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Painting over varnished bannisters

My wife has decided our stair rails/bannisters/spindles which are softwood, stained and varnished, should be painted, probably with a matt/flat white paint. One of the tricky aspects of this staircase is it’s a turning staircase, with a half landing, and the lower set of rails and spindles have a wall 2-3 inches away on one side, so access is difficult for painting and sanding. Looking at one or two previous posts, the suggestion is to prime the surface with Zinnser coverstain and a satinwood paint on top. Is that still the best approach given the difficulty of accessing the spindles/stair rails ? How much preparation will the stain/varnish need before the primer is applied ?


Would look at sanding with 120 or 180 grit, dust down, I would go more with an isofix/bin primer then build up layers of helmi matt (Eggshell finish)

All paints mentioned available from Holmans paints mixed to any colour including the isofix.

Use purdys or fox brushes from mypaintbrush, these are soft bristled and very easy to work with.

hope this helps

Chris G

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the basic principles of cleaning and sanding and painting still apply, the tricky bit can be reaching behind the spindles, but there are a few tricks.

For sanding flat areas “blind”, Abranet is good because it keeps its shape if used loose with a sawing action. The flexible sanding strips like Mirlon will wrap around any round sections.

Wipe over with a tack rag to remove all dust.

For painting you can fashion a couple of applicators, for instance removing the fabric from a paint pad you have a really effective wipe-on device for the back of round spindles. (wear a latex glove to protect your hand)

A mini roller can work well if there is space. If it is really tight, I have taped the head of a paint pad to a mini roller frame. That will allow you to paint in gap less than 1” deep.

Just a little thinking outside the box you can reach anywhere.


Wooster sell a mini roller head which is adjustable to quite a few angles. It’s not expensive and worth taking a look at. It only accepts Wooster mini roller sleeves though. I find the Micro Plush covers the best on the market for both oil and water based trim paints and primers.
I would definitely look at the Helmi finishes that Chris suggested, they also sell a semi-matt (which is in effect a satin) and gloss. They level well and you will find you have much more time to work them than most acrylic products.

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