I think it will be worth all the effort in the end, once the runner's installed. The hardest part by far was all the sanding. And thank goodness for Bondo!
The stuff stinks bad, but it works miracles and fills any hole/crease/crevice/seam you present it with.
After the Bondo had dried for a few hours I sanded the filler down. This was seriously a full day's work. Every tread took about an hour. But by the time I was finished, the Bondo had perfectly sealed all the imperfections and all the hand-scraped detail on the old wood had been sanded away.
Michael helped me hang plastic sheeting on the walls and we wiped everything down twice.
I used my favorite Critter sprayer to paint the stairs with the first coat of tinted blue-gray primer.
And some of the imperfections started to reveal themselves.
As Linus would say - Ruh-ro.
So I caulked and did another coat of Bondo where it was needed and then sanded the whole thing again. (and sniffed and sneezed and coughed the whole time - stupid cold.)
I sprayed a second coat of primer on and then the first of two coats of Benjamin Moore's Chelsea Gray in the Advance line paint.
The color is light enough to brighten the space a bit, but dark enough to hide dirt perfectly I think.
The treads look almost like solid planks now! I'm so happy with how they turned out. We just saved ourselves a couple thousand dollars by not replacing these oversized treads!
I have no ideas yet for what I'm going to use for a stair runner, but I'm really excited to pick that out next. I'll be trying something similar to this tutorial.
Also, on a whim I pulled out one of my old gold leaf pens and painted one of the round screw covers. The pen was pretty dry so the color's not very saturated, but I kind of like the look. What do you think of the gold just on the screw covers?
Before I buy the runner I have lots of touch ups to do and I think I'll paint the walls before installing the runner as well. But at least I'm happy with the direction we are headed in. It was well worth the labor, paint and about $12 in Bondo!