Staircase Refinishing: That’s What the Money is For

In my last post, I outlined my house plans for 2019… and then I disappeared. I’ve been working on our home a lot since then – nothing especially blog worthy – but I’m back with an update on the staircase project! And that update is: I decided I value my time more than my money on this particular project, and I hired someone to do it.

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If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my lurching progress on this stairway over the past two years.

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I’ve removed cove moulding, stripped paint with heat and chemicals, sanded, and more. But I’ve barely made a dent in this 105-year-old beast.

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It’s telling that the previous owner also started this project and never finished – he stripped the handrail, one baluster, and gave up.

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All totaled, I’ve spent easily 40 hours on the stairs, and every hour has made me less certain of the path forward. Usually, I’m motivated by that “the only way out is through” feeling, but that was the not the case here. Once I admitted to myself that this project was never going to bring me any DIY joy, I started looking for a wood refinishing contractor.

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I hired Peter’s Wood Refinishing, which has great reviews on Angie’s List and is affiliated with the Chicago Bungalow Association. I will share an honest review of their work afterward here, of course. I don’t mind over-sharing financial details, so I’ll tell you: this job was quoted at $3,375.

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You’ll also notice in the quote above that it will take 6-7 days. That’s a full week of labor from a team of professionals:

  • Let’s assume (conservatively) that it’s 3 workers x 7 days x 5 hours a day. That’s 105 hours.
  • Let’s assume (conservatively, again) they’re twice as efficient as I am – because they’ve done it before, and because they’re working longer hours without having to set up/take down the job site every day. That’s 210 hours of my time.
  • If I managed to work on these stairs for 7 hours a week, I would be finished in 30 weeks. NOPE. (Actually, not even finished: parts would still need to be painted, which I am also hiring out. DOUBLE NOPE.)

When I did that math, it was a pretty easy decision: that’s what the money is for. No shame!

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The crew starts this Thursday. They’re going to strip everything, and then stain the following parts to a walnut color (similar to our first floor hardwood floors):

  • Newel posts – the big posts on the corners and ends
  • Handrails – self-explanatory
  • Stair treads – the part you step on
  • Cove – the concave pieces of moulding immediately under the lip of the tread
  • Fascia – the large pieces of vertical wood

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The stringers, risers, and 72 balusters(!) will be painted white. I learned from stripping the balusters (AKA spindles) that they’ve always been painted – there wasn’t stain or lacquer beneath the decades of paint like there was elsewhere. This week I’m obsessing over where exactly the stain will stop and the paint will begin: the wood profile is so detailed that it’s not as straight-forward as you might think.

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I’m excited to do right by this vintage staircase. It’s a big part of why I fell in love with our house, and I’m grateful we have the means to restore it. I will post regular updates on Instagram Stories over the next week – follow me at @martipalermo to follow along!

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