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Stripping lots of wood!

Looking for advice on how to deal with trim and doors in multiple rooms that have many, many layers of paint on them. House was built 1910. Trying to restore/ update home while keeping Victorian style. Also I'm sure there is probably a mix of lead-based paint, oil based, and latex paint covering the wood.
Is it worth it to strip down to the wood and stain or just get rough surface to repaint over. Looking for lasting solution and we have lots of time to invest. What do you recommend for paint removers?


Re: Stripping lots of wood!

For multiple layers I prefer a heat gun and scrapper.

Re: Stripping lots of wood!


I would concurr with JLMCDANIELS advice. Heat is expecially effective when there are lots of coats of paint. If you intend to re-paint the doors, I find that a propane torch with a flame spreader is much faster than a heat gun, however, you risk scorching the wood here and there. This is not a problem if you are goint to re-paint, but rules out staining. I would not use the torch inside the house on the general woodwork as it is too dangerous there.

Getting old woodwork clean enough to stain after years of paint is an extremely laborious job.It may not be possible to get all the old pigment out of the grain no matter how much cleaning you do. If the original finish way back when was varnish, you have a fighting chance of getting the wood really clean because the original varnish would have prevented pigment from subsequent paint jobs from getting way down into the grain.

Several years ago I was able to restore the original woodwork in a beautiful Chicago bungalow back to its original state, but it cost the owner almost $20,000! Mind you, the floors were all wood too and had to be protected from the strippers during the process. But then, these same owners paid $1200 replace one of the original beveled and leaded glass window panes which had been broken. Some people will pay for quality whatever it takes.

Re: Stripping lots of wood!


Just thought I'd add some thoughts from one who found stripping cabinets to be near impossible. First let me tell you I live in CA. Your reaction is likely so what, a professional's will be "oh brother". I don't know about all the rules and regulations in PA but CA will not permit stripper to be very efficient at all due to all the environmental and health issues. What they sell as stripper is very ineffective and the environment should be a cooler day with humidity higher, probably at least 40% otherwise the stripping product bought at big box stores dries out quickly and then you have a whole nother problem. We called "The Strip Joint" owner by a little old man who wore bermuda shorts, an old faded t-shirt, white socks, and nike sandals. He came to the house to check out what kind of a problem we had gotten ourselves into. He explained about the temps & humidity to work act as we live in the Mojave Desert and those two items play a significant issue. He had a special EPA license for his very "hot" stripper that he would use to do the stripping or he very occasionally would sell a quart to people he trusted to use it properly. We had him strip the cabinets in a bit over 2 hours and did what we likely would never have been able to thought achieve. I share this because prior to your starting, I would suggest you go to a family owned paint store or you may have a specilty refinishing store to get the low down on just what you may be up against. We would have saved a day of frustration and sniping back and forth as we had a limited time. The products of today are nothing like what I used perhaps 20 yrs ago and it really stunk that everything I was familiar with just did not work. Hope things go smoothly.

Re: Stripping lots of wood!


I can certainly believe that such would be the case in California. They seem to be on a Holy Crusade to stamp out effective paint products. Oil paints , with a few exceptions< are on the endangered species list there.

Even in other states, not all strippers are created equal. I always kept several varieties in my shop and would experiment at which one was most effective on a particular painted or varnished surface. There are many types of finishes now-a-days, some of which utilize exotic chemistry; water and petro based lacquers, catalyzed lacquers, urethanes, polyurethanes, acrylics, etc. Most strippers state what finishes they are effective on, but it is still a hit or miss trial. Unfortunately, it seems the really nasty caustic ones are still the most effective.

Re: Stripping lots of wood!

IMHO, using a propane torch for paint removal is nearly pure evil. At those temperatures, you are continuously vaporizing any lead present into the air that you and everyone else has to breathe. Lead vaporizes at 1800 c. Lead oxide a bit higher, but Lead Acetate at even lower temps.
Then there is the safety issue of using an open flame on woodwork where a smoldering situation could develop; we all know what kind of goodies lurk inside old house walls- all types of flammable detritus; bird and rodent nests, old newspapers and corncob insulation.
Finally there is the quickly brushed-over admission that you will mar the woodwork itself with charred or discolored areas.
Quick recap:
1) you are poisoning the micro and macro environments with the worst form of lead: the vaporized kind.
2) you could burn down the house you are working to restore.
3) You will likely char the very woodwork you want to improve.
A heat gun, like the Makita model with an electronic temperature control will incur none of these risks, but you must still use protection from the lead dust and chips. Clean up with TSP.

Re: Stripping lots of wood!


If you will carefully re-read my post, you will see that I cautioned against using a torch indoors. This naturally would preclude burning on those parts which could be removed to the exterior, such as doors or casings that are removable. Of course, this would also limit vapor concentration in a limited space.

May I point out that the tip of an electric heat gun will commonly reach temperatures of 1200 degrees. Unfortunately, the total BTU's coming out of the gun is only a fraction of what a gas torch will produce and therefore the stripping is much slower. Coming from a cold climate, I have read of numerous cases of homeowners setting their homes on fire while trying to thaw frozen pipes with an electric heat gun or even a hair dryer. Heat guns produce no more total heat than a hair dryer of the same wattage, they merely concentrate the heat at the tip, mostly by restricting the air flow.

I pointed out that heat guns or torches work most effectively where there is a heavy build-up of paint. Direct heat will rapidly cause the paint to bubble up and break its adhesion to the wood, allowing the residue to rather easily be scraped off. Chemical strippers and/or sanding can then finish the project.Heat works rather poorly on thin paint build-up. Here I would use chemical strippers if I were planning on staining the wood. Were I not planning on staining, I would probably not be stripping wood with a thin build-up at all, but rather just give it a thorough sanding. I noted that torch stripping can cause scorching, but if you are painting the finished product, it does no harm. Indeed, "torching" is often used in giving new wood an antiqued look.

There are now radiant infra-red heat strippers on the market. TOH has used these on past projects and found them effective. The radiant heat device is held in close proximity to the painted surface and rapidly causes the paint to wrinkle up.Here is one such device:http://www.oldhouseweb.com/product-showcase/paint-stripper-quicker-stripper.shtml

As to toxicity: pick your poison! Sanding, heat and chemicals all have their downside. Were I doing this work infrequently, I would not be overly concerned. Sure, wear the appropriate safety equipment and work in a well ventilated area away from flammables. I got a kick out of the instructions I read on a paint can intended for automatic carwash stalls, "if painter loses consciousness, give mouth to mouth resusitation"! :)
If you read the warnings on most paint and stripping cans, you would probably never paint again! Most are there as CYA by the manufacturers or to humor governmental overseers.

Finally Sombreuil, my best advice is to always stand up wind from Ordjen at work! :)

Re: Stripping lots of wood!

Okay, but:
a) The makita heat gun I referenced has a temp range of 250 to 1100 degrees. It has a dial/scale of 1 to 5; I use it at 2.5 to 3 for paint over shellac. Awesome.
b) silent paint stripper you referenced is a great tool, from what I can gather. Wish I could afford one.
c) Even better for stripping lead paint is probably a steam gun, which stays at about 400 degrees, and won't even break antique glass panes. We use one for glass removal; we reglaze a lot of windows (with very old glass) at work.

Re: Stripping lots of wood!


I am not a chemist and don't claim to know exactly why some techniques work better than others. My theory is that the heat causes rapid expansion of the heavy paint build up and thereby breaks the bond of the paint to the wood. I think the reason thin coats don't strip as well with heat is that the wood and thin paint film are expanding together. If my theory holds true, the hotter and faster the heat up of the outer paint layer, the better. But if your technique does the job, I won't knock it!

Just wondering what type of work you are doing? Sounds like restoration work on a variety of surfaces. "Neccessity is the mother of invention". If something doesn't work, try something else. I am not sure what kind of steam gun you are referring to? I have broken a few windows in my life by getting too much direct heat on the glass. If I had a lot of sash to do, I would cut wooden shields to the size of the pane. Ja, I scorched them, but the panes did not then break.

If I might digress and talk about nasty jobs: when I was a teen-ager back in the 50's and working for my dad removing wall paper in Chicago apartment buildings, we had a propane fired steamer that held 10 gallons of boiling water with a 40,000 BTU gas flame under it. The steamer was in the same room with you and roared like a jet plain! You can imagine what it was like working on a hot summers day with a 40k flame in the room with you generating steam! AH, what fond memories! :) It also occurs to me how potentially dangerous that thing was! Where was OSHA when I needed it!

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