Prior to setting up ladders for your decorating stairwell project check on local government restrictions regarding planks and ladder safety.

If you feel that your to heavy to stand on a two inch wide board or you don't relish the thought of soaring to new heights please refer to the section below titled NO LADDER CUT IN to make your stairwell project less frightening.

Most decorating stairwell projects tend to be awkward when painting.

A stairwell with high walls usually has difficult maneuverability especially when using extension poles or ladders. Below I give step by step instructions for painting your stairwell.

Be very careful when working on ladders and planks, we wouldn't want you to hurt yourself.

The step and extension ladders mentioned below can be replaced with multi position (articulating) ladders if you‘d prefer.

Use what you have as long as it’s safe and appropriate for the job at hand.

If your painting stairwell ceilings spray them with an airless paint sprayer or use a ladder to cut and roll them prior to coating the walls (unless your doing the no ladder cut in mentioned below).

When using a wooden plank glue a one foot square of 50 or 80 grit sand paper onto each end of the plank. Doing so will insure the plank sits on the rungs of the ladder and won't move around when walked on.


  • Step ladder (step ladder height depends wall height)
  • Extension ladder (also depends on wall high)
  • A 2" thick by 12" to 16" wide plank 8' or 10' long
  • Cut can with paint and a 2 1/2" sash brush
  • Paint in tray, extension poles, roller and sleeve
  • Tools as needed (drywall knife, caulk gun, screw driver etc.)
  • Drops, plastic, painters tape if required
  • Drywall filler and caulking if needed


  • Once your cut can and paint tray is filled cover it with plastic. Cover the steps and flooring of your decorating stairwell projects with a fabric drop cloth. Tuck and fold the drop so that It protects well but there's no way you'll trip and fall, tape it down if needed.

    Use painters tape and masking paper to mask areas you don't wish to get paint on. Remove switch plates, hand rails and pictures etc. Fill and caulk the lower holes and cracks.

    Position the extension ladder at the bottom of the stairs with the legs pushed back firmly against a step. The top rungs should be facing the wall you’d be looking at if you’re descending the stairs.

    Lower ladder legs need to be situated with the ladder angled not to far forward nor to far back. As you climb the rungs you’ll need to feel comfortable knowing your not going to fall backwards or tip forward breaking the drywall.

    When you have no wall to lean against you'll require a multi position ladder (it sits level on two separate steps of your stairs). A leg extender for your extension ladder or stair box will also work.

  • If you’d rather save some money on your decorating a stairwell project build a good sturdy L shaped stair box using two inch thick wood. Nail or screw the top and brace the sides and center with wood cross members. Make it L shaped so that the top of the L touches the riser (back) and the bottom of the L sits on the steps. Such a box will turn one skinny step into a three steps wide platform.

    Glue good quality 80 grit sandpaper on the top of the platform to protect against slippage. The object is to create something sturdy to make two or three steps all the same height.

    Once built, the extension ladder will sit level on your new stair platform. You can now turn the extention ladder in what ever direction you like and lean the against a wall.

    Keep in mind the more wood used for your decorating stairwell box, the heavier it’ll be. Also, nail cleats to the platform and make sure the box is sized to fit both the ladder and the steps.

  • Place a short step ladder on the landing facing your extension ladder that's on the steps. Now position your plank so it lays flat on the step and the extension ladder rungs. Be sure the board is not more than ten feet long (an eight footer is best) and extends past each rung by at least a foot on each side.

    You should have help positioning the plank and to hold the step ladder when your standing on the board. Everything needs to be set up high enough for you to get on the plank and comfortably cut (brush) in the ceiling with a sash brush.

  • Climb up the step ladder rungs and walk on to the plank. The plank should bend slightly in the center. If your plank bends a lot you'll need to refer to the NO LADDER CUT IN, or use a metal plank.

    Have your helper hand you the mud and caulking. Fill any cracks and holes you might see. Once you have filled, sanded and spot primed your dried mud and caulking grab the cut can and brush.

    Begin cutting in the walls at the ceiling. Let the paint dry then cut it in again. I usually do the second cut within an hour or two of the first. Cut other areas(corners etc.,) while your waiting for the paint to dry remove the plank and extension ladder.

    You can now situate the step ladder into areas that you might not have been able to reach while standing on the board. Cut in the rest of your decorating stairwell walls.

  • I like rolling the walls from the floor when I’m decorating a stairwell. If your cage (roller) and pole extension are to short or awkward for you roll while still on the plank.

    Be sure to use your assistance help for loading the roller if needed. When painting high walls you want to work safely but quickly. Roll in strait lines and create square even blocks.

    Keep the area your rolling higher than the line of sight. Your going to have roller marks so you want to make them as invisible as possible. For example cross roll (horizontally) one roller width from wall to wall in a strait line just above the top of a door or window for example.

    Now roll up and into your cut line (ceiling level), then down to the horizontal roller mark. Fill in the painted box you have just made. Do the same for each wall while still standing on the board.

    The upper part or the wall should now be painted all the way around, three or four feet from the ceilings down. Let it dry and do it again. Remove the ladders and plank then roll the sections of the wall area that haven’t been painted.

    Make sure your paint is feathered out (flat and level)otherwise you will leave blobs or raised paint lines along the edge of your roller and they will be easily seen.

  • I prefer to cut in (twice), remove the ladders then roll the walls from the floor. By doing so I'm able to apply my paint then back roll from ceiling to floor (when possible). Rolling from the ceiling to the floor leaves less visible roller marks but is a more awkward process. Do what’s comfortable, safe and works best for the tools you have.

    With help, rolling from a plank and painting in small squaire sections is way easier than wrestling with a long awkward extension pole when doing your decorating stairwell project.

  • While cutting around the steps, or close to the baseboards, be sure to use tape if needed. White masking works best on carpet, use painters tape for other decorating stairwell areas. Twist a short extension pole onto your roller cage.

    A short extention pole will give stability, yet doesn’t bump up against opposing walls. I don't roll the upper stair well in blocks, but I've found it's a good idea for the area where the step section is. It's a lot simpler to paint small square blocks or triangle shaped walls, while standing on the stair steps, as opposed to coating one big large wall from top to bottom.

    Move safely and quickly, stop at shadows, and demarcations, along with where the hand rail will be. By doing so your lines should be kept strait and roller marks will be minimal.

    When finished, clean up and replace fixtures, switch plates handrails etc.

    Once the paint is dry, add a few pictures. Stacking pictures will fill an area while hanging frames horizontally makes your decorating stairwell walls look longer.


    Use paragraph 4. through 7. in the upper section of this page to assist you with your decorating stairwell no ladder cut in process.

    If you'd rather not stand on a plank you'll need to have an alternate way of cutting in (brushing or edging) the stairwell.

    A light on the ceiling will need a ladder and someone to remove the fixture, or remove the globe with the intention of coating the fixture itself. Do so prior to painting the stairwell.

    Also, use a medium to light colored paint tone since your coating the ceiling and walls in the same color. If your ceilings have never been painted before you'll need to apply a first coat of alkyd (oil based) primmer. Once dry, top coat with latex.

  • You'll need the tools mentioned above (speed roller, and brush extension). As an alternative to the extension pole and brush extention wrap an old crappy brush to a strong broom handle using duct tape.

    You may need to implement more than one broom handle, if the walls of your decorating stairwell project are exceptionally high. Your brush and handle’s shouldn't flop around when used. If they do apply more duct tape.

    Lay down a drop cloth on the outside step or lawn for your cut can and tray. By doing so, you'll have more room to maneuver. Hold the door open with a paint can if needed.

  • Place your brush pole contraption in the cut can or speed roller and extension in the tray. With small jumping or jabbing steps roll or brush the paint into the higher corners and upper walls including the ceiling.

    The objective is to cut in the ceiling and walls at the same time, with your brush or roller. Feather out drips and paint sags. Keep in mind, the cut line only needs to be minimal.

    You'll be using the larger roller and will apply paint right onto the ceiling and over the walls of your decorating stairwell project.

    Shut off the power and use the brush or speed roller to coat the outside of the light fixture (or remove the fixture).

    Don't paint areas that'll be hidden by the globe. Use the second good brush for lower corners and wall cutting. Have alternate lighting if needed (flash light, floor light etc.)

    Apply a second coat to everything and a third if required. Use a pole sander and sand the walls between coats if you like. When your done your decorating stairwell project clean up and replace the fixtures, plug and switch plates etc.

    From decorating stairwell to the interior projects page

    Return to the home page

    If your not in need of help with your decorating stairwell project, check out other painting and decorating information by using the home page link above.

    On the home page you will find navigation buttons such as ask a question along with interior or exterior projects and ideas.

    Using the navigation bar should help find what you need or project your looking for.