Tag Archives: stripping paint

Peeling back the last layer on the front windows

I have these neat paneled alcoves under my living room windows that are original to the house – I think about 40 years older than the rest of my living room’s current incarnation.  One of them is super crooked. The paint was chipping badly, so even though they’re not going to show, I conceded that they needed to be stripped.


They came out way nicer than I thought they would. By better, I mean stain grade. Once I burned the paint off, stripping the varnish was effortless.


I’m happy with the way they look, but it creates a dilemma. I’ve already committed to painted trim throughout the house. I peeled back a lot of layers on this wall, so I think it might be good to go through them again.

Before I started there was a lot to like: Craftsman trim, deep sills, alcove radiators, and those awesome inlaid floors.

Living room, front

Living room, front

But other things were not so hot. If you look at the upper left corner of the left window, there’s a chunk missing from the crown molding. And worse, the jambs were lined with crappy plywood paneling. It turned out that this was covering damage from when the interior wall sagged. But the windows were attached to the outside brick wall that stayed level. You can see the crappiness of the paneling and the huge amounts of caulk holding in the boring radiator covers here. It’s the best shot I got of this.

Radiator cover removal

Radiator cover removal

And the best part is, the sagged jambs were holding the wall up! They were the framing! so I couldn’t fix them without sacrificing the whole wall! I still feel a little sad about sacrificing so much of the before house.


But anyways, I now have drywall jambs around these windows. I’ll recreate the “before” look with nice trim after those crappy windows meet their demise. The problem is, I still think it will look best to paint the alcoves. If they’re stained, the painted trim will look weird. Or I could paint the sides but stain the panels. And in the end, I’m probably going to put deep window sills back on and they won’t show anyway. The original sills are wrecked. The original sills were nailed to them and I did the best I could to put them back together.And though I want to recreate that part of the 1930’s remodel, in my dreams I will also reinstall the pocket shutters that were taken out at that time.


So what do you say I should do? Paint it? Stain it? Paint the sill and sides but not the panels? Do you want to smack me for being neurotic enough to even ask this question? Staining this teeny bit of trim is either doing right by 120 year old pine… or wasting my time on something that won’t be visible or fit with the rest of the house.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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

Doors! Doors! Doors

Yep, I’m finally back onto doing stuff. All my upstairs doors are now stripped of paint! A few that were never painted still need their varnish stripped!


How did I manage this so fast? I found a corner to cut. I’m not doing anything to the back sides of the sliding closet doors. They’ll remain like this. I’ll probably give them a light scraping to knock off what’s loose. The neighbor’s kids are the only ones who might shut themselves in the closet, and they can judge me if they want.

Awesome door. Yes it's upside down. Trust me, the other one looks the same.

Awesome door. Yes it’s upside down. Trust me, the other one looks the same.

Now I don’t mean they’re completely done. I still have some bits here and there and the original varnish that didn’t come off is getting a little globby. Still, it means a lot to be done with the thick, heavy paint. Like this. Mmm, beans.


So my original plan was to use wood filler and repair all the gouges and paint the doors white to match the trim. The wood messed up this plan. It’s just too nice. Now instead I just want to get some kind of consistent coloring between the doors. The flaws stay as they were. They just look like character on nice wood.

So the rest of the doors. I have these for all openings from the upstairs hall.


I suspect that they’ll all end up kind of a medium wood color like the one on the left. All the doors have the awesome reeding on both sides except the linen closet and bathroom doors, which will have them on the hallway side only. I’m using these with white porcelain knobs.

And then in the back bedroom I have this awesome tall pair that forced me to build a sloped ceiling.


They’re not getting stripped because the paint is sound and I suspect that they were never stained and that the wood is paint grade.

Then there’s a bit of abuse I have to fix. The linen closet door looks like its previous owners mortised hinges with a Sawzall.


Though I’m leaving a lot of holes where they were, this abuse has to get cut off. And then I need to take off from the other side for symmetry and stain the new cuts to match the old door.

The massive heavy doors on the front bedroom closet are gonna slide. The pulls I got are big enough to hide the doorknobs but not this patch where there was once a lock.


I might just paint them brown to match the wood. So, any advice? I’m thinking I’ll keep the doors as light as possible. Not blond. I want them dark enough to contrast with the floors. But I could go to a dark brown if I wanted to. Let me know what you think!