed.  Kenzie took over on the ladder, and I took on the much-less-likely-to-fall-from tops of the steps.  With the two of us work went faster, and just before dinner all the poly that I had meticulously applied that morning was removed.  Full day of work, back to square one.  Still determined to finish the steps during the weekend, I came up with the new plan which was to apply a natural colored, water based stain to all the steps (tops and bottoms) that night right before bed (basically staining myself into my bedroom), which would give them about the 8 required hours to dry.  Then the next morning I could still apply my multiple coats of poly to all the steps, finishing by the end of the day. I was in bed just after midnight.  I don't even remember lying down. 

The only snag in my plan?  The fact that we wouldn't be able to use the steps for the day.  But I had a moment of inspiration when I realized that since our house has 8 exterior doors, nearly one on every floor, we could go outside to access the different levels!  So if you were in the kitchen and needed to use the bathroom, you could go outside, around the house, down through the Workout Room door into the Downstairs Bath.  I was smart enough to know that my three year old bull-in-a-china-shop kiddo wouldn't mind the taped off steps for long though, so we came up with a schedule that went something like this:

Set Ry up with a craft downstairs - Apply a coat of poly starting at the top flight and working my way down to the bottom - Both of us leave to go grocery shopping.

Let Ry watch a cartoon- Apply a second coat- Go for a run and stop at the park to play

Put Ry down for a nap- Apply a third coat- Blog on the couch in the basement (my favorite)

And so it continued for 6 total coats. 

My 3 year old Paparazzi strikes again.
The stop signs Ry made for his craft helped remind his little motor to slow near the wet steps.
I didn't have to sand between every coat, but I did sand it lightly with 320 grit finishing paper, and then wiped them down completely with a microfiber rag before my 7th and final coat.  For the last one I once again started at the bottom and worked my way into my bedroom, finishing at exactly 11:47 PM on Sunday night.  13 minutes before the start of my third trimester.  Success.

Although the poly was dry to the touch the next morning, we're currently walking on them very minimally (and always without shoes) until they cure up completely in the next few days.  Mostly I just sit near them to admire.

And let's celebrate with a little before and afters...

I'll be honest with you guys, I'm not completely done with projects, since we still have Baby Boomer's nursery to tackle, but we are done with some of the more difficult projects for awhile.  Unless we decide to paint the kitchen cabinets... or redo the Family Room... I can't make any promises.  What do you guys think?  Was it worth the hard work?  Any big projects you all are working on lately?  Big ones sitting out there that you really need to tackle?  I suggest getting knocked up, it's amazing what you can accomplish while you're nesting.


  1. Jeez, Erin, you are a BEAST! I'm overwhelmed by the mention of this project and you knocked it out of the park! You should get a pro to estimate that work just for some savings figures. You saved thousands, easily.

  2. Great job!

  3. You are the bomb, really!!

  4. 1. You are amazing.
    2. Cold day in hell before I get knocked up again. I just can't go through that again, now that my boys are 11 and 8. LOL!
    3. Seriously jealous, as our horror of a house wasn't an expected reno, just one problem after another and neither of us is particularly handy.
    4. It looks fanfreakingtastic.