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How To Paint An Oak Railing & Banister To Modernize Your Stairway

This DIY home project will show you how update oak fixtures in your home decor

Our oak banister and handrail were the LAST (I think) piece of oak trim, molding, and cabinets left in our house. I knew I needed to come up with a DIY design and figure out how to paint the ugly oak railing. Okay, to be fair, there is some in the basement, but I like how it looks down there once we modernized parts of the molding and columns. 

A theme in our blog and life is that one project always leads to another project. This was the case for the ugly oak banister and handrail. Because we were getting around to do a cheap DIY bathroom makeover upstairs, I knew we had to update the railing right outside the door. 

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What paint to use on a stair banister or stair railing?

At the time for our DIY painting project, we used Behr Latex Enamel and Sherwin Williams Proclassic line. However, we recently just discovered Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel paint. If I were painting my oak banister and railing today, I would be using this paint instead of the Proclassic or Behr latex enamel. The most important thing is to choose a paint that is meant for moldings or cabinets and make sure to properly prime and prep your stair railing.

You can see our cheap kitchen makeover and how we used this newer Sherwin Williams Emerald line to paint oak cabinets.

Why did we use Behr and Proclassic paint on the railing?

Honestly, we had leftover paint from the bathroom vanity painting to help with the two-toned banister look I was going for. I have seen banisters with more of a black or darker gray top and bottom. I knew I wanted ours to be a little different. Therefore we chose to use this colored latex enamel paint for the banister.

SW Proclassic in Pure White was our favorite white paint for kitchen cabinets and moldings before we discovered SW Emerald.

We have even painted our old oak mantel using these painting steps to help get rid of the honey oak and update our living room. 

Read more: Check out 11 other DIY projects that helped us get rid of that honey oak!

So let’s get to it…

How to paint an oak banister to completely update your stairway (with video below)

Supplies Needed: 

White Enamel Latex Paint- SW Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel is now our favorite

White Latex Primer*

Latex Enamel Paint in the color of your choice-Here is the paint we used

220 sandpaper or block

Deglosser- This large jug will last you for a lot of DIY projects.

Painter’s Tape-My favorite brand and type that I use for all of my project including my detailed accent walls

Paint Brush-I was so happy that I bought myself a new Purdy brush for this project.

Small Foam Roller (if you want)

Small Paint Tray Liners-these make life so much easier when doing smaller paint jobs

White Paintable Caulk (optional)

Drop cloth or old towels (something to protect your floor as your work)

Old Rag

*Some professional painters will recommend oil-based primers such as this one, as they do a better job blocking out color. However, we have always had great success with Sherwin Williams Latex Primer. I love that I don’t have to worry about the smell (esp. Because I was doing this painting project outside my children’s rooms as they were napping). 

How to paint a stair railing to get rid of that honey oak

1. Lightly sand the oak banister and handrail with the 220. This is just to rough it up a little. You really do not need to spend a ton of time on this.

Sanding block used on oak banister

2. Use an old rag and wipe down the surface with a deglosser.

Deglosser used to prep oak banister

3. Start taping out to help protect your walls and flooring. You can see that I had to try to push my carpet down and get the painter’s tape under the edge of the banister’s base.

Frog Tape used to keep carpet clean

4. If you have some gaps or uneven spots in your woodwork, you may even want to use white caulk to give it a more finished looked after painting. 

5. Use a brush and small roller to prime everything. This will take time. Let dry.

Oak banister and railing being primed

6. Begin painting primed railing white following the same steps as the primer. I was able to actually use the small foam roller on more parts of the railings than I initially thought. 

7. You will need at least 2 coats of white enamel on the railings. I spent a few hours during the week to complete this project. You do not want to get lazy and have a ton of drips or start spraying paint around on your carpet, etc. 

White Painting Railings

8. Once white railings are done and dry, begin to tape (use this brand) out the areas so you can have a darker outside.


I was pretty impressed with myself that I came up with this easy idea. I used Press and Seal around the railing that was closest to the side so that my colored enamel paint would not get on the railing if I accidentally hit the finished part. Just make sure that you completely cover the railing.

Press and seal used to protect finished railing

9. Using a roller and brush begin to put your first coat of colored enamel paint.

Oak banister being painted two colors

You will also need at least 2 coats. I think I ended up doing 3 coats with this paint, especially because I knew the surface would be touched a lot. 

Roller painting a blue-gray color on railings

10. Let dry and remove tape. Some of my paint lines were not as clean as I would have liked. I used white caulk to try to help some of the lines (especially the bottom edge in that groove) and a smaller painter’s brush to do some touch-ups. I do not blame the painter’s tape, just that the railings have so many little grooves and uneven surfaces that is was hard to get everything perfect.

Painter's tape being removed from painted oak railing

11. Clean your brushes and area and enjoy your updated banister. 

Drumroll please…

It never gets old seeing a “before and after” DIY project pictures

Oak Banister before being painted

Finished painted oak banister

I just love looking up the steps and seeing a fresh banister and look. While I would not say this was the easiest painting project, it definitely gives you a lot of bang for your buck. And now I can honestly say, bye bye to all the old oak items in our home. It is so crazy how just simply painting honey oak can really modernize your home without breaking the bank.

Oak Railing Redone

Other DIY Paint Projects to Try

50 DIY Projects You Can Do This Weekend

DIY Ombre Hexagon Accent Wall Check out my daughter’s fun room that is right near this banister. 

White and gray painted oak railing
Painted oak banister

If you love this painted makeover, you have to see how our oak kitchen cabinets were redone!

Oak Handrail Makeover

Before DIY makeover

Oak Handrail before being painted

While I was painting the railing, I was also priming and painting the handrail that is on the other side of our steps.

Oak Handrail being painted blue-gray

We followed the same painting steps outline above and you can see how we were able to easily update our handrail as well.

Gray-blue railing near steps

With a little elbow grease and hardwork, we were able to cheaply update our stairway, banister and handrail. 

Paint an old banister like a pro

Follow us on Pinterest or Facebook for more DIY inspiration!

How to Paint a Bathroom Vanity
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How to Cheaply Modernize & Update Your Old Bathroom

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Thursday 3rd of June 2021

Wow! It's crazy how just a little paint and elbow grease completely transformed your railing! I received a quote from a local refinisher, but after seeing your process it seems like a doable DIY project!


Friday 4th of June 2021

Hi Sarah! Yes, this DIY painting project took a little time, but definitely helped brighten our space where our railing is. Good luck with your project.


Friday 30th of April 2021

This looks nice! Do you still see the wood grain texture through the paint? Does the primer help get rid of that, or how can you get rid of the wood grain texture?


Saturday 1st of May 2021

Hi Jyl. Thanks for stopping by our DIY site. Yes, you will see some of the wood grain through the paint on your stair railing. It honestly doesn't bother me though. You could completely sand down your railing to the texture you like or we know some DIY bloggers that have used a wood filler after priming to help smooth out the surface. However, that process will take a lot of time. You can still use our painting method, but I would look research how to get rid of grain. I would say it also depends on the type of wood and depth of grain. On our fireplace mantel, you honestly can't see the wood grain using this similar painting method. Good luck with your stair railing project and let us know how yours goes.

Pauline Gander

Sunday 21st of February 2021

I love what you did to your bannister and railings. Can you tell me the difference between using a chalk paint and an acrylic? I would also like to paint my kitchen cupboards. Would you recommend chalk paint?


Sunday 21st of February 2021

Hi Pauline. I have only used chalk paint for furniture. I have several posts about how I painted trim in our basement, bathroom cabinets and now this railing using pretty much the same technique. We also have painted our kitchen cabinets using a good primer and latex enamel paint. Our kitchen cabinets are approaching 7 years and have only need retouching and that is with three young children.

I think the biggest difference between chalk paint and latex enamel is that chalk paint has a "sort of primer" in it. When using latex enamel, you have to prime first and that is honestly the most important part. Because you are priming first with latex enamel, I honestly feel that the paint adheres better. You also may want to consider the finish you want (matte, satin, semi-gloss). I am not a chalk paint expert, but my guess is semi-gloss is hard to get and something you may want in order to be able to easily wipe your cabinets.

The furniture pieces we have done using chalk paint have held up, but they don't get nearly the same amount as action as cabinets. I hope this helps and good luck with your project.


Saturday 13th of February 2021

Love the banister uplifting you did!!


Saturday 13th of February 2021

Thanks Claudia.We are very happy we were able to give our railing and banister a new look!

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