First appeared in PROFESSIONAL REFINISHING MAGAZINE, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1998
BY DEAN CAMENARES
Through the years, architectural refinishing professionals have learned that solvents aren't the only answer when it comes to stripping wood for eventual refinishing. Along with the usual range of dental tools, sanding sticks, awls, sanding cords, screwdrivers, putty knives, toothpicks and paper clips (some of which are pictured at right) are some tools that should be part of the on-site stripper's armory:
Helpfully, these devices have taken the place of open-flame torches for the removal of paint and they can be exceptionally effective at removing the toughest old paints and the latest epoxies. (They do nothing, however, with varnish, shellac or lacquer.) Heat guns blow out a stream of 700 to 1,100-degree air that will soften and wrinkle up just about any painted surface for easy scraping. Their use is quite labor intensive: An operator has to work the heat gun and scraper inch by inch, foot by foot with an ever-present risk of scorching the wood. For all that, the biggest drawback with heat guns is a hidden one: Superheating the area behind the woodwork you're stripping can cause old insulation, dried-out boards or insect or rodent nests to smolder and ignite, sometimes hours later, to create a real disaster. The potential for such terrible results are real enough to give guns a thumbs down unless you have absolute control over your work i't ing conditions.
All scrapers are not alike, which is something to keep in mind in recognizing that one of the most efficient ways of scraping paint from wood is to pull scrape it rather than push scrape it When you pull a scraper towards you, It is much less likely that it will gouge the wood surface. This allows you get more of the old finish off with each pass of the blade. Of all the designs of pull scrapers we've used, none compare with the Sandvik from Sweden. This handy tool, which is available in many hardware stores, is designed with a unique curvature that enhances the torque you apply when scraping. And because they have carbide-steel blades, the result is almost like planing the wood. Of course, irregular surfaces need special care; overall, however, I recommend pull scraping as much as possible before using any other method.
It may not seem like it at first but one of the greatest tools for really cleaning old woodwork is a steelbristle "toothbrush". The value is in the particular flex that seems to he found only In these small wire brushes. They are firm enough to move the finish off the surface, but not so strong that they'll scratch. On our projects, we use them by the hundreds. And contrary to some reports, steel bristles are better than brass bristles because they won't discolor wood the way brass can.
(Dean Camenares is a pioneer and technical authority on interior architectural wood stripping, refinishing and general restoration. He is the principal of East End Woodstrippers.)