Oak staircase/handrail - color and clear finish options?

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Forum topic by RamonaPro posted 05-01-2011 11:55 PM 6984 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View RamonaPro's profile


7 posts in 2080 days

05-01-2011 11:55 PM

Topic tags/keywords: oak question finishing

Howdy folks
Since you guys were such an enormous help the last time I had a question, I’m back with another! :)

I have a customer who just had a small (8-10’ span) of handrail and spindles built into an existing staircase.
The materials used were a combination of white and red oak (sigh)

The customer is not very specific as far as color or finish, just wants it “nice”, and it cannot just be left “natural”, it needs some color..
My question(s):

What ideas do you guys have for materials/application techniques – rather than just stain/lacquer or stain/poly?
I’d like to do the whole thing in one trip/one working day – does that change or limit my options?
I am not opposed to spraying material, but I would rather avoid it – maybe a rubbing-type application?

Honestly, I have not done much other than a LOT of stain/seal/laq and stain/poly work – but I would like to expand my options and techniques a bit if you guys have some ideas for me, I’d be very appreciative.



6 replies so far

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 2485 days

#1 posted 05-02-2011 01:50 AM

First, I think that one day in-and-out is a bit ambitious. How much prep will you need to do before you even open the stain?

Personally, I would be reluctant to experiment with new techniques on a customer’s project. Maybe in the shop, but not in the home, for sure. – lol

You might want to check out some of the Minwax “Polyshades”. They should do a decent job of disguising the different oak species, but it will probably take at least two coats with a few hours between coats.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View RamonaPro's profile


7 posts in 2080 days

#2 posted 05-02-2011 02:38 AM

Right on, I will certainly look into them. For sure I would get some oak from a local friendly cabinet maker to experiment with should I ever decide to go too far off my regular rails ;)

It is pretty much stain-ready. it was the carpenter’s “job” to finish the project completely, but he chickened out once he saw that he had used two types of oak. While not a huge deal, and this is far from the Taj Majal, that screw-up of his is my wiggle room. The customer knows that I have been brought in to “do my best” to fix the problem. I don’t mind going back a 2nd day, as each trip will be super quick, but the customer has a tough schedule and prefers to be home while having work done.

Like I said, I’ll check out the polyshades – a few hours of drytime in between I can handle.
Thanks for the response bud

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 2575 days

#3 posted 05-02-2011 03:16 AM


I’d go with the spray gear. Use a 1 lbs. cut of dewaxed shellac (I use Zinnser sealcoat 50/50 with denatured alcohol), mixed to the right color with a dye (such a Trans Tint). This will impart excellent color that masks the two different wood types. I use multiple coats, often partially sprayed in certain areas to give various areas more tone than others…good way to do “sunburst” patterns on a cabinet door, for example. The more coats, the darker it gets.

The thin cut of shellac dries extremely fast…and you could do a ton of coats this way in a couple of hours.

I would then use some wipe-on poly on the handrail to give it some protection…as you should be able to get a few good coats on it before the day ends. I wouldn’t put anything else on the spindles…just match the sheen of the poly coats with the shellac on the spindles. Experiment before you go.

Being a staircase, there probably isn’t a ton of wood grain to try to bring out, but this method will tend to hide the grain somewhat. In that case, you could pad-on the first coat of your shellac mixture and rub it into the areas where you want the grain to stand out. Just don’t rub-on subsequent coats, since shellac melts into the deeper coats and rubbing it in too much runs the risk of messing up your early coats…which is especially true of a mixture that is so heavy in solvent.

-- jay,

View John's profile


190 posts in 3000 days

#4 posted 05-02-2011 03:49 AM

I did a few jobs where I used some poly with a tint in it made to match another piece of furniture. That is probably what PolyShades is. I would go with that and you’ll probably be good to go depending upon how much final finish the customer wants. You can always put one coat of clear poly over it.

-- John, Long Island, NY

View RamonaPro's profile


7 posts in 2080 days

#5 posted 05-02-2011 04:12 AM

awesome stuff fellas! thanks a million

View Steven H's profile

Steven H

1117 posts in 2477 days

#6 posted 05-02-2011 04:19 AM

If you do not know what finish to put, slap on boiled linseed oil. That will pop out the grain look. Want to change the color? Slap on any dyes. For hand railed, you can use oil based varnish. (same as oil based polyurethane)

Oak is the easiest wood to stain.
Minwax polyshade is just varnish and pigment mixed together. I wouldn’t use this for this particular project.

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