Taking it all off: To strip, or not to strip?March 5, 2009
So, among the many house projects I’ve been chipping away at this month is this one, which has involved some literal chipping:
So the thing is, I wasn’t actually supposed to be working on this right now. D. had tentatively endorsed this as a project for next year, and even at that was somewhat lukewarm on it. But then a funny thing happened: we had a handyman out to help plane down the front door so that it would close properly, which involved taking it off its hinges. Turns out that this can get tricky when hinges are painted over. The best solution? Whack them with a hammer, apparently! (Or so says the handyman—but I must admit that it worked wonders.)
But the hinges weren’t the only thing that came loose. So did one giant chunk of paint on the door frame. In fact, it did more than come loose—it peeled right off. Neatly. Cleanly. Like it had been sitting there waiting to jump off for years. So then curiosity got the better of me, and with a six-way paint stripper (a handy little gadget that ran us under five dollars) I made short work of the rest of this section. The few sticky spots seem to be places where wood filler or putty had been used for old holes or imperfections; in every other area, the paint came pretty cleanly off of the wood without protest. (Interestingly, there are several layers of paint there, and only the newest is white. Below that is pastel green—which from all appearances seems to have been the color of our entire house, inside and out, at one point!—and gold.)
The tricky part, though, is that I got a bit overzealous with this and just kept going—on to the door, on to the baseboard woodwork. (I took this photo before I’d even started in on the panels—and in the process, I also took apart the door lock and sort of learned how a mortise lock works….or at least, figured out enough to put it back together again!) Then D. came home and started to worry. The thing is, he rather likes the look of the painted woodwork, and is very concerned that if any of the paint doesn’t come off, looking at it for the next however-many years will bug him to pieces. He’s also worried that stripping these down to the natural woodwork will darken these two rooms a lot. (Less a concern for the living room, I think, but unfortunately that’s the more difficult of the two rooms to finish since it involves the built-in and the fixed windows in the front.) The dining room also could do to have its plate rail replaced, so obviously the stripping question is a big one for that—I don’t want to install paint-grade trim and then decide to strip it all (or vice versa).
So what’s next? My original plan had been to give this wood a once-over with a heat gun from the tool library and then to scrub it with denatured alcohol to take off the shellac, which is pretty scratched up. In theory that should leave the stain clean and intact. But we have no idea what kind of shape the wood will be in once that’s done, and it will be hard to guess at how dark the rooms might be before the project is pretty well underway. (For whatever it’s worth, it looks like the wood in the living room is all red oak, though it’s hard to be sure at this stage. If our dining room woodwork matches our neighbor’s—which is likely, as the houses are mirror images built by the same family at the same time—then it’s elm panels framed by oak. The plate rail has been removed but was probably oak originally as well; there may or may not have been picture rail, too, since there are a few spots around the door frames where it looks suspiciously like the moulding has been cut.)
So should we go for the natural look, or simply repaint with lead-free paint (which would be progress in and of itself)? I admit that I’m drawn to the natural woodwork in part just because it feels more “authentic,” and D. may well be right that the rooms are more functional and light with the painted woodwork. Anyone have any good examples of woodwork that’s been stripped and come out beautifully that might convince me I can actually pull this off? Or are we likely to end up with all sorts of problem areas?
(Next up on the stripping calendar: the windows!)