How to stencil a wood floor?

What it looks like just before you trip

Since we replaced our vinyl floor with wood last year, we’ve become afraid that one of our guests is going to break an ankle, or worse.

The entry area is raised 6 inches above the rooms on either side, but formerly a metal strip provided a visual cue for most people. Now even friends who have been in our house many times before have missed the step and abruptly stumbled off.

View from the down side

We have wondered why our flooring man didn’t anticipate this problem and use a darker wood for the edge of the entry. Oh, well, he didn’t. And vaguely Mr. Glad and I have said many times, as when a friend actually fell all the way down, “We should paint that edge with a stencil.”

In center: edge that wants marker

But we are not decorators, and have no idea where to start. Wouldn’t stenciling a wood floor require some different techniques or materials than the more typical wall stencils? Not that we know anything about that job or have ever had an iota of interest in it, either! This oak floor has two one coat of oil-based sealer and two coats of water-based sealer on it, if that makes a difference.

I know that most women, and many men, have way more experience than I do with decorating, so here I am blegging for any tips and knowledge that any generous soul would like to send my way. It would be nice to get some kind of “safety strip” on there before our houseful of Christmas guests arrives.

[Update: I never painted anything, but I bought a narrow rug to put on the lower level, and wrote about it: Beauty and Function – Rugs]

12 thoughts on “How to stencil a wood floor?

  1. I wish I knew how to help, GJ, but I definitely concur that your demi-step is an accident waiting to happen. I love the idea of a little stenciled vine twining across it, but I don't know how that would work in practice. Can't wait to see what you come up with!



  2. I wouldn't stencil on your new floors. Can you hang a felt pixie with a fishing line? Could she hold a little sign that says, STEP DOWN? I'm not very good at solving these kinds of problems, obviously!


  3. Wow, you're not kidding! I wish the floor man had laid the two sections of wood perpendicular to each other; that would have shown up too. I don't know anything about stenciling floors — do you really want a stencil, or do you simply want to stain or paint the edge strip? Honestly, I'd just go on Google, and ask it how to stain/paint flooring yourself. I'm sure there will be dozens of helpful sites. But I hope you get assistance b/f someone sprains an ankle! 🙂 Good luck!


  4. Check out the step light on my Pinterest lighting board:

    These are relatively inexpensive and a great way to “see” the step down. Also there are other options such as the glass lamps shown on the same board that would be quick solutions for company during the holidays. I mention the electric candles from Restoration Hardware on the board. But I've installed the step lights above for design clients and they work great. Check out for some ideas. These apply to walls but you might get an idea for a quote/stencil application. Just a thought. love and light, c


  5. Stencilling might make sense on the vertical riser where it wouldn't get stepped on and worn away, and cue those folks going up the step. But it wouldn't help those going down. The tape idea is good for a temporary stopgap measure until you come up with a permanent solution.
    An inlay of a dark strip of wood, say, an inch wide, along the horizontal upper ledge, set back from the very edge into the center of that plank, would possibly do the trick, and could be done by someone handy with a few tools. (A router, a chisel, a straightedge and a vacuum cleaner) You could stop the strip 6 inches or so from either end. A short brass or iron or oak bannister about 12 inches wide and 36 inches high at either end of the step would cue people to a changing elevation without obstructing the opening much, but that has aesthetic as well as practical drawbacks. Another metal applied floor strip, of course, or some variation thereof, like intermittent decorative brass tread plates…again, less than ideal.
    An ideal solution will be aesthetically compatible, subtle yet clearly noticable, simple and economical to implement, and as durable as the surrounding material. To meet all of these conditions may be asking too much and so require compromise of one or more elements.
    Say you had a dozen or so 1 inch walnut wood squares about 1/4 inch thick. If they were inlaid along the center of that plank, spaced anywhere from 6 to 12 inches apart and turned to appear as diamond-shaped accent dots…they could be prefinished with just a simple wiping oil, and installed using a sharp one inch chisel and tapped in with a small mallet or hammer and a little glue. You could even do the layout on the strip of duct tape being used as a temporary solution, and the tape would protect the surrounding oak floor from collateral damage. Even a novice woodworker could do it if they practiced once or twice on scrap wood in the garage, and it could be done over as long a time as necessary.


  6. Armstrong Hen, we have used some colored masking tape for short periods recently, when having elderly guests especially. One middle-aged person with bad eyesight was not helped at all by red tape and flew off with surprise, but without injury.

    There is nothing country-ish about our decor, so painting a color probably wouldn't work.

    As soon as I published this query, my husband suggested that the best solution long-term would be the sort of thing Mark suggested — and yes, I was hoping he would respond. Thank you, Mark!! The man who did the floors is an artist who would likely find joy in tackling this creative challenge….

    Celeste, that link took me to a decorating idea place, but I couldn't find anything about step lights there. I will search more with that term and the candle idea.

    Thanks very much, everyone! I will definitely post again with our solution. I realize now that the Christmas guests we'll have aren't likely to have a problem, so I probably have time to find the proper and enduring solution.


  7. As a temporary solution, a rug in runner shape on the lower level would work. We have this problem at the bottom of our basement stairs — you can't figure out visually where the bottom is without the rug there.


  8. For another temporary idea, you might look into those decorative sticker thingies like 'uppercase living' sells. You can find them at places like Michael's too, but I'm not sure what the quality is like.

    Good luck! And happy stepping!!!


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