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As much as I loved our house when we first toured it, my mind could also not help but see everything that I wanted to change and one of the main features that needed to go was the stair railing. It is a great and solid wood railing that just needed a little love. When I first saw the railing, I thought about demo'ing it and replacing it with a new, modern cable railing ($$$), but I found out later that it was the color I disdained more than the design of the railing. Here's how we transformed our railing without breaking the bank.

What the Railing Originally Looked Like

The railing was originally painted a bright white with wood balusters, handrail and newel posts. There are also multiple sections of railing, one at the first floor and an additional couple of sections once you get to the top of the stairs. The color of the railing was really throwing me off. It was one of the most unique architectural features we had in our home and it just blended in with all the other neutral walls. I wanted to highlight the railing while also making it more modern. What says more modern than painting it black.

Upstairs View 1.jpeg
Prepping the Stairs

I planned an entire weekend to complete the first floor portion of the stair railing which included prep work, painting and dry times. My prep list included the following,

  1. Plastic Drop Cloths. These covered a large area and came three to a package so I could distribute them all around the railing easily. I seem to always make a mess when I do projects, so these were essential to have. 

  2. Painters Tape. I used the tape to cover between the railing and everything else that wasn't receiving paint along with taping down the plastic drop cloths to keep them in place

  3. Paint Brush. I got a couple of different sized brushes. One medium and one small. The medium size would paint the larger newel posts and the smaller brush to reach the nooks and crannies. I started off with a small paint roller and quickly nixed that idea and found that a brush was much easier to work with.

    1. Medium Paint Brush link​

    2. Small Paint Brush link

It took about 45 minutes to prep everything with meticulously taping around the railing taking the longest. After that, I was ready to paint. I do want to mention that I did not sand the lower level stair railing before painting it, I just went with it. I ended up sanding the level 2 railing when I painted it a couple of weeks later. Read further to see how it went.

Painting the Stairs

I wanted a really muted, but obvious black for the railing, so I went with Onyx Black by Behr. It was more of a soft and satin black that wasn't too harsh. I got a gallon of paint from Home Depot and was ready to go.

From the first stroke of the paint on the railing, I was in love. That is exactly what the home needed. The painting definitely looked worse before it looked better because the railing needed multiple layers of paint (3 layers to be exact), so it was very time consuming painting the four sides of each baluster and post. But, even after the uneven first coat, I was still in love. It's crazy how your home speaks to you and tells you exactly what it needs. This refresh was it.


After three coats of paint, the lower level railing was finished, now it was time for the upstairs railing. For the upstairs phase of the railing, it was more labor intensive because...

  1. There were more sections of railing

  2. I decided to sand the railing to get the old paint finish off and help the new paint absorb better. I didn't have an issue with the paint adhering on the lower level railing (since I did not sand this portion of the railing), but I decided to try it on the upper level to see if it made any difference.

For the upper level railing, I taped off all of the areas that weren't being painted, sanded as much of the railing as I could with the orbital sander and hand sanded the rest (particularly in between the balusters). This was a pretty strenuous process and one that was quite the workout. Like I said before, I'm not sure it really made a difference in the paint finish, but glad I tried it. 

The upper level was more of the same as the lower level railing, it was going to look worse before it looked better. The first coat went on with still some of the white of the original paint showing through, but by the third coat, it looked cohesive. The painting again took a while between dry times and painting each face of each baluster. I gave myself a weekend for this top portion, but in reality, it took more like a solid week to slowly make progress after getting home from work.


The upstairs railing ended up turning out great and painting it black added so much to the home. After painting both the upstairs and downstairs railings, I learned a couple of things about what to change if I ever re-paint them again (that will be a long time away).

Lessons Learned
  1. I probably would not have sanded the railing before painting it on the upstairs railing. I don't think it made that much of a difference, but that's just personal opinion

  2. I did tape the upstairs railing a couple of weeks before painting it, so the tape stayed on the railing a bit too long. I believe moisture got under the tape and caused the paint to come off when I removed the tape after painting. Lesson learned, don't leave the tape on that long.


All in all, the stair railing came out great! It was quite a bit of work because of the three coats of paint, but I'm glad we did it and it truly made the biggest difference to our home. We saved money by not completely purchasing a new railing and just painting our existing one which is always a plus.

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