window overlooks piano
Photo: Timothy Bell
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Lessons Learned

Over the years, Jill and I got braver with taking on projects, because we got desperate. I tried to hire someone to strip the paint from all of the pine and oak woodwork in the house, but the guy basically said I couldn't pay him enough to take the project on. Jill and I really wanted to strip certain areas, however, so we decided to do it ourselves. We experimented with different chemicals, heating elements, and scrapers. We knew the paint was leaded, but we were so rushed and bogged down with other pressures that we weren't careful. Jill would work without a mask, and I got so frustrated with the time-consuming process that I just took a belt sander to a windowsill one day. Needless to say, we both ended up with high levels of lead in our blood from breathing in lead dust. Jill, who had double the normal reading, got especially sick with headaches and fatigue, ending up on bed rest for a few weeks and having to give up that kind of work entirely. Any paint or chemical fumes still make her feel really ill. Since then, we've learned to use an infrared heat gun and to accept that we can't get at all of the nooks and crannies in our 6-foot-high shutters, so we faux-paint some of the small areas to look like stained wood.

Shown: A salvaged stained-glass transom window overlooks a 1918 Chickering piano that we're gradually restoring.
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