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How To Paint A Stair Railing & Banister To Update That Oak

Learn how to easily paint your stair railing with a brush and roller. This is a simple way to update your staircase for a modern look.

before painting oak stair railing and after painting with white spindles and blue gray top stair railing.

Our oak banister and handrail were the LAST (I think) pieces 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 stair railing and banister. Painting your stair railing is an inexpensive way to give your entryway or hallway a brand new feel. Here are the steps we took to easily paint our oak stair railing and banister with a roller and brush.

Okay, to be fair, there is some oak 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 DIY project always leads to another home improvement project. This was the case for the ugly oak banister and handrail. Because we were getting around to doing a cheap DIY bathroom makeover upstairs, I knew we had to update the railing right outside the door. 

*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read our full privacy policy.

Oak banister and handrail before getting painted.
The “before” oak stair railing

How do you prep stair railing and spindles before painting?

Due to the nature of railings, they get touched a ton. It is important that you properly prep the railing and banister before painting. The area needs to be cleaned and degreased well. We also like to use fine sandpaper to scuff up the surface before priming with an adhesion primer.

How to paint stair rails on carpet?

This is annoying but not a total pain anytime you are painting something over the carpet. You can see in this image below how I was able to push down the carpet and tape under the base of the stair railing. When you are done you simply take the tape off and fluff your carpet. Just be careful you don’t drip on your carpet when painting.

how to paint oak railing on carpet with green painter's tape under railing.

What paint do you use on a stair banister or stair railing?

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.

Here are few options:

  • Behr Latex Enamel
  • Sherwin Williams Proclassic
  • Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel
  • Benjamin Moore Pro Advance

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 the SW Emerald paint instead of the Proclassic or Behr latex enamel.

You can see our cheap kitchen makeover and how we used this newer Sherwin Williams Emerald line to paint oak cabinets and why now would use them for our oak railing.

Can of Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel.
This is what we now use for all our cabinet and molding painting projects.

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.

gallon of Behr cabinet and trim enamel.

In the future, I may repaint the colored parts with a darker color. That is the fun part about painting projects: you can always change the color.

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

Painting Stair Spindles Tips

  • Use the brush to do all the grooves in the spindles
  • Carefully make sure that there are not any drips
  • Check periodically to see if there are any drips to wipe away
  • Use a small foam roller to do the flat areas
  • Look at the spindles from multiple angles. There are so many nooks and crannies that you want to confirm you are completely covering everything
  • If you have a drip, use fine sandpaper to fix it before painting your final coat
  • Painting anything in your home doesn’t have to be intimidating, just go for it!
oak stair spindles being painted white.

What about those crazy Tik Tok videos where they paint with a sock?

We did not do this, nor do we think it would work super well. However, we have even seen on an HGTV post about using a sock on your hand to help you paint the spindles. I only see this as being super messy but thought we would share that idea if someone wants to try.

If you are considering this, you would want to put a protective glove on before you put the sock over your hand. There are even painting gloves meant for easily painting spindles.

Recommended Supplies

*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 or this Zinsser water-based one. I love that I don’t have to worry about the smell especially because I was doing this painting project outside my children’s rooms as they were napping. 

Do you need help deciding what color of paint to use?

We recently just tried Samplize and it totally beats having to buy individual paint samples. These 9″ x 14.75″ samples will get shipped directly to you and save the hassle of clean-up (we loved that).

Check out the brands you can get here. You can also check out our post, see our review and hopefully get the answers to those frequently asked Samplize questions.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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.

Fingers pushing down Frog Tape used on carpet under oak railing.

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. The most important part when using any type of primer is that you fully cover the surface. It might not look that pretty, but you are trying to give your new paint a surface to stick to.

Oak banister and railing being primed with white primer on some areas.

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 completing 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.

HUGE PAINT PREP TIP ALERT!!!

I was pretty impressed with myself that I came up with this easy idea. Use Press and Seal around the railing that was closest to the side so that the colored enamel paint does not get on the railing. It is such a simple and easy way to protect your white painted spindles from accidentally hitting 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 the 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 it 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…

The Before and After

Oak Banister before being painted

Finished Painted Oak Railing & 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. 

Can you repaint painted kitchen cabinets?

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

Follow us on Pinterest, Youtube or Facebook for more DIY inspiration!

With a little elbow grease and hard work, we were able to cheaply update our stairway, by painting the stair railing, banister, and handrail. 

Printable instructions here!

How To Paint a Stair Railing and Banister

oak stair spindles being painted

Step-by-step tutorial on how to paint an oak stair railing and banister

Prep Time 1 hour
Active Time 5 hours
Total Time 6 hours
Difficulty Medium
Estimated Cost under $100

Instructions

  1. Use 220 sandpaper or block to lightly scuff the surface.
  2. Wipe down with the deglosser with a lint-free rag.
  3. Start taping out areas you do not want the paint to get. Lay down a drop cloth on those areas as well.
  4. Optional: Use white paintable caulk to fill in any gaps in woodwork before priming.
  5. Use a paintbrush first to start to apply a primer in small grooves. Work in sections doing a few spindles at a time.
  6. Use a small foam roller to prime flatter areas of your stair railing and banister. Keep checking for drips. You only need to worry about covering the surface (it may not look too pretty, yet).
  7. Let the primer dry. Some primers will be ready to go in an hour and others will need longer. Make sure primer has fully adhered to your surface. You can scrap your fingernail to see if it is ready.
  8. Repeat steps with brush and roller with a white latex enamel paint. You will need 2 coats.
  9. Allow the paint to dry (overnight would be great). Tape out the top and bottom railings. Consider using Press and Seal to protect that last stair spindle.
  10. Use a paintbrush and roller to paint the top and bottom railing with colored latex paint. Paint at least 2 coats.
  11. Take the tape off and touch up any areas.

Notes

Take your time. This painting project is best if done over a few days to allow the different coats of paint to dry.

Did you make this project?

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Paul

Wednesday 17th of August 2022

We had a professional painter give us a quote of over $3000 to paint our railings and bannisters. I did a little research on the project and came across your site. You made it seem very doable for the average person, so we tackled the project ourselves. We followed your steps. Bought the materials you suggested. The finished project looks fantastic. A professional couldn't have done any better. Thanks, Erin, for a great site.

Erin

Wednesday 17th of August 2022

Hey Paul! I am so happy that your oak railing turned out so well! Great job and thanks for letting us know. We love when a little paint can really transform a space.

Addie

Tuesday 14th of June 2022

Thank you Erin for the great inspiration and instructions! We love the new look of our newly painted railings.

Erin

Wednesday 15th of June 2022

Hi Addie. I am glad that you love your new railing!!

Lyndsey

Sunday 3rd of April 2022

Hi! Love your project! I’m a total “beginner”. In our home, the previous owners poorly painted the handrail already with some super cheap white paint. I’d like to paint it black. Do I need to remove the white paint completely? (If so, how?) Or can I lightly sand and add a primer and then paint over the white paint? If I do this can I still use the degreaser on the white paint?

Thank you!

Erin

Sunday 3rd of April 2022

Hi Lyndsey. If the paint is chipping away and in bad condition, I would think it would be best to strip it away. You could completely sand the railing or also try a paint stripping product like Citristrip first before priming. Also, I always suggest that you go into a local paint store (like Sherwin Williams) and show them actual pictures of your project. They will have suggestions. Good luck with your railing project.

MTS

Wednesday 23rd of March 2022

Well done. This is the most detailed and comprehensive how to guide I've seen on painting railings and banisters down to the supplies. Gets me excited to do my own! We aren't necessarily going from oak to painted but nevertheless this is helpful. I will need to look for more information on filling in dents and dings. We have a few of those....

Erin

Thursday 24th of March 2022

Thanks for the kind words. We are happy that you feel comfortable in your painting process after checking out our how to paint your stair railing instructions. If your stair railing is already painted, we have a painted cabinet tutorial that might work for you. Luckily our stair railing was in pretty good shape and we didn't need to fix any dents. Good luck with your stairway makevoer!

Sarah

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!

Erin

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.

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