Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stair-ing In Disbelief

As I mentioned a few days ago I finally took the last of the green carpet up. This last part was on the front stairs. Originally it seemed that the over-all condition of the stairs was not too bad. While someone had hacked away at a few of the treads to try and get some adhesive off, the rest didn’t look too bad. I originally said it was only on one side of two of the stair treads but as I looked closer, more of the treads showed some signs of damage, only not as severe as the two I had originally mentioned.

None of this should really come as any surprise. We’ve all encountered Stupid Previous Owner Tricks before (That should be a segment on Ask This Old House!), but what really has made this seem even worse is how easily this stuff comes off with a heat gun. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say it is almost effortless to get this yellow stuff off the wood with a heat gun.

Most of the yellow stuff that the mouth-breathing drooler tried to chisel off is not really adhesive. It is the foam backer of that really inexpensive carpet that comes with the padding as the backer. When it was installed they put down a thin coat of adhesive and then glued the carpet to the stairs. When the carpet was pulled up the foam backer was left behind in thick clumps on the stairs. The adhesive was laid on top of brown paint and the paint was put down on shellac, for the most part (more on that in another post). You hit the foam with a heat gun for one or two seconds and it pops right off. It does smoke a bit, and the house still has the subtle aroma of burning tires, but it is just about the easiest thing I have ever scrapped off this house to date.

The other thing I had to get off the treads were these rubber non-slip tread covers that had been put on each tread. They were only about a foot wide and went not quite all the way back to the riser on each step. At first they seemed to come off pretty easy, but as I pulled at them they either wanted to pull the top surface of the wood off, or leave a lot of adhesive and some of the rubber behind. They used some type of contact cement on them and it wasn’t going any where soon. Because these are rubber the heat gun was no good here. But the damage didn’t stop there.

The brain-dead hick (possibly related to the mouth-breather) who put on the rubber, non-slip tread covers cut them to fit after he applied them. It looked like he would do a quickie cut out job, glue them in place, and then take a utility knife and clean up the edges. So now around the edge of where each of these was stuck on I have cut marks from a utility knife.

I had already spent a lot of time on this lower flight of stairs with the heat gun getting off the shellac, paint, and foam stuff, but now I realized this was not going to be enough. I stood there staring at the stairs and decided I needed to get midlevel on these bad-boys. The time for mixing metaphors was over. I had to get out the big guns in wood restoration. It was time for the random orbital-sander with 60 grit paper. I was no longer going to be concerned with saving patina, it was time to grind off the top layer of wood and start anew.

When it comes to refinishing wood, the random orbital sander should sit in a little glass-front box with a small hammer hanging from it and a sign the reads, “In case of emergency, break glass.” You can do some serious damage very quickly to wood with one of these, but that’s what I needed to do. This was an emergency.

This was more like floor refinishing now. I had to sand down a good sixteenth of an inch or more over the entire surface of each tread. The bull-nosed fronts were so damaged in places that I had to reshape the front of each tread with the sander. I started with 60 grit, and then I went to 80, and finally finished off with 100 grit. The risers will need much less work than the treads but I may have to remove the little Scotia molding (sp?) that hides the gap where the tread meets the riser.

These are not going to be perfect, and really, I didn't need to do all this because a lot of what you see will be under the runner. Still, it just doesn't seem right to leave it that way. It could be months before I put down a runner and I couldn't stand to look at it the way it was for that long. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Goop and cuts from the rubber non-slip before and after

A bull-nosed end before and after

A minor gouge from the chisel

Sort of what I started with

The current state


GregN said...

Nice work - I found it really hard to sand the treads on my redwood stairs. Lots of dust generated, yet they never seemed to smooth out as nicely as yours seem to have.

I pulled the carpet off my redwood stairs last fall and I think they were in worse shape than yours. Many of the treads were split, and worse, the front edges were terribly worn - almost as if the stairs had been used as more of a slide or ramp. I deemed a whole section of treads unsalvagable and had to replace them, though I did use some of the pulled treads to reconstruct one of the the pie-shaped "winder" treads that was in the worst shape of all.

I've refinished the railing, finished the skirtboard - but know I have to figure out how I'm going to stain and varnish the treads and risers when I have three kids and two cats. I'm tempted to rent a hotel room for a three-day weekend and send the wife and kids on a little vacation...

Paul said...

Looking good. I did my stairs last summer, and they started off in pretty bad shape. Pink shag carpeting on top of sticky foam padding on top of four (!) layers of paint. Lots of stripping and sanding later, I have some nice pine stairs in surprisingly good shape, considering their age and how soft pine is. With all that paint I didn't have a prayer of salvaging the original finish, so I used shellac, which I love. I didn't use a top coat, but it seems to be holding up well so far.

Greg said...

Yea, it’s amazing what can be brought back to life. Ultimately what I want to do is oil them with boiled linseed oil and then put on some shellac. I will also have a 24-inch runner up the middle.

merideth said...

well that was certainly time well-spent. in addition to getting great results you got to ask yourselfwhat the hell some previous resident was thinking...always good fun!