Final Choice

Ultimately, the product that won the day at Winchester was a water-based chemical stripper called RemovAll. It doesn't attempt to dissolve the paint as other chemical strippers do but instead breaks the bond between paint and substrate. Clark adds, "The best thing about the product, as far as my crew and I are concerned, is that it's nontoxic. No gloves, HEPA filter masks or respirators, no safety glasses. Spray it on in the late afternoon, let it sit overnight, and by morning the paint comes off in sort of rubbery sheets. We scraped it off easily with long-handled, 3-inch-wide putty knives." Most areas of the building took two coats of the stripper—not surprising considering the multiple layers of paint. The price of the RemovAll—about twice that of methylene chloride —was, Clark feels, outweighed by its environmental benefits.

As luck would have it, when the house was three-quarters finished, Clark was shown a revolutionary tool that may change his mind about how he strips paint from here on. It uses infrared rays to heat up the substrate behind the paint, totally loosening its bond to wood or metal. "The Silent Paint Remover" heats to a maximum temperature of only 500°F—well below wood's immolation point. "Hold it over an area for 20 to 30 seconds, give it a quick scrape, and all the paint layers come off down to the bare wood. It's lightning fast," said Clark. "We'll use it on the front of the house and the garage."

As with all stripping methods that involve scraping down to bare wood, some sanding is necessary before the first coat of primer goes on. "Scrapers have a tendency to burnish the wood, making it too smooth and shiny to take paint," says Clark. "We always hit all the surfaces with a random-orbit sander and 80-grit paper to get good tooth for that first coat of primer."
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