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Stripping wooden doors - tools & techniques

Date posted: 30 August 2012

Stripping interior wooden doors is a fairly common DIY task; one undertaken by thousands of us who either want to prime the door for a new coat of paint or are looking for that “shabby chic” look.

Interior doors are often overlooked when it comes to interior design. A lot of us just consider interior doors to be functional objects; providing a barrier between two or more areas of our home. However doors can both compliment the interior theme you are working with or in some cases actually act as the focal point for the room.

Getting doors to this stage is however another matter and one we will discuss in this article. There are a number of different ways to strip a door of its paint, some more effective than others. This aims to highlight the different techniques that can be applied and the tools you will need to succeed.

Special mention – lead paint

Before you attempt to remove paint it is important that you check to see if it is lead based. A very high proportion of all paints used between the 1930s and 1970s contained lead, which if sanded or stripped using heat based techniques can be highly toxic. If in doubt err on the side of caution.

Liquid/gel/paste based Paint Stripper

Image source: http://www.house-painting-info.com/image-files/wood-refinishing-stripping-paint.jpg

Required equipment:

  • Stripping agent
  • Protective eyewear
  • Respirator (methylene & solvent)
  • Gloves – chemical grade (methylene & solvent)
  • Old work wear
  • Protective apron
  • Old paint brush
  • Paint scraper – flat & triangular
  • Old toothbrush
  • Rinse (to get rid of chemical residue)

An extremely economic and successful method of stripping interior paint from doors is to use liquid, gel or paste based stripping agents. These liquid agents are available in a number of forms, using a host of different chemicals and all have varying levels of toxicity, the main ones are:

  • Methylene chloride – works from the bottom up. Is highly effective but equally toxic, be very careful with fumes and always work outside.
  • Solvent-based stripper – more potent than ‘safe’ stripping agents but not as powerful as Methylene based products. Should still be applied outside and is obviously highly flammable.
  • "Safe" stripping agents – ok for use inside with minimal protective equipment. Can take up to 24hrs to work.

Heat guns

  • Required equipment:
  • Heat gun
  • Old sheet
  • Molding scraper
  • Putty knife
  • Old work wear
  • Protective apron
  • Fan


Possibly the technique most associated with stripping paint, the temperature (1000 degrees+) typically makes easy work of the paint adorning wooden doors. Heats guns work best on doors which have a heavy coating of paint; the thicker the paint the more effective this technique is. If your door only has a thin coat of paint; consider using liquid (gel, paste etc) agents.

It is also worth stating again that lead paint and heat guns result in a highly toxic vapour. Ensure you check and double check the paint prior to beginning. We always suggest you practice using the heat gun on an area of the door prior to moving onto the main area, as with all DIY projects there is a definite skill to getting the distance from the wood and duration of application right.

Mechanical & hand sanders
 

 Image source: http://img.diynetwork.com/DIY/2007/07/23/ddsl204_door_sanding_lead.jpg

Required equipment:

  • Sanding tool of choice: domestic plate/sheet sanders, belt sander, drill attachment, orbital sander, corner sanders & drum sanders
  • Old sheet
  • Protective eyewear
  • Respirator
  • Molding scraper
  • Putty knife
  • Old work wear
  • Protective apron
  • Sand paper (various grades)

Mechanical and hand sanders use good old fashioned abrasion to remove layers of paint. For this reason they are probably the messiest technique out of the three; an unpreventable film of fine dust will cover everything. Using sanders is however the least dangerous out of the three techniques; attention should again be paid to lead content, but otherwise there are limited dangers.

The style and period of your door will dictate whether sanding is a viable option for you. Some period doors are simply too intricate in their design and as a result would be too time consuming for sanding to be an option. If your door is older care should be taken so as to not remove too much of the outer layer; belt sanders can be especially powerful.

There is however a connection with your project that you gain from sanding. Whilst other methods are fairly uninvolved, sanding requires a very hands-on approach.

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