Slightly OT? - Refinishing stair treads

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?
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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 other solvents.
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 (poly)
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 you want.

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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?
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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.

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RE: Subject
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.
Lew
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Just out of curiosity, what's the difference between Kosher salt and regular salt?
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"Upscale" wrote:

For this application, grain size.
For anything else, check with a local Rabbi<grin>.
Lew
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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.
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"Jimbo" wrote

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.
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"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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