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Stripping paint from old woodwork

Date posted: 6 February 2014

If you are redecorating an older house, one of the first jobs you often face is stripping off paint from the woodwork. It can prove to be a messy and time-consuming job, but with a few very accessible tools and materials you can speed up the process and achieve great results.

Essential paint stripping tools and materials

Before you start, you will need to buy a chemical paint stripper (for lead-based paint) and find an old paintbrush to apply it. You can use a heat gun to remove non-lead-based paint on flat, larger sections of wood such as doors or stair treads. It is less suitable for areas such as delicate mouldings which can easily get scorched and damaged if the gun is held in one place for too long. Older houses built before the 1960s may still have lead-based paint on the woodwork. Before you decide whether to use a chemical paint stripper or a heat gun, buy a home testing kit from your local DIY shop to check whether there is lead in the paint.

You will also need a pair of rubber gloves; a pair of safety goggles (if you need to strip areas overhead); and decorating tools such as a paint scraper, a coarse steel wool or a nylon scourer, and an old chisel for getting into tight corners. If you don't have all of these DIY tools you can usually hire them at affordable rates from your local tool hire centre.


Before you get started, put on some old clothes, a pair of gloves, and some goggles to protect your eyes. Remember to open the windows and doors to make sure the area in which you are working is as well-ventilated as possible, and switch off the heating. Spread some dust covers around the area to protect other surfaces.

Pour some of the stripper into a small container then screw on the lid to make sure it doesn't evaporate while you work. Dab a little of the chemical paint stripper over the old paint using a paintbrush. Work on an area no larger than about half a square metre at a time so that the stripper does not evaporate before you have had chance to scrape off the paint.

Paint stripping

Leave the paint stripper long enough to soften the paint, following the manufacturer's instructions. You should be able to gently scrape away the paint without damaging the wood. Test it every few minutes until it comes away easily.  Try to work with (along) the grain or wood to avoid scratching the wood's surface, removing paint from any mouldings, spindles or handrails with a shaped scraper or spokeshave, and coarse steel wool or a nylon scourer.


Once you have scraped off as much paint as possible, you need to neutralise the stripper with plenty of warm water or white spirit, depending on the maker's instructions. Rub over the surface with a nylon pad to clean off any remaining paint residue and leave the surface to dry completely for at least 24 hours before you repaint or varnish it.

Using a heat gun for larger, flat areas

If you decide to use a heat gun to tackle larger areas of flat wood such as doors, make sure you keep the nozzle approximately 5cm away from the wood's surface while you work, moving it from side to side to scrape off the melted layers. The extension lead should be fully unwound to avoid overheating, because heat guns use a lot of electric current. Heat shield attachments are available to fit onto the nozzle to protect glass from the heat while you are stripping wooden window frames.

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