Spencer and I love walnut. We also love the raw color of walnut. So, after refinishing our entire foyer stairs in solid walnut flooring, we now needed to finish it by choosing a stain. We wanted (and knew) that a matte, clear stain existed because we had seen beautifully finished furniture pieces a Room and Board. We had also seen great examples of walnut flooring finishes on the Modern Atlanta Home Tour.
The best clear finishes we could find locally were…
Teak oil, Minwax Polyurethane for floors, Varathane Polyurethane in matte, satin, and also triple thick. All claimed to be “clear”.
Our sample results:
The Teak oil shouldn’t have a color (because it’s just teak oil), but it isn’t recommended for floors. It still kind of looked orange though. The Minwax Poly is made specifically for floors and didn’t look that bad… but again, looked kind-of orange. Like Teak Oil, the Varathane Polys were also not intended for floors. We just didn’t like the color of the varathane samples in matte or satin. As for the Varathane Poly triple thick, we picked it as an experiment to see the “one versus three coats” claim in action. Multiple thin coats will always be better than one thick coat… and this stuff was just was too thick. We also did not like the look of the sample.
A very important and interesting note…
After this project was complete we found out that “clear” does not mean “clear” in the world of stain, apparently. “Crystal clear” means “no color”. We were not aware of this as none of the local home improvement stores carried “crystal clear” in any product to even know that it existed. This is probably why our “clear” stain/finishes all seemed to alter the wood’s color.
It came down to the teak oil (which was not recommended for floors) and the Minwax polyurethane (which is). I was not a fan of how orange/dark the stain choices were, but picking a product intended for floors was probably a good choice.
We not only needed to choose a stain based on our wants (which was super clear/no color) but we also needed to consider that the stairs were sitting on a sea of pre-finished walnut.
Look how much lighter these same samples seem against our pre-finished walnut floor.
Just for kicks, we decided to strip a sample of our pre-finished floor to compare it to the boards we used on the stairs – to see if they would match if they were ever refinished some day. Yep, it’s a match. (The goop on the right was gel stripper that we applied as a test.)
Decision made, we started with the first coat:
Spencer’s dad pitched in:
Before and between coats (when dry), we used tack cloth to make ultra sure that there was no dust on the stairs.
It really is tacky, yet leaves no residue.
I continued and applied the second and third coats:
We used a very nice brush for the project for a smooth finish.
Look at the figuring in the wood! So pretty!
Squeee! The new finish really makes the pre-finished floor look red.
As I was cleaning up, I collected all of the sand paper we went through when sanding the stairs. You just go through fine grit sand paper like it’s water.
The edges of the stairs and drywall still need to be addressed in the future. Our plan is to cut thin strips, stain, and attach them to hide the gaps.
We also need to paint the drywall and, you know, make some custom railings.
Here’s a comparison from where we started to where we are now:
In case you missed the other parts of this project – here they are:
Part 1: Foyer Stairs Demo
Part 2: Prepping the stairs
Part 3: Installing newel posts & drywall
Part 4: Installing hardwood treads & risers on our foyer stairs
Part 5: Installing Hardwood on the platform & temporary railings
Part 6: Sanding & diy wood filler
Part 7: Choosing a stain & finishing