Doing some DIY around the house, any suggestions would greatly help. I want to refinish my indoor steps and railing(sand and repaint) When i am trying to sand the steps its very hard to sand it, although i am applying pressure i dont see it sanding (no dust/powder).Basically nothing is happening. Sanding paper i am using is Grit 80.

Any ideas what i am doing wrong or what is missing? Thanks in advance.enter image description here


  • 5
    Grit 80? Bud, you need 24 or 36 for the first pass. Then 60, then 80, then 120, and finish with 160 for an excellent finish.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Apr 20, 2021 at 14:28
  • 1
    Thanks man, newbie here, still learning :)
    – jay roy
    Apr 20, 2021 at 14:38
  • 3
    You picked a tough job for a newbie... :-)
    – JACK
    Apr 20, 2021 at 15:26
  • 3
    Don't worry, we're all still learning. The only ones that are not learning are the ones which gave up :-)
    – MonkeyZeus
    Apr 20, 2021 at 15:31
  • 5
    Floors and stairs receive finishes which are meant to take abuse for decades so that's why 80 grit is doing practically nothing. I'm not sure what your expectations are but I see those stairs are quite damaged so the end result could be disheartening. You could save yourself a lot of disgruntlement if you decide to simply paint the stairs with a high quality paint designed for foot traffic. An oil-based or shellac-based primer would do well for adhesion to the existing polyurethane.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Apr 20, 2021 at 15:36

1 Answer 1


A vibrating or oscillating sander isn't going to be aggressive enough for that job. It's really only suitable for light finish sanding. You need something that spins, or at least something with a random orbit (more movement).

80 grit is probably a good choice for working through the varnish on your steps but you need the moves only a different type of sander provides or you'll grow old waiting. Part of the problem is that varnish clogs paper grit quickly--it doesn't let go like clean sawdust does.

You might also consider chemically stripping the varnish to hurry the restoration process. Sanding through it can be a real chore.

All that said, if you have the option of temporarily removing your treads, that's what I'd be doing. You'll have a difficult time getting satisfactory results around the edges with them installed. You'll have visible lines from the existing varnish and stain, and you may have visible surface level variation as well. If you can gently pop them out, pull the nails out the back side, and sand or strip fully in a workshop area, that's the ticket.

  • While I agree 100% with removing the treads and refinishing on the bench, those look like they're cased in, so removal isn't quite as easy as "pop the nails & pull". If there's adequate access to the underside of the staircase, the OP may be able to figure out exactly how the treads were installed and be able to pull them out from there. May not be a 1st DIY level project, though.
    – FreeMan
    Apr 20, 2021 at 14:17
  • Yeah, the skirt may need to be removed as well. It's not clear whether they could be lifted out from the left. .
    – isherwood
    Apr 20, 2021 at 14:19
  • @jayroy Stripping the varnish is no cake-walk either. Some of the products recommend letting it sit for 8 hours or more so those stairs will be completely inaccessible in the meantime. I tried letting one sit for 48 hours when I was refinishing my floors and the results were disappointing. Big box stores generally won't sell the good stuff that professionals use as it can be quite noxious. Even if you succeed you will likely have to do some sanding to remove all of the old color.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Apr 20, 2021 at 15:39
  • I've had success with heat stripping varnish, on smaller surfaces like door trims.
    – P2000
    Apr 20, 2021 at 16:37
  • @GlenYates a belt sander could work on removed treads, but a) they cut material really fast, which takes lots of practice to keep even across an entire piece, and b) anything in-place like this would be really hard to get right as a belt sander can't reach 3 of the edges. You'd have almost as much trouble matching the edges with another technique as using that alternative for the entire piece.
    – brichins
    Apr 20, 2021 at 23:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.