Out of Denial and Into the Stairwell

Now that the spraying operations are winding down, I can turn to one of the last things I’ve sort of ignored for the last two years: the bannister. It’s pretty and old, but a little worse for wear. I was imagining for a while that I could strip the handrail alone (which will be easy because there is varnish under the paint) and leave the balusters in as found condition. I guess I never took a good look at them. Probably because I didn’t want to. They look more like candles than millwork grade wood.

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Ack. That’s definitely a little more abuse than anyone could ever call character. What to do about it? I really wanted to make this an easy job. And oil based paint on wood with no varnish under it is not easy to strip. Plus, going to all that trouble just to repaint seems unrewarding. My first thought was that the top layer of latex paint is so thick, I could probably sand the runs off of it without going through to anything that contains lead. (Note: This is called cutting corners and is not a lead safe practice.) But (luckily for my health) the candle wax faux finish started peeling off in sheets. Like Saran wrap.

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And so I got busy picking at it. This quickly became addictive.

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But not really. Because the cure for this “addiction” was to keep doing it. And I realized that this approach wasn’t working so well. Sometimes big, satisfying sheets came off. Other times they didn’t. I went to the Home Depot to get a spray bottle of latex paint remover. This didn’t turn out to be the magic bullet I hoped for. It’s really made to take spills and overspray off of things, not to strip full coats of paint. And plus, the oil based paint underneath still wasn’t wonderful looking. I asked around for advice. My dad proposed using the belt sander. This is a terrible idea. But I was tempted. My co-pay on having the lead chelated out of my blood might still be cheaper than having the railing restored professionally. My mom chimed in with a little much needed moral support: “Lorraine and David were stripping theirs but they only got through 3 posts and then they gave up.” Thanks Mom, I feel so much better now. Then I asked the Irishman. He said dismantle it and number all the posts and run them through a planer. Nope. Nope. Nope.

And so Sunday morning I bit the bullet and got to work. No I didn’t. I went to a brunch potluck and whined about the job ahead of me to a bunch of people. Then I got back and on went the SoyGel.

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I didn’t bother with Saran wrap because I thought it would be brutal to get it tight around every spindle. Instead, I just let it do its thing for a couple hours and sat Indian style – and remember, my hallway is narrow and I can barely fit doing this. Well, it’s clearly going to need another coat of SoyGel, but at least the square posts are starting to emerge.

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So, do you think I’ll be a stripper forever, or are you optimistic that soon I’ll move on to more respectable work?

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16 thoughts on “Out of Denial and Into the Stairwell

  1. infinitequery

    I am never for baking in the Sun but Sir! Hie thee immediately into some Sun! That is the whitest human appendage I have ever seen and I am as old as Dirt!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. Ross

    I never use SoyGel. Not powerful enough/takes WAY too long. I use Klean Strip, and their STRONGEST version (they offer three versions).

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      I read things about normal paint strippers burning your skin off that scared me. And I ran into a friend and drank 3 Hop Devils while it was working. But you may have a point. Plus I think I could spray on the Klean Strip? Maybe I should cut my losses and make the switch.

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  3. Stacey at Dohiy

    Klean Strip is some scary-ass stuff. I wouldn’t spray it, but it probably would eat through the problem faster.

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    1. Ross

      I do not find Klean Strip scary. But one does need to be careful. I wear quality gloves, for example. NEVER get the stuff on your skin. If you do, wash it off right away and you will be fine. What is good about Klean Strip is that it WORKS, and FAST. I once tried SoyGel and was stunned how poorly it stripped, and how long long long it took. I gave up after one application. Life is way too short for tentative stripper!

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      1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

        My experience is that it works pretty well on wood that has varnish under the paint if you can cover it with Saran wrap and let it sit overnight. So it was tolerable for the doors, but the banister fits neither of those. The handrail itself might. We’ll see. My mom also said she might have some Zip Strip around from before I was born. That would be scary ass stuff!

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  4. ladylansdowne

    I loved this!! I too am avoiding looking at the staircase…and wondering if white might be ok?! Do you have that stuff called Peelaway? You spread it on like peanut butter then wrap it up… I hear good things about it, that said when I tried it, I ended up with goo. So then I had paint AND goo to contend with.

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      I used peel away, but then I found out that it stains hardwoods. Part of the benefit of stripping the railing before having the floors done is that I can let crap drip all over everything without leaving stains. I actually may have some blotches to bleach out already. Also, I don’t know if I want to wrap up every baluster. I have 3 per step, plus I think 8 on the volute at the bottom and almost as many in the upstairs hall.

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    2. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      And for my house, white is ok. In fact, it’s the only thing that’s appropriate. This might make it even sadder that I’m going through all this to strip the wood and then repainting it.

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      1. ladylansdowne

        Worse would be not bothering, then every time you went upstairs in the years to come, wishing you’d made the effort… Actually… Would it be that bad?!

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      2. Chad's Crooked House Post author

        ha actually parts of it were worse than the photo I took. There was already stripper on the really bad spots so I hurried up and got the before photo where there was still a before

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  5. Jo

    Having once stripped a fireplace front with peel-away I would never try stripping anything extensive in situ again. That being said I was younger and more patient back then. This will look fantastic ultimately. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

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  6. Mary Elizabeth

    Dear boy, I feel your pain! Also, I know how addictive picking at peeling paint (or wallpaper) can be. Sort of like picking at a scab, without the pain. But I say, keep up the combination of stripping with a safe product and scraping afterwards with a paint scraper–one of those with a retractable knife. Oh, and when you finally get out into the back yard or on your bike, slather yourself with sunscreen, not SoyGel. 🙂

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