• August 29, 2006

And, So It Begins

Starting our bungalow hallway restoration project

Removing Paint, Restoration Diary

I find living without doors oddly liberating, allowing us to move unencumbered from room to room. Although, after a few days of bathing in front of an audience of animals I can attest to the necessity of doors.

Living without doors.

Stripping paint is not a fun process. Stripping paint from woodwork that was originally painted is agony. I thought I knew all about paint stripping, but what I learned is that there is hell and then there is real H-E-L-L, all caps, please stop sticking bamboo shoots underneath my fingernails hell.

The paint has soaked into the grain of the wood and filled every tiny crevice.

If you desire hours of wretched torture and are crazy enough to attempt this at home, the Silent Paint Remover and/or a heat gun are the way to go. Chemical strippers, of which I am actually a big fan, took so much product to get down to the wood that it wasn’t cost effective.

All the different colors the upstairs bathroom was painted.

All of the woodwork upstairs was painted from day one with the exception of the window frames and trim. I have not seen the combination of painted wood and varnished wood in the same room before. The original paint color on the wood trim was a muted gold. I often see this color referred to as “wheat” in modern paint samples.

Getting down to the wood…finally.

The little back hallway should be hours of fun.

Comments { 20 }
  1. elizabeth

    Hi Heather! I’ve been following your and Dave’s progress sporadically and am SO impressed with everything you’ve done! I have a question (or 2). If the woodwork was painted originally, would that indicate a lesser quality wood, pine or ash instead of mahogany or cherry, and if so, is stripping and staining worthwhile? I know the second question is subject to personal preference. My husband and I bought a 1927 Craftsman style home and I’ve been see-sawing over whether to strip the woodwork for over a year now! From where the paint has chipped away on windowsills and door frames, the wood looks pretty and in good condition. I’ve pretty much given up on getting paint off the fireplace bricks – even if I could get it off the bricks, I’d NEVER get it off the mortar! Anyway, thank you for the inspiration and information!

  2. Sandra

    Eeeeek! Thanks for the heads up. Stripping layers of paint off woodwork is an upcoming project for me and hubby. Err…mainly me and a very good friend perhaps, cause I doubt hubby will want this kind of work.
    Well, lots of luck. I hope the rest of it gets easier for you, for I know it can’t be fun.
    There’s a rainbow at the end of all this…I know it! ;-)

  3. Carol

    I am doing the exact same thing to my upstairs hall and the floor actually looks as bad or worse. What do you plan to do to the hall floor? Is it also pine? Also, all my trim was painted in exactly the same ugly ‘wheat’ color which is really called “cream” because we found the original paint brochure from the 1920′s under our stair landing for “Mello-Gloss” by Lowe Brothers (Dayton Ohio). “Retains its beauty of finish for years”. Oh, baby, does it!
    We have even more fun than you since we have all the doors off AND have to take apart the jambs to straighten them. Your wood and moldings are really similar- you planning to repaint?

  4. heather


    Hi. Good questions!

    1) In our house it was impossible to tell what had been originally painted or stained and shellaced/varnished without doing some investigation. Everything had been painted over fairly early on (1920′s-1930′s) – and painted over many times since. We had close to 18 layers of paint in our dining room that had to be stripped away before we could even see the original finish.

    Sometimes the year your house was built will give you an indication. Painted woodwork became more in vogue in the late teens and really hit it’s stride in the 1920′s. But, that isn’t always the case. I’ve seen homes built much earlier that had painted woodwork from day one and homes built in the late 1920s with natural wood.

    Now to answer your question, often times wood that was originally painted was of a lesser quality or grade. Although, the woodwork in our house is Douglas fir top to bottom. Of course, Douglas fir would be considered a lesser quality wood when compared to red oak or mahogany.

    To me, the trim in our upstairs appears to be of the same quality as the wood downstairs which was originally stained, but I’m not a wood expert. So, maybe it just came down to the taste of the original owner? I have read that the public rooms were often painted darker with stained woodwork and the private rooms were often lighter with painted wood trim. That is the case in our home.

    In your position, I would strip the paint off of an inconspicuous area or around one of the places that the paint is chipping to see what you find. Maybe you won’t run into layers of paint. It is a lot easier to strip off a few layers of paint instead of from wood that has been painted numerous times. Once you strip away an area of paint you can discover how your wood was originally finished and the wood species. Some woods don’t take stain evenly so it would be good to know what you are dealing with before doing all that work.

    But, the fact that your paint is chipping and the wood looks nice underneath leads me to offer a guess that your wood was originally stained and painted over more recently. That’s a good thing because the paint is much easier (not easy but easier) to remove from woodwork that has been finished with a varnish or shellac. Also, wood that has been painted with latex paint tends to be easier to strip then the old oil based formulas.

    The woodwork in our house that had been originally painted was not chipping. When I started removing the paint in small areas to see what I was dealing with the wood finish wasn’t shiny or a color from a stain. It was faded out/natural wood like what you see in the pictures above.

    2) You can remove paint from your fireplace. We stripped our fireplace – mortar and all! We used a chemical stripper from Home Depot. Several people in our area had great luck with a product called Peel Away made by Dumond Chemicals. They make a special formula that can be used on stone and bricks.

    Good luck!

  5. elizabeth

    Oh gosh, you know you just created a WHOLE lot of work for me, didn’t you? :o ) Because I was perfectly happy to accept defeat until I started looking at your beautiful woodwork and before/after pics. Ha! Seriously, thank you so much for answering my questions and confirming that yes, deep down, I DO want to strip the woodwork and fireplace bricks! Off to Home Depot!

  6. heather

    Sandra, thanks for the words of encouragement and the posts you left the other day!

    Hi! When we had our floors refinished upstairs prior to moving into the house we were told that they were Heart of Pine, but I actually think they are Douglas Fir. I plan to soak the floor with really hot water covered over by newspapers to get the adhesive, black tar paper like stuff up. If that doesn’t work I will try adding ammonia to the hot water and soaking it again, leaving it over night. After that hopefully the adhesive will come up like butter. :)

    That’s the plan anyway. I’ll probably end up had sanding the hallway and sealing it.

    The plan is to stain the woodwork in the back hallway, stairwell and landing. I’m going to repaint in all the rooms. The paint will still have to be stripped but not as perfectly as it would if we were going to stain. It will be keeping with what was here originally, plus much easier and that’s really the point. :)

    I feel for you. Best of luck on your project.

  7. Dave

    Just curious… have you guys refinished any of your floors? If so, did you tackle it yourself or have someone come in and do it? My brother had his floors redone by a pro in his house (a psuedo craftsman I designed for his 40′s box house) and the guy who did it did a spectacular job. Im gonna try to do it myself in my house… im just curious what kind of task im putting myself up to :)

  8. heather

    hi Dave.

    We did not refinish any of our floors ourselves. Our floors were in really bad shape so we wanted to bring in a professional. We were told by the first company we hired that our floors were shot and needed to be replaced because they had been sanded too many times. We found a referral for someone in our area. He said our floors could be done “one more time”. We are happy with the way they turned out.

    My friend and her husband refinished their floors themselves. She didn’t think it was as difficult as she thought it would be, but it took a lot more time than they expected.

    I’m going to probably end up hand sanding the back hallway. I’ll let you know how it goes. :)

    Good luck!

  9. Emily

    I’m SOO impressed – i’ve been visiting your site for a WHILE and like the other post above have been hemming and hawing about whether to strip our woodwork in our 1924 bungalow. I desperately want to, but have been told that the paint isn’t stain grade. It’s some kind of pine, but I only have a couple layers of paint as it was installed in the early 80s.

    I heard though that if you’re going to stain it a darker color (which we plan to do to, a dark walnut color) that it matters less about being stain grade – have you heard this?

    I think I’m going to give it a try just to see, but i’m just so nervous of the process and havoc i’ll wreak that I’ve had the stripper from Lowe’s for 2.5 months and it’s just sitting in my dining room taunting me!!!

  10. heather

    Hi Emily.

    I have heard that pine can be hard to stain. I read an article that said you needed to sand the wood – A LOT – followed by a wood conditioner prior to staining.

    If you have a small piece of trim maybe you could try stripping, sanding and staining that to see how it goes? If it doesn’t work out well, it wouldn’t be hard to repaint the wood of a small test area.

    I haven’t heard anything about a darker color stain working better then a lighter one, although that does make sense. Also, on pieces of trim it would be less obvious if the finish was splotchy (or the wood didn’t take the stain evenly) then on a piece of furniture like a table top.

    Never hurts to try! :)

  11. Emily

    Okay I started. took 30 minutes to figure out that the product I bought will not work AT ALL. so much for getting an expert opinion. Have been reading and rereading about paint stripping and was wondering if you had ever tried ReadyStrip or PeelAway or RemovAll?? i’m going to look into it tomorrow, but wanted to see if you had tried it already. I love the blog, partick the recent recap of the first 4 years, we’ve just entered year 2…

  12. heather

    Hey. Good for you – sorry it didn’t work out but at least you started. :)

    The only product I tried from the ones you mentioned is PeelAway. Personally, I didn’t love it. I realize that everyone’s situation is different so maybe some products will work better for different people depending on their circumstances. We know several people who used PeelAway with great success and loved the product. For us, it just didn’t cut through all the layers of paint very well even after we left it for hours.

    Our friends who liked PeelAway thought the special paper you have to buy got too expensive after a while. They ended up switching to plastic wrap instead and it worked fine for them.

    Master Strip, Formula A Remover from the McBride Company (Los Angeles, CA 818.507.8900) worked really well in our house. It’s not environmentally friendly though, so if that is a concern this probably wouldn’t be the best choice.

    I hope it goes better next time around. We had to try several different things before we found something that worked.

    Hang in there.

  13. Emily

    thank you so much for posting back! i actually called the McBride company after not finding anything similar here in texas, but unfortunately they can’t ship due to all the weird toxic regulations in shipping now. i’m hangin in! and was reinspired when I found this woman’s work – found it on a thread about those other products… http://ayers.smugmug.com/gallery/13219/1/12984611

  14. Tina

    Hi Heather-
    Since you and Dave are the masters of paint removal I have a very basic question that I thought I’d shoot your way. I know you were using some fairly toxic paint strippers but if you could only have used sand paper would you still wear a mask due to the lead paint fumes? My paint is coming off of my wood pretty easily but I worry about the lead fumes for myself and my dogs. Do they make respirators for dogs? :)

  15. heather

    Hi Tina. Dust from lead paint is a real concern. Are you sure the paint you are removing contains lead? They sell kits that test for lead paint. I think it’s always a good idea to know what you are working with. I have heard that a general rule of thumb is that most homes built prior to 1960 contain lead paint.

    The problem with sanding is that it creates large amounts of lead dust and this can lead to lead poisoning. If you type in “lead paint dust” into Goggle or any search engine I’m sure you will find lots of information on lead exposure.

    I would definately wear a mask. I’d also use a heavy plastic to cover doorways or any open areas to other parts of the house – create a containment area for where you are working. Make sure you have good ventilation. Be careful not to track any dust to other parts of your home from your shoes or your clothes.

    I have mainly heard about lead exposure being dangerous for children, so I’m sure it is not safe for dogs either. They could get the lead dust on their paws and ingest it when they lick their feet to clean themselves. I’d keep the dogs outside and away from the work area.

    I’m really no expert so do some research, but it’s always best to error on the side of caution.

    Godd luck!

  16. Lorri

    Some very interesting comments here. I would like to add a few myself. The first house we bought had painted woodwork upstairs. My husband figured out a sort of system for stripping all the trim and doors. I would like to mention that we had the paint tested for lead before we started because we have small children and thought that it was the wise thing to do. Anyways, he first used the heat gun to get the majority of the old paint off. Then he used Citrustrip (smells like oranges). It is a gel and goops on nicely. He would let it sit for a bit and work it around with a brush (like a kitchen dish cleaning brush). Then he would gently scrape off the paint. He used old discarded dental tools from a local dentist to get into the nooks and crannies. Then he wiped it all down with a water-dampened sponge. After it was dried, he sanded it. I must mention that it was old Southern Yellow Pine and was beautiful. However, staining it was a trick. The darker the stain the trickier. Since the grain does not absorb evenly, it can look blotchy. He got the stain custom mixed to take on an almost reddish-orange tone to match the trim downstairs that had aged for 80 years. He finished it off with a high-gloss shalack to again match the older trim. The ornate banister was so pretty. Needless to say, we moved next door and hope the new owner doesn’t decide to paint over all that hard work. However, we now live in an early 1900′s bungalow with oak woodwork, quarter-sawn oak flooring downstairs and yellow and red birch flooring upstairs. And thankfully, no one painted over any trim!! Just wish I had some decorating savvy to do justice to this beautiful house. Still trying to pick out a paint color for the dining room. Husband is very patient, but I think he is going to pick the paint color soon. Keep at it, you will be glad in the end.

  17. Kevin Nash


    What a great site and what a great thing you have done here. I just happened upon your site as I was looking at some real estate sites for work and found you.

    I have become far behind in what I needed to be doing because of your fascinating stories. I look forward to reading more of your adventures like readying a good book.

    Have a great day!
    Kevin Nash
    Germantown, WI

  18. Barbra

    I am having old fir floors in my kitchen refinished. The kitchen adjoins the dining room that has pecan floors. After sanding – I would like to leave the original fir (rather than staining them), but I’m concerned that they will look hodge podgy next to the dining room. Decorators always say to have continuity with your wood flooring. What’s everyone’s opinion on that?

  19. Rebecca

    The last picture of the little back hallway floor in this post is very familiar! We just recently stripped off 5 layers of linoleum from our floor. Underneath is what appears to be a tar paper kind of thing… just like you have in that picture. Any tips on getting that stuff off easily? We are down to hand scraping bit by bit and would love a tip if you have one. We would love to get to the Douglas fir floors beneath. Thanks!

    • Heather

      This doesn’t work in all situations, I guess it depends on the chemical make-up of the adhesive used to tack down the tar paper, but it DID work for us. I covered the floor with warm water, a good amount…think sopping not flooding. Then I covered the water with paper towels but you could use wet rags, old newspapers, etc. and let it sit overnight. The next day the adhesive and tar paper came up super easily with a paint scraper. My husband says, “Like butter”. I hope this works for you.

      Here is an article where I talk about removing linoleum adhesive. There is a lot of good information and alternative techniques in the comments: http://1912bungalow.com/2004/07/removing-linoleum-adhesive

      Best of luck!

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