I am quite a beginner as far as diy is concerned and I'm in the process of refurbishing the old wooden stairs in our new house. Never done that before. It was carpeted so I removed it and there were several layers of paint underneath, and I removed that too, now I am sanding the treads.

The next step would be to stain the treads with a dark colour (to contrast with our flooring which is a clearer colour).

My issue is that being old stairs they have black "dots" and sanding does not seem to remove them, they are not superficial, they have a bit of depth to them, see pictures:

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I'd like to know if it is OK to leave them as they are, given that we want to stain with a dark colour. Or is it bad practice and they have to somehow be "cleaned", if so, how?

On an aesthetic view, would leaving them look nice and authentic/rustic, or would it look like amateurish work?

I think I will need to use a stainable filler to mask the nail holes, will the filler be good enough to mask these black "dots" too?

  • FYI cross posted woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/10214/… Jan 5, 2020 at 18:28
  • Close your eyes and gently rub the tread surfaces. Can you feel the dots with your fingers? Jan 6, 2020 at 0:46
  • @A.I.Breveleri Some of them are little holes and I can feel them, but the others are just coloured dots, I can't feel them
    – Bentaye
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:31
  • Voting to close as opinion-based. Whether to leave them or stain them is a matter of prerogative.
    – isherwood
    Feb 4, 2020 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


A good filler will work for the nail holes but probably won't help with the black spots because there's not enough depth for the filler to take hold. Be sure to get a filler that will take stain as many don't. These stairs were probably meant to be carpeted from the start so quality lumber wasn't used. Your best bet would be to buy/rent a belt sander and sand the hell out of them. Even then, you probably won't get all the black dots out of the stairs. Then finish them as planned.

  • Thanks for the input, I don't think I want to sand the treads down that much, I think I will do what I can and then stain on top.
    – Bentaye
    Jan 5, 2020 at 18:21

On an aesthetic view, would leaving them look nice and authentic/rustic?


Furniture finishers go to great lengths to achieve what is called a distressed look. They poke holes, lash with chains, beat upon with sticks, etc. to achieve a finish that you get for free!

That being said, if your decor motif is ultra-clean/modern; a rustic distressed look may not fit in...

  • This might be my preferred option, we are going for a natural look and the house is 100 year old so we are not in the ultra-clean/modern vibe anyways :)
    – Bentaye
    Jan 5, 2020 at 18:22

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