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Re-finishing box beamed ceilings

We just bought our first house in So. Cal and absolutely LOVE it! It was built in 1909 and still has a lot of the original craftsmanship from the time period. Our living room has beautiful box beamed ceilings; however, they also have endured many many years of sloppy paint jobs and therefore have a build up of old paint around the edges and on the wood. I've been scrapping the paint with a safety razor but fear that could take the next 20yrs to complete :), so I was thinking of re-sanding them down and re-staining them? Any suggestions?

Re: Re-finishing box beamed ceilings

First make sure you are not dealing with lead paint. You can get a test kit at any big box store for under 20 dollars.

If you do have lead paint, consider one of the many safe strippers on the market.

Whatever you do, expect a big sloppy, dirty mess.

Only you can determine whether it is worth your time and effort but it will not be easy.

Re: Re-finishing box beamed ceilings


The age of your home would suggest that the original woodwork was varnished, not painted. This bodes well for the removal of the paint cleanly, since the bond of the paint to varnish is usually not too good. Also, the varnish prevents paint pigment from having gotten into the grain of the wood. The fact that a safety razor is getting the paint off also indicates a poor bond.

Often when such a poor bond exists, merely dragging the blade along the surface while putting downward pressure will completely break the bond, leaving only the original varnish. You might try buying a cabinet sc****r blade. These are sold at any good woodworkers store. It is nothing more then a flat blade upon which a sharp, but hooked edge is honed. It is dragged along the surface. They are normally used for shaving the surface of virgin wood, but would do you well in trying to pop off the poorly adhered paint.

You might also try using a heat gun. Often when a poorly adhered surface is encountered, a quick shock of heat will cause the outer surface to rapidly expand and thus break the bond to the cooler underlying varnish. Curiously, heat stripping works best when there is a heavy build up of paint.

Lastly, there are always chemical strippers. However, I would try to get as much as possible off dry without the stripper. I would try to reserve the stripper for the bared varnish.

I dislike the use of sandpaper when stripping because it is too difficult to open all the grain uniformly. This results is blotchiness when applying new stain. I prefer to use fine steel wook in conjunction with the stripper and eventually, a wash down with lacquer thinner.

I doubt that you will be able to lighten up the woodwork too much. Dye Stains were commonly used back in this time period. Dye stains penetrate deep into the grain and cannot be removed without removing significant amounts of the wood through sanding. This is possible on floors, but not with woodwork.

Just a few thoughts. Good luck!

Re: Re-finishing box beamed ceilings

A thin 'scribe molding' may be applied to straighten up the paint line, or you can straighten out the paint line even if it goes down the beam slightly. Both of these are unobtrusive and hardly noticeable to most people, though not original to the period. Just tossing in a couple other options here, but I'd be doing what you are since those little details bug the heck out of me!


Re: Re-finishing box beamed ceilings

Oops, guess I should read the posts more carefully. I thought the entire beam had been painted.

If the paint slopped on the beams is latex, the product call "Goof-Off" will remove it. Goof Off does not normally attack oil based paint or varnishes. I always used this product by wrapping a piece of T-Shirt material over the blade of my putty knife, moistening it with Goof-Off and then dragging it along the edge. You must constantly be moving the t-shirt material over the edge of the blade as it gets saturated with the pigment you are removing and you do not want to merely smear it onto clean woodwork.

The Goof-Off will remove the latex ceiling paint too, this is why you are wrapping it over the blade so as not to mess up your ceiling or walls.

Goof-Off has a very strong odor. You will want to throw the used rags outside and keep the area ventilated.

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