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Stair of Despair

Updated on January 12, 2015

Dream Once Think Twice

We are currently renovating our 60 year old home, and have been doing so for the past six years. I have often commented to my husband that I hope to live long enough to see it finished.

The past year marked the restoration time of our front hall, a fairly small area, with an old wooden staircase which takes up half the entire width. It was my bright idea to strip off all the old stain and varnish and reclaim the beautiful, original wood. It was to be my personal project (nobody else wanted anything to do with it), and the pride and glory of producing a magnificent showpiece would be all mine upon completion. Boy, was I naïve!

For those considering a similar plight, I am including a few excerpts from the journal that I kept, along with a warning to:


June 25th - My husband and father-in-law removed the carpeting from the stairs today. The wood has a really yucky appearance, so there's no point in stripping the painted stairs, we'll just recarpet.

June 30th - A friend from work has offered to come over and help me strip the stair spindles and banister. Her name is Marg, and she figures that we can get it done in an afternoon. Tonight I will purchase the necessary supplies - stripper, brushes, brush cleaner, rubber gloves, putty knives, and beer - for our little project tomorrow. It'll be fun.

July 1st - Marg arrived at 10:00 a.m. My son helped us remove the spindles from the stair casing, and we were ready to start in no time! At 5:00 p.m. we stopped for supper, and then Marg went home. We have ten spindles almost finished. There are 32 all together, as well as a banister, and a large newel post. I'm disappointed that we weren't able to get more done.

July 2nd - I raced home from work to start on the stairs again. I would like to be done in a week, but I don't know that I'll make it, as it took me until 11:30 to finish sanding six of the ten spindles that Marg and I worked on yesterday. Things would porgress much faster if they were straight instead of being so ornately lathed.

July 3rd - Only four more completed. I don't want to talk about it.

July 4th - Started on the newel post just to get away from the spindles. Marg dropped by to see how things were going. She didn't stay, the stinker.

July 5th - Marg took pity on me and showed up with a six pack of beer to help. Ya gotta love her. We were really productive today, breaking our previous record of ten almost done spindles by one.

July 6th, 7th, 8th - ditto July 3rd entry. I'm getting sick of this already.

July 12th - same old thing.

July 19th - I may as well keep the entries down to once a week. Nothing new is happening, and I'm sure that I am going to be stripping and sanding these things for the rest of my natural life.

July 22nd - News! I've started the banister (to get away from the spindles). Unfortunately, it and the newel post were constructed of 3 distinctly different types of wood. I should have painted.

July 23rd - My husband and father-in-law want to know when I'm going to be finished. They say that I'm holding them up, that they can't put up the panelling until I am done and out of the way.

July 30th - I needed visual evidence of my progress, so tonight I started linseed oiling the completed spindles. I mixed the oil with paint thinner as I wanted to bring out the grain without darkening the wood. I actually felt a little of my original excitement returning as I reminded myself that this was the final step. Can't wait to see the results.

August 1st - Ahhh! They looked terrible! Well, not all of them. A couple turned out really nice. No two spindles were the same colour. Some had large, black, mouldy-looking spots. I'm sick!

After that last entry I was too discouraged to record any more of the events that lead to the final conclusion of my project. What started out as a labour of love ended in the guise of torture, and I am glad to be done.

Yes, the finished staircase looks lovely and I am very proud of it, but at this point I have to give my husband credit. The whole day and a half that it took him to paint the spindles was well worth it. They look great.

Stair of Despair, a.k.a. My Life as a Stripper was originally printed as a feature article in The London Free Press. One of their photographers came to the house to capture evidence of my painful experience. My mug made the front page of the Homes Section but a very nice picture of my very young grandson was included in one of the photos.

© 2008 Shirley Anderson


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