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My house has a wooden staircase leading up to the front door. It gets a lot of traffic and is uncovered, so its exposed to New England winters. This means snow, ice, ice-melt, sand, shoveling, etc.. Not to mention sun in the summer time. The previous owners had stained them, but thats pretty much worn away (was that way when I bought the place).

What is the best way to finish and protect them?

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In high traffic areas I have always had the best life out of Siekens oil based stains. We have used this product on wooded docks as well and it holds up for 2 to 3 years. I would wait until warm weather, clean the steps up well and put at least two coats on, giving each coat 24 hours to soak in good. Boiled linseed oil is good stuff, but you won't be able to match the existing color very well. Siekens is avail at Sherwin Williams stores, not cheap, but real good stuff. BTW, I don't work for a paint store, I'm a contractor.

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You've basically got two options when it comes to treating wood for exposure:

  1. Seal it in a water and weatherproof skin
  2. Soak something else into the wood to protect it

Traditional outer treatments include varnish and resin. I can't say much for this approach because I don't advocate it. I find covering the wood almost always cracks, peels away, and thereby exposes the untreated wood beneath to the elements.

I prefer the latter option - treatments that soak into the wood. I'm no fan of Creosote, but there are alternatives to it now. I am a fan of oils. Oils like like Danish Oil and Linseed or Boiled Linseed oil will penetrate into the wood and keep the water out. The down side is that it needs perpetual treatment, initially very often, and then less and less frequently.

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Creosote is not an option unless you want black floors and carpets. Let's leave it on utility poles. – shirlock homes Mar 27 '11 at 18:51

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