Q: We're planning to refinish the original cabinets in our 1930s kitchen, but the hinges are buried under layers and layers of paint. How do we remove the hinges without damaging them or the surrounding wood?
—Barbara Barnes, La Mesa, Calif.
A: In order to take off the hinges, you'll have to back out the old straight-slot screws that hold them in place. That requires clearing the screws' paint-clogged slots. Given the age of your house, there are probably layers of lead paint on the hinges, so before you start, put on a respirator and lay down a wide piece of plastic sheeting under the work area to catch any paint chips.
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Clear a Slot
To clear a slot, set a sharp scratch awl at an angle in the center of the slot and tap it lightly, first one way, then the other. Do the same for the other screwheads.
Remove any remaining paint with a utility knife, and clean up the paint chips with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.
Break The Paint's Grip
Place the tip of a screwdriver in a clean slot, and give it a light tap with a wood mallet. The shock will break the paint's grip on the screw so that you can back it out. For this to work, the screwdriver's tip has to be in good condition, with square edges and sharp corners.
Loosen The Hinge
Once the screws are out, it's possible that the hinges will come off easily without chipping the surrounding paint. But if chipping does occur, cut around each leaf with a utility knife before you remove a hinge.