Sunday, November 11, 2012

My past two weekends stripping

I'm sure, in a lot of people's lives, that moment comes.  You know you've come to the end of your options, and you really need to just bite the bullet and do it.  Maybe it won't be so bad... maybe you'll actually like it?  If you put on some good tunes, and let yourself get lost in the music, hopefully the hours of work will fly by... right?

Well, that's what I tried for the first time last weekend.  With my Mum.  She's an expert stripper... well, she's at least better at it than I am.  Oh, did I not say?  We're stripping wood windows.

My Mum (and Dad actually) have spent many weekends out helping a team of keeners do restoration work on an old farmhouse.  This allows them time to practice and hone their skills of old home repair, and last weekend, my Mum was gracious enough to help me get started too.

Of the 25 windows in this house, 20 of them are the original wood ones, and thus need a different type of maintenance.  I'm really really glad that the previous owners didn't put all new windows in, but I'm also really really glad I only have 20 (x 2... their storms) to contend with.  It'll be something that has to be done on occasion, but hopefully will get easier with practice.  The process has a lot of steps, but the first one is to get the window back to the natural wood... by stripping it.

There are a few ways of doing this, and I've now tried 3.  I hoped to find the least messy, the least stinky, the one with the least chance of damaging the wood, and the least time consuming.  I don't think I found one that was all of the above, but here's what I found.

Circa 1850
(after 2 applications)
SPR on the left-hand side
(see, couldn't get into the corner)
Heat gun, doing the same corner
as the last photo

1)  Circa 1850 (any of their many brands) chemical paint remover.  They have a bunch of versions, but I chose the 'antique' one that was a gel.  I figured the gel would stay put more easily where I wanted it to.  In addition to the gel remover, I needed a scraper, a metal container, tinfoil to put under where I was working, gloves, and a brush to put it on.

The Good:  It's relatively inexpensive, can be done by more than one person at a time.  The Bad:  It's messy.  You have to watch where the goop is going because it's harmful to other surfaces.  The Ugly: 15 minutes of waiting in between isn't any fun; it's not enough time to go elsewhere, and if the goop dries out, then you've got to apply more and wait again.  A lot of back and forth.

2) Silent Paint Remover, which is an infrared tool that you hold over the paint until it bubbles and then you can scrape it off.  I also needed a work surface that wouldn't be affected by the infrared (we used the concrete floor), and a scraper.

The Good:  It's quick, very quick.  The Bad: It can take quite a bit of scraping, but all methods have so far.  The Ugly:  The unit itself isn't cheap, and it doesn't really work great for the inside corners.

3)  A Heat Gun, something you can get relatively inexpensively, and it does what the Silent Paint Remover does, but is said to cause greater fumes and I think can scorch the wood if you aren't careful?  It's something I've had sitting around since my parents gave it up, so I thought it was worth a shot.

The Good:  It got into the corners where the SPR didn't.  The Bad:  I only did a small area, and given the small nozzle size, I can see how this might take some time.  The Ugly:  I now have a headache... this might be just that I anticipated having one so now I do, but it was stinkier than the SPR while I was using it.

My thoughts?

I'm going to go with the SPR for the big sections, and the heat gun (with some ventilation) for the inside corners.  I don't like the idea of fumes galore, but also don't like the idea of a chemical gel that might get on me unnoticed, and then onto something or someone else (Pokey) by mistake.

It's a lot of work no matter which way you choose, and I still have to... reinforce the wood, fill the gaps, sand, get new glass, put in putty, put in glass, points, putty and then paint.  Hmmmm... 39 more?  And their frames?  Yikes!


  1. I'm so proud of you, tackling all those windows! It's so worth it, though, all that hard work, in the end. You'll be so pleased with your efforts when you see your finished window/storm! Yes, be careful using the heat gun. You maybe should have a mask/ventilator for that one. Good to know that it works in those nasty corners, though! We may have to borrow it back ;)

    1. I do have a mask, one of the N95 ones, so hopefully that's some protection. We used to use n95 masks in the nursing home for protection there... we'll see!

  2. Thanks for the review of these methods! We have many layers of white and off-white paint to remove from doors and trim so definitely appreciate hearing about your experience. I've been told that the heat gun can release lead from lead paint into the air so be sure to ventilate and wear a mask! Plus, you get enough headaches as it is!

    1. We're going to have to keep an eye on kijiji for the SPRs!