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The steps that lead to my basement were once a treacherous problem. Seriously.  Good thing hurricane Sandy gave me 2 extra days to focus on making them safer and much more beautiful!So, you ask… what was so “treacherous” about these steps? I mean, they are just steps, right?  Well, yes… they are indeed just steps. But steps that aren’t cared for can be a really serious and dangerous problem for you, your family, and your guests.

These are the original steps with the rotting rubber treads and trip hazards. My dog Roxy was even too scared to go down them!!

Problem Areas

  • Old rubber treads: The steps were covered by old rubber stair treads that were in less than good condition. They were rotting away, which resulted in tears and breaks that made the steps very scary to walk down (or up). There was no choice but to remove them.
  • Rogue nails: Because the rubber treads were deteriorating, there were random nails that were just sticking out of the steps. Some of the nails were even rusted and broken.  I’ve been dealing with this problem since the first time I walked down them. Exposed nails can EASILY snag on the sole of your shoe, or sock. Falling forward into a concrete block wall is not fun. Pulling as many out as possible, and grinding the others down into the wood was the solution.
  • Splitting wood: The wood on the steps themselves needed some TLC. The wood was splitting in areas, and some of the wood was very rough. A good sanding and wood putty is the remedy.
  • Patching the holes: The holes left by the nails and splits in the wood needed to be patched to make the surface smooth again.

Process

The steps were simple, but time consuming.

  1. Removing the rubber treads was the first project. Most of the nails came up with a hammer. Other nail heads simply broke off. These nails had to be ground down using a metal wheel brush connected to a power tool.
  2. Sanding the steps with a very rough sandpaper was the next step.  I used a belt sander and 40 grit (super rough) sandpaper to take most of the unevenness and blemishes out of the wood.  Grit is determined by the number of abrasive particles per inch of sandpaper.  The lower the grit the rougher the sandpaper and conversely, the higher the grit number the smoother the sandpaper.  40-60 grit is considered “coarse” sandpaper, so anything in that range would work in this situation.
  3. Filling the holes with wood putty after the first round of sanding was a time consuming but necessary step. By filling in these holes before the other sandings, I was able to get a really smooth finish. For some of the holes I used Minwax paintable wood filler. For others I used bondo, which is typically a filler for automotive use. It works well as a wood filler as well, though, so if you have it handy it’s a good solution.
  4. Once the holes were filled and dried, I continued sanding the steps with the belt sander.  I went through with an 80 grit sandpaper (you can use any medium grit sandpaper — between 80-120), and after that I used a fine sandpaper of 150 grit. 150-180 grit is considered fine sandpaper. This is the best grit range to use for sanding before finishing/painting wood.  Although my sandpaper needs ended here, there are also even higher grits used for finer finishing projects.
  5. Once the steps were sanded and very, very smooth, I vacuumed and wiped them down with a damp cloth to collect all of the sawdust.
  6. I mixed the new paint for the steps using some old colors I had lying around. This is great way to get rid of some of the extra paint you have lying around. It also gives you the ability to get a little creative with it! I mixed black, grey, and brown to make a deep eggplant purple color.
  7. Painting the sides and the bottoms of the steps seriously took forever. Getting underneath and into all the corners is not a fun or tidy job, but it needs to be done. I did the sides and bottom first, so that when I painted the actual tops of the steps I would be able to work my way from the bottom step up to the top (and not be trapped in the basement!!).
  8. Before I painted the actual stair treads, I mixed an anti-skid additive into the paint. This is basically just a small bag of very fine textured particles that will add more traction to the steps once the paint dries. It makes them feel a little rougher to the touch but it definitely helps to make them less slippery.
  9. Once the treads dried, I went through again with a second coat of paint.  Because of the millions of colors used on my steps a second coat was needed to cover everything up.
These are the original steps with the rotting rubber treads and trip hazards. My dog Roxy was even too scared to go down them!!

These are the original steps with the rotting rubber treads and trip hazards. My dog Roxy was even too scared to go down them!!

After sanding with a coarse grit, the steps started to look a little better. Check out the green slime paint they used to be before the red!

After sanding with a coarse grit, the steps started to look a little better. Check out the green slime paint they used to be before the red!

Before the eggplant paint (bottom left), you can see what I was dealing with. Did children do this? Why???

Before the eggplant paint (bottom left), you can see what I was dealing with. Did children do this? Why???

After the first coat on the sides of the steps, it's already looking so much better!

After the first coat on the sides of the steps, it’s already looking so much better!

And after the treads were painted, we have nice stairs again that are much safer than before. This is before the final coat, and I'm still embarassed of my mess, but I will clean it!

And after the treads were painted, we have nice stairs again that are much safer than before. This is before the final coat, and I’m still embarrassed of my mess, but I will clean it!

 

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