Stripping paint from doors, windows, spindles or any surface for that matter is a time consuming job and can get very dirty. Depending on the stripping process it can also be dangerous as toxic fumes can be released from the paint layers, lead paint for example releases fumes at 450 C and being highly toxic. The common ways of removing old paint are chemical paint strippers (including dipping), heat (Blowlamp or torch and heat guns like a hairdryer). Shot or sand blasting can also be used but is not within the relms of most people and required specialist equipment also grinding or dry scraping, there is also another way which technically falls under heat removal but I’ll go into that later.

Firstly lets talk about the dip, and not the one from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. Once a popular method because of the speed and simplicity of it, you could remove the doors of your house take them too a guy who would dip them in a stripping solution for a couple of hours possibly overnight. Then possibly steam cleaned and then neutralised ready for you to pick up. Problems occur when the glue is dissolved during the strip and the moulding loosen or pop out. The grain can raise considerably and take a long time to sand back but if it hasn’t been neutralised completely then it is difficult to repaint or varnish again and this process doesn’t work well with water-based paints.

Home chemical strippers like Nitromors are not what they used to be, although the companies will swear they are as good as ever EU regulation have removed the dangerous but effective chemicals that were present. Some products like Peelaway supply you with a plastic cover which stops the stripper from drying out which helps soften multiple layers of paint overnight. Similar to the dipping process the surface needs to be neutralised afterwards, it is an effective method especially if there are lots of layers of paint or an intricate surface, but quite expensive and messy.

Door being stripped with blowtorch, revealing original graining

The most traditional method and still used and loved by lots of decorators is the use of heat. A blowtorch or heat gun is used to soften the paint layers and then scraped off with a sharp knife or hook. Very effective, it can be used easily in the home and on large surfaces, although a flame can char the wood and can cause fires as it works between 400-1000 C. This is minimised with the use of a heat gun, but many will say that it is not as effective as a flame. The biggest problem with this method is the very high temperature that they heat the paint to, this releases gases from the paint that can be harmful especially if lead paint is present. Its is also quite messy but not as much as something like Nitromors as paint can be easily brushed up as it is dry. Also if you are removing paint from windows with the glass still in place, you can quite easily crack the original panes with the high heat from a torch if your not careful.

The method that we employ whenever possible is the use of infrared heat via the Speedheater IR. The biggest difference in this set up is the way it heats the surface to a much lower 100-200 C reducing the risk of fire, dust and chemicals in your home. Because of the low temperature no fumes are released into the air unlike with a heat gun, there is nothing to neutralise on the surface afterwards and there is no dust like you would get with sandblasting or grinding. This system also helps to soften dried out putty allowing us to save the glass when restoring your precious windows and bring them up good as new. It is also faster as it will heat all the layers simultaneously allowing them to be removed in one go.

Of course this process still takes time and a good set of sharp scrapers with plenty of elbow grease. There are no real shortcuts when it comes to paint removal, but I feel this is the best balance of speed and safety. When finished with the dustfree sanding system from Mirka and Festool a high quality surface is guaranteed ready for finishing.

This is not an exhaustive list of processes and there are many products out there that will do the job and are recommended by many people. If you have another method or product that you’d like to recommend then I’d be very happy to hear from you.

by Matthew Evans of Welsh Heritage Decor

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