How to Remove Paint From Wood
Time Required: 2-4 hours
Removing old paint from wood can be the first step to seeing familiar furniture and surfaces in a new light. With several options available, the process is easy and safe, requiring simple precautions.
Chemical paint strippers are solvents available as either liquids, gels or pastes that soften the old finish for easy removal. Many brands have minimal odors and clean up with water.
Heat guns offer another excellent option when determining how to remove multiple layers of old paint. The heat gun softens the paint causing it to bubble up and making it easy to remove with a metal scraper.
When removing old paint before applying a fresh coat or stain, sandpaper or power sanders provide a quick way to prepare the wooden surface.
Safety: When scraping, sanding or removing old paint by other means, you may release lead dust. Lead is toxic and exposure can cause serious illness, especially in children and pregnant women. Any removal of lead paint may also be subject to Federal and State regulations. Consult your local building authority for more information.
Chemical paint strippers prove quite effective with wood in complex shapes such as moldings.
- Pour a small amount of the paint stripper into a glass or metal container and apply it as specified on the label. Many chemical strippers need a few minutes to set before removal.
- Use a gel or paste when stripping paint from vertical surfaces such as wooden doorframes.
- It's best to start at the top of your project and work your way down. Take the time to work it into hard-to-reach places.
Tip: Sprinkle a light coating of sawdust over the stripper just before you remove it. The sawdust thickens the stripper, making it easier to remove.
- Gently using a paint scraper or putty knife, remove as indicated on manufacturer’s instructions.
- Reapply the paint stripper to detailed or problem areas and use specialty scrapers to remove the softened material.
- Use light pressure on the scrapers to keep from tearing or gouging the wood.
- If you can’t find a contoured scraper, use the corner of a putty knife.
Heat guns are especially effective at taking off varnish and other finishes.
- With the heat gun running, point the nozzle at the work surface, keeping it about 2 inches away.
- Move the gun back and forth across the surface until the paint begins to bubble and blister. Stop if the finish begins to smoke.
Safety: Because heat guns generate high temperatures, keep a fire extinguisher nearby, wear long sleeves to keep hot paint from skin and turn off the heat gun when not in use.
Tip: Special paint scrapers with angled blades work better than most ordinary scrapers.
- Hold the putty knife at about a 30-degree angle and use it like a plow to push the old paint away. Avoid gouging the wood.
Sanding off old finishes is efficient, but must be done carefully to avoid wood damage.
- Thoroughly clean the painted surface with degreasing cleaner, dish soap or household cleaner. If necessary, remove any knobs, hinges or other metal hardware from the wood.
Safety: Wear safety goggles and a face mask. Avoid using sanders indoors.
- Apply sandpaper with a hand sander or sanding block to the surface, using enough pressure to remove the paint but not so much that it damages the wood.
- Use 180-grain sandpaper on most coats, but switch to a coarser, 80-grain paper when removing thick globs of old paint.
Whether you want to uncover the original grain of some antique furniture or treat the surface of a wooden fixture with a fresh coat of paint, varnish or stain, removing paint from wood can be easily done with a little elbow grease. Chemical strippers, heat guns or sanders can reveal the wood’s true colors.