Our Victorian Staircases - From Bad To Admittedly Not Much Better

We've been having a crazy heat-wave in Manchester. High twenties every day. I haven't known a summer like it since I was a kid jumping out of trees and sliding down haystacks in the fields behind my parents' house.

It's been so hot for so many days now that we actually no longer feel the need to spend every minute outside in the garden to make the most of the weather in best British style, and instead have picked up a few indoor projects again.

Like turning this:

To this:

We've lived with our dreadful carpeted hallway, staircases and landings for 18 months now. I wince every time I see them, but we just haven't had the time to do anything about them, other than fruitlessly attempt to vacuum the dog hair off every week. In some ways I wish we'd tackled them first, but sanding and removing paint from all those stairs and spindles is a dauntingly huge task, so really it made sense to get make the (comparatively easier) bedrooms done first.

Andre was only supposed to take the carpet up from the top landing (we have three staircases and three landings because the first floor is split-level), but got a bit over-excited and ended up ripping the carpet up from the whole lot. We chucked it all out into the garden - apparently Princess Penny is not too proud to suntan on a pile of dirty old rugs.

We were thrilled to discover the original 130 year old wooden staircases underneath all that filthy underlay - they're pretty much in perfect condition, not that you'd think it from these photos!

The landings are looking less than lovely - two of them lead onto bathrooms, so the planks have obviously been hacked up by previous owners at some stage to lay the pipe work. A few of the boards were particularly badly damaged, so we had to take them up and replace them with a mixture of new wood and old reclaimed boards that we liberated from a local skip. Enrique got in on the action as usual.

It's interesting looking into the guts of the house and seeing how it's been constructed - and then trying afterwards not to think about how much horrible old dust and goodness knows what else is lurking beneath your feet!

I gave the floor on the top landing a quick initial sand with our Makita 9404 Belt Sander 240V. I can wholeheartedly recommend purchasing this sander if you have a load of uneven Victorian wooden floors to sand - we tried hiring a big belt sander but while the sander itself was pretty cheap to hire, the cost of the belts was prohibitive, and with children around to take care of it's just not convenient for us to sand an entire room within the limited hire window. We also found that although the belt was very wide, it only sanded very thin strips of our floor at a time because most of the planks are set at ever so slightly different levels.

So after a lot of research we invested in the Makita 9404 belt sander. At 240V it has just the right amount of power to chew through 130 years of grime and paint (I certainly wouldn't want a sander with any less power; I think it would make hard work of sanding old floors), but it isn't so heavy that it gets uncomfortable to use for prolonged periods. The integrated dust bag significantly reduces the amount of dust produced, so sanding the floors isn't nearly as dusty as you'd imagine, even when you're working on an open area like a staircase. We're really, really happy with it.

Note - if anyone's reading this post because you're looking for advice on using the Makita 9404 in real life, please feel free to get in touch via the comments or my contact me page.

We also have a DeWalt detail sander for the edges of the floor (and for general use on skirting boards, windows and furniture) which is also great, but it's sitting in the workshop in the cellar at the moment and I don't have the energy to run all the way downstairs and check the specific model!

After pulling up the carpet and underlay (will you look at the black dust from that filthy underlay?!), removing about a million old staples and hammering in several million more old nails, I got to work giving the top landing a quick initial sand on 40 grit. 

And that's where we're up to so far. Yikes. There's an enormous amount of work to be done. But it's going to look so, so pretty.

Question for anyone with wooden staircases - do you need a runner? I'd love to get away without one because then I can have fun with some Pinterest style paint on the risers, but suspect it may be too slippery...