Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 27/04/18

Stairway To...?

<fx: trumpet fanfare>

JudgeCo™, always at the forefront of the rearguard, is most proud to announce...

<fx: another trumpet fanfare, only more so>

The successful conclusion of its Great Winter Project™!

<fx: a trumpet fanfare with knobs on, accompanied by the strains of imminent rupture, the sound of a number of metal implements (*) hitting the ground hard and a cry of "Bollocks!">

(Yes, I know that the Project over-ran by two years, but if government contractors can not only get away with it but get bonuses, then I should worry).

So, having completed the landing just after the turn of the year, it was time to give the old sand-and-scrape to the stairs. I knew that this would be a reet pig of a job, with the dirt and paint problem even more apparent. This was again because of the frugal habits of previous tenants (who included my paternal grandparents) in only laying carpet up the centre of the staircase and painting either side of it.

As I said before, this wouldn't have been quite so bad had they used gloss paint; their necessary parsimony instead led them to use emulsion, an embuggerance which I had then - in the early days of the Project - compounded by deploying a heat gun which, rather than melting the stuff off, had simply led to my melting the stuff in. This was going to mean some Serious Scraper Activity.

Now, there are three elements to a stair: the tread itself; the riser (and if that wasn't the technical term for the vertical bit well it is now, and I will brook no gainsaying it); and the fancy lip which connects the one with t'other. I didn't envisage any serious issues with the first or the last, but I suspected that the intricacies of the lip would be fiddly as hell.

Anyhoo, sometime towards the end of January I set to it with a freshly-bought 5m roll of 40-grade sandpaper, a hammer, nail punch and pincers (small - and not so small - nails, removing, for the use of) and a set of scrapers.

That there was some serious shit to dislodge was a given from the outset; the middle of each stair was heavy with the ground-in dirt of carpets long departed, and of course the sides had all that emulsion. Each tread involved a hard going over with the sandpaper, then a lot of vigorous scraping, followed by another pass with the 40-grade and any more scraping which still needed doing.

The one thing to be said for stairs in this matter is that you can actually sit down whilst doing the job, rather than be stuck in a kneeling or sprawling position. It also makes it easier - if only slightly - to get up afterwards, even if it means having to manoeuvre your sorry ass onto the next step up and wait for the muscles in your legs to unknot themselves.

This advantage did not accrue so strongly when it came to doing the lips, because I actually had to get my head below the level of them to see exactly what needed doing. I had to get pretty close up to them as well, because I'm very short-sighted and my glasses don't 'do' close-up work very well. This also meant that it was difficult to see exactly what I was scratching away at, the light on the stairs being poor with the only natural light coming in from the small landing window and the two electric lights both shining at exactly the wrong angles; I was 'in my own light' for a large part of the job.

The risers proved to be more intractable then I had foreseen because they seemed to be made of a very different and far more fine-grained wood than the other parts and consequently proved to be far more resistant to both sandpaper and scraper. It was also at a more difficult angle to come against, so there was much contorting of torso and banging of elbows (additional swearing free of charge).

With there being eleven stairs in the main flight, it did at least break the job down into more easily-manageable sections. Quite often, sitting here at about seven in the evening or even later, feeling totally bored but not wanting to go to bed that early, I would instead while away a jolly hour scratching merrily away...

...Until my progress was halted for about five weeks by an attack of acute tonsilitis which laid me out for a bit.

Still and all, by mid-March I had picked the job up again and continued heading down the stairs. The trouble was, the further down I got, the worse the state of what I had to work with. In addition to which, my scraper would occasionally lose its effectiveness due to its getting bent out of shape (rather like the poor sap wielding it) and having to be 'rested' until the blade resumed its normal profile once more.

The last couple of stairs of the main drag were hard work not merely because of their wretched condition but because I now had no convenient level from which to operate, having reached the square (-ish) platform which constitutes the turn into the hall: the scrunched up position which I had to adopt would have pleased only an osteopath on the make.

Having finally completed the main run, I looked up...and could see all the bits of crap and paint which were still on the undersides of the lips of the stairs which I had already done. So, it was back up the stairs with the scraper.

The platform would, I felt, be a bit of a bugger: firstly because of its area; and secondly due to its condition (although I knew that there was worse to come; see below). When it came to it, however, I had plenty of room to act and most of it had only a thin layer of grime to remove, especially after I'd given the reachable bits a once-over-lightly with the belt sander. Even the previously painted areas weren't too much of a chore.

Then came the Ordeal of the Bottom Stair...

I have no pictures of how the stairs in toto looked before I started all this except for this one of the bottom stair, which I took to illustrate to all the people I've been boring witless about all this in the office the sort of thing I was up against:

Photo of a very dirty stair

It appeared to me that this stair summed up, summarised and epitomised what I had had to deal with all along. I mean, look at it!. Ground-in dirt in the middle, the embedded remains of carpet either side of that, and the residue of what I had come to refer to as That Fucking Emulsion on either side of that. And not just on the tread, but on the riser as well. And I had to contend with having to lie sideways on a hard, cold tiled floor to be able to get at the lip and the riser.

With that teeth-gritting, bloody-minded determination which comes to one when nearing the end of a job, I went at it with a will. Even so, it took me the better part of three evenings to get it in any fit state for the final stage.

Here's how it looked after all that abrasion:

Photo looking down some sanded stairs

Photo looking up some sanded stairs

Photo of a platform at the turn of a staircase

(The contrast between the previously-painted sides and the middle of the stairs wasn't actually as pronounced as that; that's the effect of the camera flash.)

Finally, last Saturday morning - having been awakened quite early by some banging from next door - I got out the new tin of Sikkens woodstain and the most appropriately-sized brush.

I started by seeing what would happen if I put a fresh coat on those parts of the landing which had had the emulsion on them which I hadn't properly cleaned off before putting the stain on. I also touched up that part of the landing outside my bedroom door which I'd had to skimp on previously because I only had a tiny amount of stain in the old tin and didn't want to break open the full one for such a small area.

By now getting into my stride with it, and having wiped down the handrails and banisters and vacuumed the stairs themselves, I flung open all the upstairs windows, opened the front door on its chain and began to wield a determined brush.

Of course it was not going to be possible to do the whole job at once; that would have led to my being stranded at one end of the staircase or the other for the rest of the day, because I knew that it would take at least twelve hours to dry the way I was going to have to slap it on.

This was the bit I'd been really looking forward to. Not just because it meant that the closing overs of the job were at hand, but because there's a certain fun to be had from using a paintbrush when you don't have to be too delicate with it.

I had finished the whole of the right-hand side (as viewed from the bottom) within about an hour and three quarters, but - looking back up the stairs - I suspected that I wasn't quite as close to the finish line as I had hoped; the formerly-emulsified areas still showed as being quite white for all the gusto with which I had applied the stain. Still, there was no more that could be done for the day, so I would have to review the situation once I had stained the other side as well.

I woke up annoyingly early on Sunday as well (although proximate banging wasn't the reason this time), and wondered if I could get the left-hand side done before I had to go shopping. The answer was, not quite, so the last stretch was done after lunch.

I had hoped to have been able to lay down my brush and do some cleaning on Monday (which was a day off work for me) because the dust of wood and dirt had got everywhere during the sanding process, but once the stain had dried it became clear that the areas which had had the paint on would have to be given a second coat. Which is what I did on Monday, laying it on with grim enthusiasm.

Finally, shortly before lunchtime, I was able to lay down my tools. This is what it now looks like:

Photo looking down some woodstained stairs

Photo looking up some woodstained stairs

Photo of a platform at the turn of a staircase

(A curious thing to note: from below, the sides look lighter than the middle; from the top, the middle looks lighter than the sides. Again, the flash has created the appearance of a greater contrast than there actually is).

I'm not entirely content with how it has turned out; there was always going to be an uneven-ness to the colour because of the uneven-ness of what it is covering. But I daresay it could do with an extra coat up the middle and on most of the risers. I did consider doing that this weekend, but in the end I simply can't be arsed anymore. It'll do.

And so the Great Winter Project™ has come to an end. Circumstances beyond my control dictated that what should have taken six months instead took thirty, but I still brought it home on a budget of no more than 500, which is probably what it would have cost me to carpet one bedroom. I am therefore content; it'll see me out.

(And here's a big shout out to the staff at the Wrexham branch of Screwfix for their helpfulness throughout).

The job of re-painting the skirting boards - and the unrelated task of emulsioning the bathroom and kitchen - will wait until the autumn. The spring and summer must now be used to get the garden back under control after three years of unavoidable neglect.

Busy busy...  an arrow to click on to take you to a follow-up item

* A word which, I have only recently discovered, I have been spelling incorrectly for decades.