Refinishing a white oak banister requires plenty of detail work..

How to Refinish a White Oak Wood Banister

by Kim Blakesley

Refinish an old white oak wood banister and recapture the youthful glow of the wood. As the stain and sealer age -- dull spots, discoloration and chips occur in the surface. Refresh the original color or change the color with the removal and application of a new stain and finish. The process itself is time consuming, but well worth the effort when the project is complete. Allow one week to remove the old finish and replace it with new.

Clean the banister, which includes the balusters, rails and newel posts, with a mild soap mixture. Dry thoroughly with a towel.

Put on a dust mask and protective eye glasses. Sand each portion of the banister with 120-grit sandpaper. Start at the top and work toward the bottom. Follow the grain of the wood to prevent visible scratching. Change sandpaper when it becomes sticky or the sandpaper is worn out. Fold the sandpaper and use the crease edge to get into small areas.

Wipe each section down with a tack cloth to remove all sanding dust. A tack cloth is a sticky cloth used by woodworkers. It is available in the paint department at your local home improvement center.

Sand each section of the banister with 220-grit sandpaper following the grain of the wood. Wipe each banister down with a tack cloth when finished. The reason for the second sanding is to make the wood surface smooth. It removes any scratches made in the wood with the 120-grit sandpaper.

Sweep the area to remove all sanding dust.

Place a drop cloth on the floor to protect it from stain or sealer drops and spills.

Stir the stain until the color is consistent throughout. Streaks of color in the can will cause streaks on the wood.

Generously apply the stain to the banister in 4-to-8-foot sections. Allow the stain to sit on the wood 10 minutes. Wipe excess stain from the wood with a soft, lint-free cloth. Allow the stain to dry 24 hours before continuing.

Apply a layer of sealer to the wood surface. Allow the sealer to dry 12 hours then apply a second coat, sanding lightly between coats, if directed. Allow the second coat to dry 12 hours.

Feel the entire banister with your hands to check for roughness. If rough, sand the area with steel wool until it is smooth. Wipe the area down with a tack cloth then apply another coat of sealer.

Items you will need

  • Mild soap
  • Water
  • Bucket
  • Dishcloth
  • Towel
  • Dust mask
  • Protective eye glasses
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Broom
  • Dust pan
  • Drop cloth
  • Wood stain
  • Stir stick
  • Brush
  • Clear sealer
  • Steel wool


  • If you are staining the banister the same color or darker, removing all the stain from small areas is not as vital. If you are going lighter, remove the stain from the small areas or it will show after you complete the refinishing process.


  • Keep children away from the area when working. Stains and sealers are poisonous if ingested, and many formulas emit noxious fumes during the drying period. Always provide ample ventilation when finishing wood.

About the Author

Kim Blakesley is a home remodeling business owner, former art/business teacher and school principal. She began her writing and photography career in 2008. Blakesley's education, fine arts, remodeling, green living, and arts and crafts articles have appeared on numerous websites, including DeWalt Tools, as well as in "Farm Journal" and "Pro Farmer."

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images