Not sure if this is off-topic or not, but figure you woodworkers will
be able to help anyway. I am refinishing a old set of stairs (built
in 1920's approx.). The original paint and varnish has been removed
from the treads and risers and I now want to refinish with dark brown
treads and off-white/cream risers. Initially I figured I'd use oil
based paint for both but was concerned about the safety aspect of
using paint on the treads even with non slip additives. So now I'm
wondering about using an oil based penetrating dye in walnut and
buffing that afterwards. The result would be the color I want plus
the roughness of the treads for grip and safety. Any thoughts? Any
dye brand recommendations?
You are mixing your terms. Dyes are not used in oil based products.
Stains are oil based. Stains with penetrating oil us a pigment. This
is some ground up mineral or metal and is rather coarse on the micro
scale. Some of it does penetrate the wood but very little, it mostly
inhabits the micro scratches and crevices in the wood. Stains
typically don't get hardwood as dark as you want\expect..Dyes on the
other had are made from similar minerals or metals but are 100's of
times smaller particles, allowing them to actually penetrate the
cellular structure of the wood. They are based in water or alcohol or
The amount of wear a stair tread takes is a major concern. The typical
approach on walking surfaces would be to first get the color, then
protect it with polyurethane. Yeah, this could be slick on a stair but
I think with just a little wear it will lose its slickness. I think
the color will wear out if you don't protect it with a film finish
I would suggest getting some transtint dye and mix it using water.
Dyes can suffer from overlap marks but using water instead of alcohol
helps to minimize this problem because you can wash out the problems
with a wet brush. Regardless, try to keep a wet edge and cover the
pieces in one coat. Also, with a water based dye, you need to wet the
wood first, let it dry, you will then feel some raised grain and sand
that down gently by hand before dyeing. Also, the dye can wick into
cracks and crevices, like at the edge of the stair and then migrate
back out and cause dark patches, so keep an eye on it and wipe it down
as it dries. Then coat with a heavy poly finish made for floors.
Of course, as with all finishing projects, do the entire process on
samples of the same type of wood, to be sure the finished look is what
Thanks for the lesson - much appreciated and far better than I got in
my local paint store (which caters to the trade as well as retail and
has a good reputation). Up to now, I always believed that oil based
stain was far more penetrating than water based dye.
How about the fact that the original finish was oil based? Even
though it's been heat stripped and sanded, will there be some
remaining residue from that oil based finish that would inhibit the
water based dye?
Any oil that was part of an old oil finish is long gone. Plus dyes
pretty much dye anything. I suppose if you wet the treads and can see
some sort of resistance to water like its waxed you have an issue but
I doubt you'll se that.
An old boat builder's trick for getting a non skid tread surface.
* Mask out the tread area.
* Apply a coat of whatever, paint, varnish, etc to tread surface.
* Using a salt shaker, sprinkle sand, Kosher salt, walnut shells,
whatever, to wet tread surface.
* Allow to dry for 48 hours, then sweep up excess sand, etc.
I heard that suggested for outdoor steps but have never tried it.
After my wife slipped on some pressure treated steps a few years back,
I routed a couple of grooves on the leading edges of the treads. I
cant say whether that was effective or not but nobody else has slipped
on those steps.
Whatever you decide to do to get the desired color, shoot for using
polyurethane as a finish coat on the treads. It is going to be your best for
durability on wooden stair treads, and it is also one that will not be so
slick that you can't walk on them with socks on.
With polyurethane you should never need to wax the treads ... socks on
waxed/buffed stairs are killers.
"Socks on waxed/buffed stairs are killers" - I have personal
experience of that which is why I have left these stairs alone for a
long time :) Years ago, when we moved into this house, LOML decided
to wax - yes, wax - the stairs. Later I came in, took off my boots
and went upstairs. Going up was fine, coming down was rapid :)
Luckily other than bruises on my ass, legs and arms, no great harm was
done - except to my pride, of course. She was convinced that I had
dropped in for a few beers after work.
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