Of the many questions we typically receive regarding our home renovation efforts, one of the most commonly asked revolves around paint stripping. From those curious about the general efforts, to the people who are interested in the nitty gritty details of the approach we take (and perceived benefits), they're a series of questions we've been fielding for years, but whose answers have changed frequently over that time as we tire of our techniques in search of something better, faster, and less painstaking.
Most recently, while beginning our bathroom window restoration, we undertook the stripping of the final set of original window casings in our home. This is the culmination of an 11 year journey that started with the best intentions and a completely false assumption that a little chemical stripper applied to the mouldings would literally make the paint fall from the wood, running in terror from our house never to be seen again. To my utter amazement, shocked disappointment, and crushed spirit, I was completely incorrect in my notions. Paint stripping turned out to be long, arduous, tedious, and back aching work that took time, patience, and experience to get down to a science.
This project started out with six pieces of window casings in our 4" beaded moulding variety (each side consisted of two pieces, most likely because this was a second floor rear facing window and they wanted to just use scraps). Additionally we had the window stool and three pieces of sash stop to strip while we were at it. Looking at it all laid out on the table I knew what was to come, and it was a daunting chore.
I jumped right in using the SmartStrip product I've mentioned a few times before. Prior to recent time I was a tried and true Peel Away 1 or 7 guy. I've used the Citrus product, Soy, harsh chemicals, heat guns, infrared, a crock pot and dish soap (mostly for metal hardware), etc, but when it comes to these extremely intricate window and door casings, I like to start with SmartStrip these days.
It's not cheap, but I like that it's non-caustic, low odor, doesn't burn when you inevitably get it on your hands, and seems far less harsh on the surfaces that you're stripping. It also maintains all of the properties I tend to like about Peel Away 1 and 7.
It is almost like a fluffy liquid, and unlike the Peel Away 1, does not alkalize the wood and needs no neutralization once complete. I apply it with a garbage paint brush and try to apply it to the items rather liberally.
Since this stripper works for as long as it stays wet, it's important to apply a covering so it doesn't dry out prematurely. While Peel Away paper is what we typically use (we have 10 leftover bundles from past projects), wax paper is equally as effective and far cheaper. SmartStrip doesn't come with paper the way Peel Away 1 did, so be sure to pick up a roll of wax paper at the grocery store if you're going to be using this stuff.
I like to pre cut the paper to the size of the moulding I'm stripping so I can apply it right to the work without messing around. When I drape the paper over the wood I try to apply it from the middle out, pressing the paper into the stripper while attempting to eliminate any and all air bubbles.
Once everything is looking like a mummified set of window moulding, completely covered in stripper and paper, I'm able to take a step back and let the paint stripper work for about 18-24 hours. This obviously isn't for the project that's pressed for time, but this gap in time does tend to cut the project up a bit.
In our case, we're dealing with a dozen or more layers of paint and shellac. Some is thick, some oil, some sloppy, some latex. What I find is that the first attempt at removal tends to completely strip the top several layers of paint, most likely the most recent latex layers, but leaves the older and much harder paint completely intact below.
The key here is to remove what can be removed easily, but there's no need to remove more than that.
Rather than try to get more off than wants to come off, I repeat the initial steps and apply a second coat of paint stripper and paper.
After another 18-24 hours I hit the wood with the paint removal tools for a second time. Typically, this second application is the key to success, easily taking all of the flat surfaces down to bare wood.
The removed paint has turned to a brownish sludge that Wendy tends to associated with diarrhea, but I like to think of it more as triumph in sludge form (makes me less disgusted).
I use a tremendous amount of paper towels at this point, and a combination of water and vinegar. Wiping and re-wiping over and over I eventually get the wood to a point where the melted triumph paint sludge has been cleared from the wood, leaving only the most difficult and stubborn paint.
At this point I grab my set of paint removal "dental tools" and the tried and true heat gun. I also don my respirator mask and ready myself for many hours in a back aching pose hovering above the remaining paint, wishing I could instead conjure a Harry Potter spell for paint removal. The spell never arrives, and instead, I end up looking super nerdy for several hours.
Using the heat gun I'm able to soften the paint in the deep grooves of the various beads in the moulding, removing it a little at a time, about one inch per minute. I'm definitely not setting any land speed paint removal records, and I'd actually venture to guess that each layer of the paint actually dried in less time than it takes to remove it, but this moulding looks good when you can see it's details again, dammit!
After hours of efforts I grab my steel wool pads and start to hit the beads. The smoothness that comes with a little elbow grease and a whole lot of time investment is a beautiful thing.
I know this house will likely never see another owner like me. I'm a zealot and a hard head bordering on the moronic, but when I set my mind to something you'd better believe I'm going to see it through. Such is the case with these mouldings. Completely stripped, full of their dings, holes, cuts, and other imperfections...
They can almost tell a story. From the nail holes near corners indicating makeshift window dressings or temporary christmas lighting, to the marred backs damaged by water infiltrations over the years, this moulding has been in place for 125 years, and there's no way I'd rip it out for something new.
These window and door casings are the thing of beauty once re-installed. They are clean, crisp, unique, and downright gorgeous (in a "my child is the most beautiful child in the world" sort of way).
All of this time and effort is spent with the full knowledge that we'll be painting right over top of these once they're back in place, and I'm 100% okay with that. I don't particularly enjoy stripping paint, but now that I've gotten pretty decent at it, I know it will be great when it's done, and that's enough to keep me going.
I did have to modify some of it slightly to accommodate the wall depth. I have to be honest, there's nothing I like doing less than cutting into this old moulding.
Given the moulding is removed from a solid installation, reinstall is pretty straight forward. To install I use my brad nailer and shoot only what we need. I don't like filling it full of holes like some finish people tend to do.
What? You don't think it looks amazing and lovely? Just you wait, a few days, or maybe weeks, possibly months, and an outside chance of years...and I might just have a beautiful finished product to share with you. Until then, paint stripping on this window trim is done!
After all my years of paint stripping in this house I'll tell you one thing for sure. If we're ever looking to buy another old house and I look at the mouldings and suggest to Wendy that we should strip them, she has every right to cut my tongue right out of my mouth where I stand. I mean, I'm obviously not making any reasonable sense, so I shouldn't ever be allowed to speak again.
How do you feel about paint stripping? Are you intrigued by it? Perhaps, enthusiastic? Or are you more in the "over it" camp where I've now permanently setup residence?
What's that you say? I have at least one or two more doors to strip? Oh brother.