Last updated on March 9, 2021
Removing paint from wood is a common task for builders, DIY’ers, and home improvement hobbyists and professionals. Stripping paint from wood is often necessary when recycling materials or tidying up an old paint job. You may also need to remove paint from wood in older homes where lead paint was used.
But removing paint isn’t always an easy task. Knowing how to remove paint from wood is equal parts science and art. Frequently, the best way to remove paint from wood isn’t what you might expect.
While some projects may need nothing more than a good scraper and a bit of elbow grease, some paint may need more aggressive paint strippers for wood.
The most commonly used tools for the job are scrapers. Stubborn coatings may require the use of a heat gun, which softens the layers of paint and varnish so that they are easier to remove with a scraper.
Paint removing gel can be an effective paint remover for wood. These substances dissolve the paint so that it can be easily scraped off without producing paint dust or paint chips.
Keep in mind that even if you do know how to strip paint from wood, it might be necessary to have a professional handle the job.
If you have lead paint, it poses many serious health risks, and removing paint without the proper equipment and know-how could expose you to these risks.
1. Remove paint using a heat gun and scrapper
For surfaces where the paint can’t be removed easily with a scraper, it might be necessary to use a heat gun. These are hand-held devices that direct heat to the layers of paint, causing them to bubble up and peel away from the surface of the wood. The paint then becomes much easier to remove with a scraper.
Here’s how to strip paint with a heat gun and a scraper:
2. Remove paint using paint removal gel and scrapper
If you don’t have a heat gun, you could use a paint removing gel instead. Like liquid paint strippers, these gels dissolve paint and make them come off easier when stripped with a scraper.
The difference is that gels cling to the surface and don’t drip, so they can be used on vertical as well as horizontal surfaces.
Here’s how to remove paint with paint-removing gel and a scraper.
3. Remove paint with a belt sander
Removing paint is quick with a belt sander, but very messy. Make sure you never sand lead-based paint more on removing lead-based paint below.
If you want to quickly remove paint from wood on the floor, or on boards that you can lay down flat on a workbench, or saw stools, then a belt sander with a high or medium-sized grit can strip back paint fast.
Keep in mind that you will also remove a large amount of wood when using an aggressive tool like a belt sander. So for preparing timber for paint rather than stripping it right back, you should use an orbital sander instead.
4. Remove paint with an electric plane
An electric planer isn’t the go-to way to strip back paint, but if you are stripping boards that are less than the width of an electric planer, and you don’t mind taking off a bit extra timber this is a very quick way.
You can quickly set the depth adjustment dial to the minimal amount, you can then swipe off the paint. You would, however, want to use an electric sander afterward to tidy things up.
Instead, paint over top of the old paint
You don’t always have to remove old paint. If you are using the same color as the old paint, you can simply paint over it. If the new color is close enough to the previous one, you might not even need to apply primer.
If you are going to paint over a previously painted surface, it’s a good idea to clean it first to remove dirt, grime, and grease. Some people opt for water blasting, which involves directing a high-pressure jet of water to the surface to clean out any residue.
You may also consider using a belt sander, which removes loose paint and scrapes away any that is left on the surface, or for a less aggressive approach an orbital sander is a fast and effective way to prepare for a new coat, Or you could use a paint-removing-wheel on an angle grinder for quick smooth results.
It would be best to apply two coats of the new color. It may be necessary to apply more coats if the previous color is darker than the newer one. If you do decide that you will need to apply two or more coats, consider using a primer for your first layer, which is cheaper than colored paint.
1. Prep for paint by hand with sandpaper
Sanding by hand is a slow painful job, sometimes it an option on small areas, and around joinery, but please do yourself a favor and use an orbital sander or a multi-tool with a triangular sanding head on small areas around joinery, and wear a mask to avoid breathing in any dust.
2. Prep for paint with a sandblaster
Preparing metal and wood surfaces for a new coat of paint can sometimes be done with a high-powered water blaster or sandblaster.
The best way to remove paint from a metal roof is to use a high-powered sandblaster. This can be a hired service that can actually strip your old roofing back to bare metal really quickly. However,
I recommend using an angle grinder with an appropriate paint stripping wheel afterward to finish off the small areas that wouldn’t blast off that can be left behind after the water blasting is complete.
For wood, you are better of using an orbital sander, but a water blaster can be used on outside furniture or decking that has mold that needs to be removed.
Personally, I don’t like how unfinished and painted, outside timbers can get mold and that’s why I recommend using water or oil-based stain on all outside timbers used in, decks, retaining walls, and fences.
Unlike paint, wood stain can be reapplied in 5 years without any preparation, other than an optional water blast. And stain just looks a lot better than paint.
3. Prepping paint using an orbital sander?
An orbital sander is the best way to prep an old timber surface ready for a quick clean coat.
An orbital sander is available in both a corded and cordless model, both work well, but a cordless model frees you from being tethered to a power outlet. Ruffing up the wood surface with an orbital sander with fine-grit sandpaper is much quicker than sanding by hand while leaving a smoother surface on your weatherboards or furniture ready for a fresh coat of paint.
Orbital sanders are more effective than water blasting for prepping timber surfaces.
A belt sander is too powerful, by that I mean any half-decent model will take big chunks of timber off too quickly, making your timber surface unintentionally uneven.
Instead, an orbital sander is more gentle and with the rotating function, it will help keep the surface being sanded, evenly flat with no gouges that can be made on the edges of a belt sander or sanding by hand.
If you would like more information on the best orbital palm sander click here for my advice.
4. Prepping for paint with a paint stripping wheel
An 18v angle grinder or a corded electric angle grinder can be fitted with a special paint stripping wheel, designed to make stripping back paint in corners and hard-to-reach spots easy, this can come in handy for on metal also.
Removing paint from tricky areas can also be done with a tool called a multitool, with a sanding head attachment. There are also a few specialized sanding tools for hard-to-reach spots using the same design as a belt sander but with a much smaller and narrower belt.
Does vinegar remove paint from wood?
Vinegar is surprisingly effective at removing paint. It is inexpensive and readily available in most homes. More importantly, vinegar is an environmentally friendly solution that doesn’t produce toxic chemicals or dangerous fumes.
Although the smell can be off-putting for some people, the good news is that it won’t stick around for too long.
Vinegar works best if you heat it a bit before applying. You can heat some on a stovetop or in a microwave oven just until it is warm. Apply the heated vinegar to the painted surface and let it soak in for about 15 minutes.
The paint should be easy to remove with a scraper by then. If not, simply apply more vinegar and repeat the process.
What you need to know about lead-based paint
Paint removal is generally a simple and straightforward process, and it is relatively safe. However, lead-based paint is a different story. Lead can cause serious health problems in children as well as adults, particularly if it is inhaled or ingested.
Whenever you have to deal with lead-based paint, it is vital to take extra precautions. And never let yourself or others breathe dust or vapors made from sanding lead-based paint.
Depending on the country you live in there might be restrictions on doing this job yourself. But the safest method to remove lead-based paint is to use a specifically designed paint removing stripping gel that doesn’t let lead vapors or dust become airborne when applied and being scrapped.
How dangerous is sanding lead paint?
Sanding off or scraping off lead paint produces dust and paint chips, which easily make their way into the air you breathe. If you are working in such an environment, there is a good chance that you will breathe in a considerable amount of these particles. Long-term exposure to lead is known to cause many serious health problems, such as anemia and kidney and brain damage.
Lead exposure also poses a risk to other people in the home, particularly to children. Dust and fine particles of paint can make their way into the ventilation system and spread all over the house.
This is why it is essential to have professionals inspect your home for the presence of lead and to remove all traces of it as safely as possible.
How to identify lead-based paint?
The older a house or building is, the more likely it is that it has some lead paint. If the house was built , there is a good chance that lead-based paint was used on most of the interior and exterior.
Lead-based paint is commonly found in colored (orange) undercoats on old houses but could be found anywhere. It was used for its extreme durability and timber protection when used as a primer if you find external house paint that is years and years old and looks the same as it would when it was first painted you have to assume the paint might contain lead.
You could also purchase a home lead test kit, which has chemicals that change color when applied to lead paint. Although these kits provide a quick and inexpensive way to detect the presence of lead, they aren’t nearly as accurate as inspection or risk assessment by a certified professional.
Alternatively, you can collect paint samples and have them analyzed by a lab.
Can you paint over lead-based paint?
In some cases, you can simply paint over lead-based paint to keep residents of the house protected from exposure. If the previous coating of lead paint is still intact and in reasonably good shape, a fresh coat of paint over top should not be a problem as you are not creating any dust or vapor.
However, painting over lead-based paint is not always the best option. Depending on the old surface a new coating might not stick well, causing the new coat to peel or chip away over time, and you and your family could still be at risk of exposure in the future if the hazard is forgotten about.
In general, it is best to strip away the lead paint using safe and effective practices or to get rid of the lead-painted wood or furniture entirely by a professional.
Is it safe to remove lead paint with a heat gun?
The EPA has passed an RRP rule stating that lead paint should not be removed with a high-temperature heat gun. Like power sanding, planing, and scraping, heat guns produce paint chips that pose a risk of exposure to lead.
Heat guns are potentially riskier because, in addition to dust and chips, they also produce vapors that could endanger the health of children and adults.
Although you can safely use heat guns to remove other types of paint–with the proper equipment and precautions, of course–using them to remove lead-based paint isn’t advisable.
Can I remove lead paint myself?
Removing lead-based paint isn’t as simple or as straightforward as removing other types of paint. The paint chips and toxins that could be produced using commonly practiced removal methods could pose a serious health risk to workers and other people in the area.
In the U.S., the EPA’s RRP rule outlines a set of guidelines for the safe removal of lead-based paint. For one thing, only certified lead abatement contractors are legally allowed to remove lead-based paint.
The process involves permanently removing all traces of paint or sealing it securely with specialized materials. The paint dust and chips are then safely removed according to EPA guidelines.
A lot of contractors and even DIY’ers are a bit resentful about the implementation of RRP. Many feel that they should be allowed to remove lead paint in their homes if they want. But the EPA has imposed these rules to protect the interests of the public.
There is simply too much risk involved in removing lead-based paint via standard methods, so it would really be in you and your family’s best interests to hire a professional to do the job.
How to protect yourself from lead paint?
When you are working around any material that is hazardous in dust form always wear an appropriate dust or vapor protection mask, and overalls that can be thrown away, instead of being mixing with potentially contaminated, clothes, with your normal load in the washing machine.
Firstly protecting yourself and your family from lead paint requires identifying the risk and addressing it as soon as possible. It is always best to hire a professional service to inspect your home thoroughly for the presence of lead paint and to remove it according to EPA regulations.
If you are planning a large-scale project in a home or property where you suspect lead paint has been used, avoid contact with paint dust and chips as much as possible.
Always wear filtered masks, suits, and gloves that are designed to prevent exposure to such materials and substances. Seal off any rooms where you will be working to prevent the toxins from spreading to the other areas of the house.
Finally, make sure to dispose of any potentially hazardous materials safely according to environmental guidelines.
Remember to always professionally identify any lead-based paint and remove it sensibly and safely and to your local laws. Lead-based paint was used in the past as it really does last a long time with no sign of wear and tear for years and years, but it is no longer used because of the danger that comes with inhaling lead vapors or dust.
It might be easier and more viable to paint a fresh coat over top of old coats of paint, and avoid the risk of exposure that comes with removing old paints. Unless of course, you want to remove it, then finding a specific paint removing gel that is safe to use with lead-based paints can be looked into, or finding a professional to do the job.
Preparing paint for a new coat is best done with a water blaster or an orbital sander while stripping paint is best done with a heat gun and a scrapper, as you can avoid the cost and chemicals that are in paint removing-gel, although the gel does work amazingly well for quickly removing old paint that is stubborn.
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