The following is ONLY for PAINTED WOOD. If your wood molding is natural (not painted) but is bad shape, see below, there is a different method.
I spent three years stripping paint from the woodwork in my house, with the help of my father and aunt. My method of paint stripping below appeared in Victorian Homes Sourcebook 1996.
First step is to use a heat gun.
When using this, I also used a good respirator, goggles, rubber gloves, window fan, and kept a mister handy spraying the area to keep down the lead paint dust floating in the air. Dispose of paint chips at your local hazardous waste site. Each county usually has free disposal days.
Heat guns are very dangerous. I personally know of 2 devastating fires. Wood detailing is usually composed of separate pieces of wood. There are very small spaces between those pieces where there is dust etc. That debris will easily burn and smolder for hours before the building is engulfed in flames. Additionally the use of a high heat gun is currently not compliant with EPA RRP law because it vaporizes lead paint. There are always new methods and new products that I would suggest you look into.
Before we go any further here is some information about paint stripping options from Scott Silder of The Craftsman Blog.
The heat gun or similar will remove almost all of the paint. The thicker, the paint the easier it is to strip. I would sometimes be able to strip off a solid strip of paint 18 inches long. What you will have left underneath is the original shellac or varnish finish.
Paint Stripping Part Two
The next step and the messiest is to use a chemical stripper. Use something thick that will not run off vertical surfaces like Zip Strip (very strong and dangerous but fast). Peel Away works okay, but it will definitely darken the wood a very noticeable shade. Use a brass bristle brush and a non wood damaging dental pick for those hard to get at places. Be careful not to gouge the wood.
Next rinse the residue with warm water mixed with a powdered, high phosphate laundry detergent. After this, I would wash the wood with Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), rinse with cool water, and then rinse with a vinegar and water solution (this will neutralize any chemicals remaining). Wipe the wood dry.
Wood Refinishing and Preparation
You will then sand the wood. Sand LIGHTLY as if you are dusting furniture. The purpose is to sand down the raised grain caused by the water and to remove any sharp areas. Heavy sanding removes the patina (the natural aged look which gives antique wood its character).
Then it’s time to refinish. I wanted the wood to be a darker shade to appear as if it had aged naturally since 1910. The back side of one of my closet doors was never painted but was a little too dark – hiding the beautiful grain. I decided to try for a slightly lighter shade. I used Minwax penetrating oil stain and made many test spots on a baseboard.
The final combination was a mixture of three Minwax stains (2 parts red mahogany, 2 parts colonial maple, 3 parts natural) to give it an aged wood tone it would have had from aging orange shellac.
The original finish would have been probably shellac. It would be too glossy and would need to be buffed down with steel wool and paste wax to achieve a subtle glow, however. Varnish could have been used also. It was suggested by ON-SITE WOOD RESTORATION in Ohio (out of business), that I use Benjamin Moore Sanding Sealer (oil based). Four coats were applied producing just the right sheen. Please Note: the Sanding Sealer was used as a finish coat on top of the stain – not as a sealer before staining as it is intended to be used.
Once the stain has dried for 48 hours, I then applied the oil based Sanding Sealer. The first coat was followed by a light sanding because this sealer raised the grain. Once you have come to this step you will see all of the white paint you missed while stripping. Don’t be upset. There are many little grooves etc. which you just can’t get the paint out of in a bit. So, now apply one more coat (2nd coat) of Sanding Sealer, then purchase some acrylic paints in different shades of brown.
Mix the acrylic paints together to match the stain of the wood and with an artists brush or a toothpick touch up all the paint that is showing. You may want to use a lighter shade than the wood you are trying to match – I have found that in about two month the stain will lighten a bit. You can then apply a third coat of the sealer and a fourth if you would like. No need to sand again after the first coat. That’s all. Floor sanding should be next followed by wall painting.
How did I learn what to do? Well, I read a lot of books and bothered a lot of people who work with antiques and old wood. This is the method I put together and used. As you can see from the photos, it’s holding up fine. Would I do it again? I don’t know. I would probably try to grain the wood, although paint buildup would still be a problem especially on the windows (an excellent book on this topic is Professional Painted Finishes: A Guide to the Art and Business of Decorative Painting ). You can open my windows with one finger although I still put a little weather stripping in for the winter.
UPDATE to Wood Finish:
Benjamin Moore Sanding Sealer is no longer available. Fifteen years later I needed another coat. I learned that the sanding sealer is really not strong enough as a final coat. I used ZAR Ultra-Max waterborne oil modified polyurethane. I also had it tinted for more of an amber glow.
IF YOUR WOOD IS NOT PAINTED but needs refinishing, try my suggestions here.
The following pertains to unpainted woodwork inside your house and antique wood furniture.
Most wood was originally finished with orange shellac. Shellac is the easiest finish to restore. Many people strip shellac furniture, ruining the antique patina which is what antiques are all about. If you have an antique with a worn finish, sometimes all you need to do is to remove the old wax with paint thinner and put a new coat of paste wax on it. The wax will remove scratches and preserve the wood. You may think it needs stripping, but try this first, you may be shocked. REMEMBER any refinishing DECREASES the value of the piece.
If putting new paste wax on the wood doesn’t do the trick, you still should not need to strip the wood. It all depends if the finish is SHELLAC. How do you tell? Take some Denatured Alcohol on a cotton swab and rub in a small circle in an out of the way place. If the cotton turns brown and the finish looks shinny, it’s shellac and you’re lucky. (as paint thinner is to remove paint and varnish, denatured alcohol is to remove shellac)
All you need to do is to get the dirt off , then remove the old wax with paint thinner. Once this is done apply coats of 1/2 denatured alcohol mixed with 1/2 shellac. The new shellac will melt the original shellac, forming a new beautiful finish. Scratches and white marks will also go away. The process is called RE-AMALGAMATION. The final step would be to apply paste wax with fine steel wool for a real nice sheen.
THIS IS AN OVERVIEW. There is more detail in a extremely wonderful book which I highly recommend. It spells out everything step by step. If you never buy another book – this is the book you need to have before you read any others. Believe me, 98% of the time you think you need to strip off all the finish, but you don’t.
The book is: The Weekend Refinisher by Bruce Johnson. Order The Weekend Refinisher Today!
Another good book as a SECOND CHOICE is The Furniture Doctor
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