Stripping Paint from Wood Surfaces

Stripping Paint

Stripping old paint from wood surfaces with a commercial stripper can restore a piece to near-original condition, paving the way for an attractive fresh finish. Paint strippers are available in different formulations. If you’re unsure which one will work best for your needs, consult both product labels or store personnel at the location you’re purchasing the paint. Vertical walls and surfaces require a heavy paint stripper that can adhere to the surface long enough to work without dripping or running off due to gravity. Similarly, polyurethanes require long-acting strippers such as semi-paste strippers.

However, it is important that you read and follow all safety precautions included with the stripping chemical before you begin working.

Step 1 - Understanding Safety Concerns of Paint Strippers

Paint strippers are highly flammable, corrosive products. Work in a very well ventilated area, away from children and pets, and turn off all sources of flame and ignition. Wear skin and eye protection. A long sleeved shirt and rubber gloves for the skin and goggles or glasses with side shields should be used.

When dictated by the EPA regulations for your paint stripper, a NIOSH approved respirator should be worn to protect the lungs and central nervous system from damage.

Step 2 – Remove Already Fraying Areas

Any paint that is already blatantly and dramatically fraying or peeling should be removed. Given that this paint is old and chipped, much of it can be peeled off of the wall easily either by hand or with a simply paint scraper. Removing this excess gives the stripper a more open surface to do its job.

Step 3 – Clear the Hardware

Start your paint stripping project by removing all hardware from the surface. Clean paint-soiled hardware by soaking them in paint remover and wiping or scrubbing away the softened paint.

Be aware the some brass hardware could have a polyurethane coating, which is actually beneficial. Do not dip these items in paint remover, as it will take off the polyurethane coat along with any paint.

Step 4 – Apply the Stripper

When applying paint stripper, you should use a paint brush move evenly and in one direction. In doing so, you’ll avoid wiping away any stripper from areas you’ve already covered. Once you’ve covered the wooden surface in a thick coat of paint stripper, wait the designated amount of time according to the specific instructions for your product. This waiting period is most often no more than 15 minutes.

Step 5 – Scrape the Surface

As the stripper works, the paint on the surface will lift and bubble, creating a softened, rubbery sludge. Scrape the old paint off the wood with a putty knife, blunt paint scraper, or a wooden scraper. Regardless of which tool you land on, make sure it has rounded corners. If you use a scraper or knife with sharp edges and corners, you could scratch and mar the wood while trying to take off the old coat of paint.

Step 6 – Re-applying Paint Stripper

Depending on the thickness of the remaining paint on the wood, several applications of paint stripper may be necessary. Reapply as needed until all paint and dark areas are removed. Just as it was important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when stripping old paint, it’s also important to be patient and do things properly.

If you have use multiple coats and applications of the stripper, it does not necessarily mean you are doing anything wrong, so don’t panic and don’t rush. It just means that fully getting the old coat of paint off the wood is taking time.

Step 7 – Detailing

Assuming that all your rounds of stripping with a paintbrush and scraping have done all they can, any remaining paint is probably stuck in the depths of any tiny bevels cracks in the wood.

You can detail these holdout spots of old paint using a stiff toothbrush, steel wool, skewer or pointed stick.

Step 8 – Clean the Surface

Once you’ve removed all paint from the wood, wipe the surface with a mineral spirit like turpentine or a paint thinner. For the best results, consult the labels on your paint stripper. Many strippers suggest what particular products they pair best with for this part of the process.

Use a clean, lint-free cloth to remove the cleaner.

WARNING: Similar to paint strippers, turpentine and thinners can be flammable and harmful. Read their labels, wear protective gear over your hands and eyes, and make sure you have good ventilation in the area where you are working.

Step 8 – Refinish

Allow the surface to thoroughly dry for at least 24 hours before refinishing. After it has dried from the paint stripper and cleaners, sand the wood as desired for a smooth surface ready for a new finish.

Learning how to strip paint from wood can be time consuming, but the results are well worth it. As long as you follow through, you can use these techniques to restore walls, tables, and any number of wooden items to their original state and revitalize them with a new stain or paint.

Edward Kimble, professional painter and author of Interior House Painting Blog, contributed to this article.