A complete guide to stripping paint from wood and wooden surfaces. Stripping old paint from wood is a relatively easy task, as long as you take the time to work out the best method for each particular area. Paint can be stripped using either heat from a hot-air gun, or using chemical paint stripper gels or pastes, with the best results often being achieved by the use of both.
Flat areas of wood can be quickly stripped with a heat gun, whereas detailed areas are best stripped with chemical strippers. When stripping paint from something like an old door, it is likely you will encounter both of these areas.
Stripping Paint from Wood
Any sort of paint stripping can be dangerous. Heat guns can cause very nasty burns in an instant (both to you and to carpets, etc) and paint stripper can cause equally painful injuries is splashed onto skin/eyes. The golden rule: Follow manufacturers instructions to the letter and take care when working.
Using a Hot-air Gun to Strip Paint
Stripping paint using a hot-air or heat gun is best when you have a large flat areas of paint to remove, as long as the surface is going to be repainted. Heat guns will leave scorch marks in the wood however careful you are and removing them can take a lot of sanding!
You also need to be careful when using a heat gun near glass as it can crack it, although many hot-air guns come with a heat shield to help protect glass. For the best results, try not to hold the heat in one place for too long. It is also a good idea to place a metal tray (an old baking tray for example) beneath the area you are working, in order to catch the hot curls of paint that fall off as you work.
Depress the trigger and move the nozzle of the gun backwards and forwards over a sizeable area of paint, softening it until it begins to bubble slightly. Be wary of holding the heat over a single area for more than a second or so, or you will create scorch marks in the wood.
Using a clean, wide-bladed scraper, begin to strip the paint, pushing the tool away from you or upwards. When working on a vertical surface, wear cotton gloves and try to keep you hand from being directly underneath the area you are stripping.
If you are using the hot-air gun to strip mouldings or detailed areas of the wood, it is best to switch to using a shave hook tool. This tool has a variety of differently-shaped edges (straight, curved, convex, etc.,) to help get into awkwardly-shaped areas.
Once you have stripped as much paint as you can with the hot-air-gun, remove any scorch marks and stubborn bits of paint or undercoat with sandpaper or glasspaper. If you plan to repaint the wood, you don’t need to completely remove scorched areas, but you should still sand off the worst areas.
Using Chemical Paint Stripper
If you have a surface with a lot of small detail, or if you are working on window frames and you are worried about the heat from a hot-air gun cracking the glass, it is best to use a Chemical Paint Stripper. Chemical paint stripper can be applied with a small, clean paintbrush, or even with an old toothbrush, to get in to detailed areas.
Bear in mind that you will nearly always need to neutralise the paint stripper before you can repaint the surface. Check the instructions on the paint stripper you are using to see how to do this.
Always wear protective rubber gloves when applying chemical paint stripper, and wash any splashes from your skin immediately. It is also advisable to wear eye protection and work in an well-ventilated area.
Using a small, clean paintbrush, apply the paint stripper generously to a single area of the wood. You will need to wait around 15 minutes for the stripper to begin working properly (check instructions on the product for the exact amount of time you should leave the stripper on). If you try to strip the paint too soon, it will not come off easily and you may need to re-apply the stripper to the same area. If you leave it on too long, the paint will begin to harden again.
After the allotted time, begin to strip the paint using a wide-bladed scraper on large areas, or a shave hook on detailed areas. Don’t press either tool too hard against the wood, or you risk damaging the surface. If you are stripping several layers of old paint, you may need to apply a second coat of stripper after the first.
If you find the paint quite easy to remove, you can increase the size of the next area you apply the stripper to, hopefully speeding up the job.
Using Gel or Paste Paint Stripper
You can buy gel or paste paint stripper as an alternative to standard paint stripper. This is great for stripping vertical surfaces, as it will not run and drip like standard chemical paint stripper.
Protect surrounding areas of wood or paint with newspaper, and then apply a generous coat of paste to the area needing to be stripped. Use a small, clean paintbrush for this. In most cases, paste or gel paint stripper will need to be left to work for much longer than normal paint stripper (hours rather than minutes), so paint it over the whole area to be stripped in one go.
After the allotted time, scrape away the paint stripper using a wide-bladed scraper or a shave hook.
Neutralising Paint Stripper
Most paint stripper needs to be neutralised if the area is to be repainted. The method varies depending on the type of stripper used, but usually involves washing the area down well with water or white spirit, and then allowing the area to dry completely before repainting.
Finishing Off Stripped Wood
Once you are happy that the old paint has been removed, sand the surface down with fine sandpaper; fill any holes or dents with the appropriate Wood Filler (or Wood Stopping if you plan to varnish) and you are ready to repaint.
Warning! Lead-based Paint
If the paint you are taking off is old, it is quite likely it is lead-based. This is not very nice stuff and the fumes and dust can cause medical problems. If you think the paint you are stripping is lead based, use a chemical stripper rather than a heat gun, and make sure you dispose of the scrapings safely. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.