In order to fill my copious amount of free time I decided to totally rip out the basement staircase. There had been a very ugly yellowish linoleum covering them for as long as we've lived here, and at first I thought I'd just remove that and maybe put some new boards down. Turns out, the wood underneath the linoleum and tar paper was actually birds eye maple, a very high end and expensive wood. We have some birds eye maple flooring at the very front entrance of our mid 1910's bungalow and were told when we bought our home that it was common to only use birds eye maple at the front of the house due to it's cost as a way to impress guests.
So I was quite surprised to find the wood under the linoleum and going down to the stairs.
Naturally, what started out as a quick one day project turned into a week long project which I want to document. Here are the pictures, step by step. Click to zoom.
So you can see the linoleum on the top two steps still and the remnants of the tar paper on the bottom two. I tried a number of methods to remove the tar paper including highly toxic stripper, vinegar soaking, citrus stripper etc.
At the end of the day the best solution was a heat gun and a scrapper and a lot of patience and elbow grease. Each step took between 40-60 minutes to remove the tar paper and even then a gooey residue remained.
Here we have all the steps pretty much cleaned up and tar paper is removed. Odd thing about the steps was that each one was made up of two pieces of wood. Unsure why. This is the point at which I decided to rehab what was in place instead of installing replacements. That meant tearing everything apart.
I don't know why, but I decided to start with the top steps and work down. Getting them apart took a bit of work, made easier with a crowbar, but they all came up fairly easily and in good shape.
Because of the sticky residue the tar paper left behind, it took about 1 50 grain sanding belt per stair to get them cleaned up. Obviously the sanding wouldn't have been as complete if I didn't take the stairs out. I then went over them again with a 240 grain orbital sander to prep for the finish.
Due to their age (97 years) they did have a bit of wear on them. There were also an unnecassary number of nails used to attach them to the risers which resulted in a lot of the black dots you see.
Finishing went fairly quick. I put on four coats of Zar oil based semi-gloss polyurethane with a two hour dry time and very light sanding between coats.
With the stairs off it was easy to remove the risers for sanding.
It was a challenge to get back up stairs while the stairs were drying. Sanding on the risers was a lot easier as they weren't covered in tar paper residue.
Couple quick coats of a base white latex.
Everything is starting to come together and the contrast between the finished steps and the unfinished ones is remarkable. A few of the steps took some coaxing with a rubber mallet to get back into position.
I had a pretty good process going by this point of finishing, sanding and painting the risers.
Pretty much complete at this point. I used 1.5 inch finishing nails to reattach both pieces of the stairs. You can notice a few gaps on the stairs and between the riser and the stair in a few spots. I tried to get everything as closed in as possible, but when it comes down to it, I'm remodeling in a 100 year old house and not doing new construction. Nothing ever fits back exactly, but I used a few shims to get things to stop creaking.
And here the whole set is complete. The bottom step had a bit of water damage so it was slightly discolored near the wall. All in all a massive improvement!
Which means of course I had to move on to the next set of steps right above these that go from our back door to our kitchen entry. They weren't in as bad of shape as the others, buy 6 years of a hyper black lab and kids put a lot of hurt on them as well. I figured it would be a quick win.
These are the before shots of the larger steps (they curve up to the kitchen). You can see the claw scratches from the dog. It didn't take as many sanding belts this time due to the lack of tar paper residue.
So skip ahead another day and the new steps are back in place. Huge difference and the birds eye maple really pops out now.
The finished staircase going to the kitchen.
All in all, this was one of the more worthwhile and satisfying projects I've done on our house. It was a huge surprise to find the exotic wood sealed under throwaway linoleum and I'm glad I was able to restore it to it's former beauty.