Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dirty Jobs Part 2: Paint Stripping, Which Stripper Works Best?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I found a fantastic, antique mantle for the living room fireplace.  But it had so many layers of paint on it, the details of the carving had lost their clarity.  So I wanted to remove the paint and clean it up.

This had to be done in my basement, since it's the middle of winter.  So a safe paint stripper was essential. I had a bottle of the orange citrus stripper and started to use that.  But I had seen a non toxic stripper, called Paint & Urethane Stripper by Blue Bear, at the Historic Home Show and wanted to give that a try too.  That made me decide to do a side by side comparison!

Here's what I learned:

Both strippers take awhile to work - at least a few hours.  I found the best approach was to apply a heavy coat in the evening, cover it with plastic, and scrape it down the next morning.  That gave it lots of time to penetrate the many layers of paint.

The orange, citrus stripper got down to bare wood in 2 applications.  But it's messy!!!  I read one review that described the scraped off paint as boogers.....and that's the perfect description.  It comes off easily with a putty knife, but you can't get it off the knife, no matter how much you shake it.  You need to manually scrape it off.  And the pile of sticky boogers on the work table wasn't a lot of fun.  And to finish cleaning everything off, they recommend odorless mineral spirits - which I really didn't want to use in my closed up basement.

The Paint & Urethane Stripper took 3 applications to get to bare wood.  But it was much easier to work with. The old paint was easy to remove and you could clean up any extra with soap and water.  A huge improvement!  And look at some of the details, that were completely lost with the multiple layers of paint!
Top latex layers wrinkled up quickly!

Look at the detail
You couldn't even see some of those scrolls and dots before I started!
In both cases, I found a putty knife and a plastic scrubby pad to be my best tools.  I went through a lot of scrubby pads, but at least with the Blue Bear stripper, I could rinse them out with water and use them a little longer.  And since I'm planning to repaint this, I didn't have to get too crazy with dental tools, to pick out every little bit of white paint.

It's a messy project!

The result?  Well, I wasn't trying to strip this to the point that I can just stain the wood.  I just wanted to see the beautiful carved details in the original.  And I couldn't be more pleased.  Isn't this a beauty?  I can't wait to get it installed!
So what would I use next time?  Well I still prefer these environmentally friendly products.  They are a huge improvement over the nasty chemical ones.  And while the Paint & Urethane Stripper took an extra coating to get me to the bare wood, I still think I'd use that again.  The ease of use with water clean up and less sticky mess, made it a great way to get this dirty job done! 

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  1. Looks great! Where did you buy the big bear stripper?

    1. I found it at Rockler Hardware. It's pricey, but goes a long way!

  2. Can it be used outside? My husband had a deck join waiting for him.

    1. As long as the weather is good, I would think it would be great to use outdoors!

  3. This is great information, thank you. Winter is the perfect time for indoor projects, but not ones using chemical vapors, and it's great to have a solution (no pun intended!). Your mantle will be beautiful painted or not. BTW, I found Blue Bear on Amazon.

  4. What a lovely Eastlake style mantel. I'm always impressed by the time and care you put into your "flips." Here is a summary of information I have found about paint removal:

    Bob Yapp is a great resource for old house repair information on his blog, and the Blue Bear Soy Gel is his preferred product for interior woodwork. It is relatively nontoxic, doesn't stink and can be reused if you filter out the paint goo. The company also makes a product that actually encapsulates the lead for use in highly sensitive areas, such as in a kitchen or a child's bedroom, but it is not reusable, has a limited work time and is more expensive.

    Infrared heat, such as with the Speedheater or Silent Paint Remover, combined with a pull scraper is considered the best for large flat areas of lead paint. It is a bit cumbersome, most easily used by two people, one for the Speedheater and one for the scrapers. The equipment is quite expensive--around $500. A heat gun is another option, but is slower and must be used at a temp not to exceed 600 degrees to avoid vaporizing the lead (check the manual for temp settings).

    The third option for exteriors is steam paint removal, using a modified Jiffy Steamer, as detailed by John Leeke (his restoration manuals are excellent)at and publications and Steam is great for removing window films and window putty, but it softens wood and one has to be very careful to not scrape off strings of wood. Not recommended for anything intricate or delicate like a mantel. A box can be built for windows and whatnot: A modified steamer can be purchased at for about $290 and a nice set of pull scrapers for $30.

    Lightly spraying with water and dry scraping is also an option and a Viper Paint scraper attachment to your shop vac is a big help (use a HEPA vac for lead, or at least a vac fitted with a drywall dust bag). Scott Sidler at the Craftsman Blog is a big fan and has lots of info on his website and great E-books

    For clapboards and large areas outside, many use the Paint Shaver, which mechanically scrapes or grinds the paint off. It works well with practice with some cautions: it is heavy and works quickly and can cause damage if not used properly, it is very important to start in a less visible or critical spot to get the feel for it and to calibrate the blade, and all nails and whatnot must be countersunk below the surface of the siding or you will damage the blade, which is quite pricey. Bob Yapp says he favors using this only on Victorian era homes, because Craftsman and newer homes (basically those built after about 1900 or so) tended to surface nail the siding.

    Many painters use power washers to strip paint, but this is not recommended by restoration professions. Painting wet wood is a recipe for paint failure, and the pressure will drive the water deep into the surface and raise the grain. You will need a couple of months of good weather to dry it out and the water can still lurk in all the cracks. If you must do so, at least use a moisture meter to check (below 12^ is good). And don't be tempted to dip strip your window sashes--all the crevices won't be nuetralized and it will cause a mess of paint and varnish failure within a year.

    There are specialty products for stripping decks. The surface area is so huge that most other methods just aren't practical. One thing to remember is that do not use opaque stain on horizontal surfaces--use paint or transparent stain. And if you choose the new ultra thick deck renew type porcelain paint, it is virtually impossible to remove. Best reserved for decks in really bad shape to make them last a few more years.

    1. Wow, Kathy, what a wealth of information. Thank you! In speaking with historic preservation window restorers, I know they really like the steam boxes. But certainly not good for all applications.

      So this is an Eastlake mantle? I was curious the style, but that's not an area where I have a lot of knowledge. So it's probably a bit early for our 1905 house.....but some style might have taken awhile to get to Maine in those days :-)

      Thanks again! Really appreciate it!

  5. Eastlake was popular for a long time, into the early 1900s, so it is just fine. It is basically a style of ornament that worked well for mass production, much to the chagrin of its originator. The American style of Eastlake, especially for exterior ornament, is nothing like it was in England. 1903 was a transitional period (I have a vernacular house built in the same year) and there was a lot of style mixing back in those days. It is simple enough to fit the house and be of the period, I think.

    Steam boxes are best for removing window putty--it takes experience and finesse to master steam paint stripping without causing damage. The paint rehardens as it cools, and once the window putty and glass is out, you can use other means to strip window sashes if you want. Dip stripping is the worst way for sashes, esp. the caustic type that requires a neutralizer, such as lye. It is a guaranteed of quick paint failure.

    Hardware cleans up well with steam or a crockpot or double boiler. I recently rescued some glass knobs I couldn't remove with just a rag dipped in boiling water to soften and a single edge razor, which didn't damage the surrounding paint.

  6. Kathy - thanks for all the background on Eastlake. And yes, I've noticed a lot of style mixing in the houses in the area. I've worked on homes with both Arts & Crafts and Victorian elements - a very odd mix indeed!

    And I've become an expert on cleaning hardware with a crockpot. I use our vintage one that was a shower gift :-) Works like a charm!!! So much nicer than chemicals!



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