I can’t figure out how to write a post title about stripping that’s not a double entendre

But stripping is what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks or so in the seemingly never-ending quest to remove all lead- and VOC-based paint from the nursery. After several posts in the last year that made (Intentional? Unintentional?) stripping references, I can’t bring myself to do it again. I guess I’m growing up.

Important legal disclaimer for posterity: We have never tested our paint and have no confirmation that we have lead paint in our house and are therefore unaware that any exists when/if we sell this house one day, but it’s likely since it was painted (very poorly) between 1920 and 1980 many times.

Nursery window half strippedDSC_0030

After finishing the walls and using new low-VOC, lead-free paint, my attention turned to the trim around the closet, window, and door, and the 87 layers of paint caked on so thick that where there once were curves in the moulding, there is now only messy, ugly slopes of cheap paint erasing any memory of the graceful contours. After 5-6 nights working, a 12-hour day Saturday and about a hundred bucks in new tools, I’ve got the closet and window trim stripped and ready to re-paint.

Before – During – After (I’ve done a little more fine sanding since the last photo)

Nursery window trim - before
nursery window bottom casing

I skipped this in the guest bedroom and just painted over the trim again — which certainly looks better with fresh paint but still terrible to me — and I decided that I would do this room right. There was also the idea that I should take advantage of the time with no baby lungs present in the house to make dusty messes and clear out all the lead paint I can get to before June.

If I had one bit of advice to share with anyone else considering doing the same thing, other than “make more money than I do and hire someone else to do it,” it would be “make sure you have the right tools for the job.” It’s made all the difference here, though it sadly didn’t make it magically happen overnight. More accurately, I’d suggest that the axiom should be something like “the best tools + relentless hours spent using them + healthy dose of masochism = eventual success and inability to grasp anything with right hand for a week.” 

Actually, I did learn a few other things along the way to pass on for anyone else thinking of such a task.

Finding the right tools: When I first started stripping the banister on the stairs, I used a heat gun and whatever sandpaper I had in the shop. Which is probably why it’s still half-finished more than a year later. Finding the right tools is key. Through a bit of research and dumb luck, I found the right combination for me, though it could be different for you. I used a borrowed heat gun with 5-in-1 tool to get the bulk of the paint off, sometimes coming back for a second pass, this terrific Bahco carbide scraper with the wide 2.5-inch blade for all the flat surfaces (and some convex ones) which worked like a dream!, an Allway contour scraper (mostly with the narrow flat and round profiles) for all contoured or narrow flat areas, “1” steel wool for stubborn paint inside corners, my new Dremel with sanding/buffer wheel and flapwheel bits for areas needing heavier sanding and then 80-100 grit sandpaper for the last remaining rough spots and the edges.

A heat gun is fantastic for making the initial pass to remove the bulk of the paint, but be careful about threading. This is where the wood softens up from the heat and you can easily gouge a line in it even with a dull 5-in-1 scraper. You can see one of my d’oh moments in the second picture above on the underside of the sill with a big fat gouge. By the time I get to finishing up the door trim (covered in Peel Away as we speak), I’ve done this enough that I’m sure it’s going to turn out better than the previous two items.

Below: The siding of the window after scraping the flat surface with the Bahco scraper, and then the siding after finishing and sanding last night.

Nursery window side casingDSC_0031

Peel-Away: This is a fantastic product that I discovered via Alex and Wendy at Old Town Home. It’s perfect for lead paint removal, because it turns the paint to a liquidy, gooey solid with no dust or toxic vapors. Peel-Away does mean less dust but not zero dust. You’ll still generate dust at some point when scraping out moulding corners/contours and sanding it all down, but it’s certainly far less since the first big batch of paint comes off in gooey solid form without being baked and crisped by the heat gun and then broken into a billion small particles when you step on the cooled chunks. The only downside is that taking the Peel Away off is a bit of a mess, and then you have to spend time cleaning and neutralizing the wood before painting. I used it for the first time on the closet trim, while sticking with the heat gun for the window trim, just to see how the processes would compare. Make sure you use Peel-Away 6 or 7 if you’re planning on staining the wood when you get done. 1 is the strongest stuff, and it discolors the wood in places, which means ugly stained wood.

Looking back on the 3 bedrooms we’ve renovated (or are renovating) in the last 15 months, every single one has been done better than the last. Things that were skipped in our master bedroom or done poorly were corrected in the 2nd bedroom. And the same for the nursery compared to that bedroom I finished in October.

Which leads me to this painful realization: I totally understand and can relate to how some folks end up renovating all over again, starting right where they began 3 decades before after they’ve “finished” all of the big projects they set out to do. And I’m sure in a year, something about this nursery project will nag at me. The unfinished life of a renovator, apparently.

Tonight I’m hoping to stop by (now-opened!) Annie’s Ace Hardware and pick up a few things and start priming the window and closet trim. Also in the last few days, I scraped all of the wallpaper in the closet, taped and mudded the cracks, skimmed the walls, and got it all ready for paint (and new shelves!) The finish line is right around the corner! Coming soon: the big nursery reveal!

Pre-closing: small bedroom
Nursery closet scraped 50%DSC_0028

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