Photo Pool Challenge: Stripping Wood


Turns out stripping and restoring wood is much easier and more affordable than we had thought. We stripped a lot of bead board a few years ago ourselves. It took forever and didn’t really work, so we weren’t sure if we would ever get around to restoring the woodwork on the parlor floor. Our little 1890s two family is all pine. It was originally stained and varnished to look like mahogany throughout the house, with faux oak graining in the dining room. Utility areas such as halls and bathrooms are covered in bead board, which was stained dark brown (adding a kind of Berkeley, Calif., Arts & Crafts look). Enter the professionals who actually know what they are doing. We started small with a little back hallway connecting our bedrooms and bathroom. It took the professionals about a day. At $45 an hour for two people, this is well worth it as far as we are concerned. We could not be more pleased with the results. We were lucky because it turned out there was only one layer of latex on top of the original shellac or varnish. They used Zip Strip followed by denatured alcohol. (If there had been layers of lead paint, it would have taken longer.) This can only be done with the windows open, so we’re going to wait until the spring to do more. Then we plan to hire a consultant to tell us how to restore the original finishes throughout the house (including some gilded polychrome picture moldings!). If you decide to go this route, it’s best done at the beginning of a renovation, before skimcoating or floor refinishing. If that’s not an option, protect floors with masonite if possible or at least vinyl coated wallpaper, since Zip Strip removes polyurethane. The paint goo will get all over the walls, and there’s not really much you can do about it, except repaint. Above, the freshly stripped woodwork. Below, the same door before stripping. Has anyone else stripped their woodwork or is thinking of it? What was your experience and what method do you prefer? Please post stories and photos here.

Below, the open closet door shows the original faux-mahogany staining. It is matte, so perhaps it is unvarnished. The exterior woodwork was shiny.

 

Below, a hinge with the original Japanned finish in red brown or black to match the faux mahogany. Unfortunately, some goo got onto this hinge so it doesn’t look quite as pristine as it did before the woodwork was stripped. It’s kind of a funny modern-Art Nouveau kind of design, don’t you think?

Freshly stripped woodwork in the hall. (The tops of the door surrounds are missing their crown moldings.)

 

23 Comment

  • USGrant

    wow. I didn’t know that this could be done so cheaply. these woodwork moldings (the “before” shots) look exactly like mine – if you live in Bed-Stuy, Cate, it’s possible that your house was constructed by the same prolific home-builder, Wilfred Burr.

    • nalusurf

      Looks beautiful! As sewardwasright pointed out, I notice some very similar details (i.e.-the partial flower detail at top left corner of the door). I, too, am curious about the architect as we are purchasing a home in Bed-Stuy that has these very same flower piece details. Thanks!!

    • Cate

      We do live in Bed Stuy. Thank you for this clue. I don’t know who the builder is, but I’ve seen rentals online with our dining room wainscotting and parlor mantel — all located near the Chauncey J stop. Do you have the same hinges, by any chance?

  • catboot

    Stripping wood has been my primary DIY project for the past year. I stripped the entire top-floor pine floors which were covered with many layers of paint (not lead, luckily). Had to strip the floors before sanding as the paint kept gooping up the sander. Went through several buckets of PeelAway 6 and a lot of knee and elbow cartilage. The floor project took about a month and was incredibly boring, but it was well worth it. I’m now stripping the fireplace mantels and the shutters. PeelAway is still my go-to product because it’s supposedly non-toxic. I’m sure there are products that work better, but I’m hoping not to grow another head in the process. Generally I use a combination of PeelAway 6 (or 7), mineral spirits and denatured alcohol. I try to use the low VOC type and work in a well ventilated area. My biggest challenge has been locating the proper tools for picking paint off the nooks and crannies. Dental tools are often too pointy and can scar the wood. Seeing the finial results is incredibly satisfying. Can you share the contact info for the contractors you used?

  • catboot

    We have the same hinges (not a lot of them left, mostly they are broken), but our woodwork pattern is different. We’re in Bed Stuy east by Halsey J stop. We were told that our house may be Amzi Hill and son.

  • catboot

    We have the same hinges (not a lot of them left, mostly they are broken), but our woodwork pattern is different. We’re in Bed Stuy east by Halsey J stop. We were told that our house may be Amzi Hill and son.

  • I’ve also undertaken a major stripping project at my house. I started with the doors, mantle and woodwork in the dining room, and I’m now working my way up the staircase. All of the wood is quarter-sawn oak, and it was covered with many layers of latex paint over oil-based paint over varnish. Below are photos of one of the doors before, during and after stripping. In the after photo, the door is stained, but not clear-coated. I haven’t decided on a final finish. Any recommendations (lacquer, varnish, shellac, Danish oil, etc.) would be appreciated.

    For the stripping work, I started with Back to Nature’s Multi-Strip (which is also supposedly non-toxic) to take off the many initial layers, and then I switched to Zip Strip for the stubborn little bits of paint stuck in the grooves of the moldings and door panels. The Multi-strip was messy and took forever, but it didn’t give off fumes and, unlike Zip Strip, if it accidentally landed on my skin I didn’t immediately have to run to a sink to wash it off before my skin started burning.

  • We are about to embark on a project like this in our house in Crown Heights. Any recommendations for the “the professionals” would be very much appreciated! This makes me so optimistic about the possible results — thanks for sharing Cate

  • Johanna

    I’ve done a great deal of refinishing work on my own house. Mostly on the parlor floor since it had beautiful cherry woodwork. I’ve tried all the products and I get the best results with Zip-Strip or Rock Miracle and denatured alcohol as a final wash. It’s awful work! I can’t stand doing it anymore! Your guys are super cheap!

    • Cate

      Whoa, Rick, that woodwork is stunning. Thanks, everyone, for these great stories. Keep them coming! Unfortunately, I can’t recommend specific contractors, etc., because I work for Brownstoner. Hope you understand. However, I can say that I did find them through other readers of this site, so if you ask, you may find them too. See if readers Amzi Hill and Commodore Stephen Decatur have some ideas. Catboot, amazing about the hinges! Oh — I have used Peelaway and Soy Gel myself, and I was quite happy with Soy Gel. For a non-professional like myself, it was easy to use and fast and not very toxic. I don’t think I could handle Zip Strip or that awful denatured alcohol — though if we get into refinishing, obviously I’ll have to. BTW, as long as the goo is still wet, there will be fumes, so be prepared. This is definitely a warm weather-only project.

      • catboot

        I was afraid of denatured alcohol until I found the Kleen-Strip Green stuff. It has almost no smell and does the job quite nicely. Works great to clean the sludgy mess that peelaway and mineral spirits leave behind.

  • NeoGrec

    Cate: Your stripped wood looks fantastic. But I’d like to suggest that it is NOT pine. Judging from the photo of the door hinge that offers a close up of the wood, I’d wager you have walnut. I appreciate that the color looks like pine, or even chestnut, but, from what I can see of the tight grain, I’m pretty confident it’s hardwood. The walnut woodwork in our circa 1880 Prospect Heights’s house was almost identical o your photos when stripped. It had also originally been finished with a heavy dark red/brown “mahogany” stain. Apparently walnut fell out of fashion around this time (the Victorians were absurdly faddish) and stained it too look like mahogany. We had it refinished using an oil-based stain in a much natural mid-range brown. I don’t have any photos at hand but, if I say so myself, it’s probably the best feature of our house. You might want to experiment with a little stain on a hidden area and see what the result is. Anyway, the stripping is the hard work so congrats on that!

    • Cate

      Grandarmy, now that you mention it, the grain on the parlor floor doesn’t look anything like the grain on the first floor, which is obviously pine. Hmm…..this is a most surprising development. Could it be that famous poplar? I have no idea what that looks like. This wood has almost no visible grain at all. The color is probably not so helpful to ID the wood. I think it’s just leftover stain from the faux mahogany finish.

      • NeoGrec

        You may think your house is not “grand” enough to have hardwood but it could be! Often in smaller brownstones the hardwood only appears on the parlor floor so that matches up. Not sure about poplar — I don’t think the Victorians used it. More of a nasty 20th century development.

        • Cate

          I was thinking exactly that — our house isn’t grand enough! Would be very exciting if it were something fancy. Though I am really digging what it must have looked like once upon a time with the three contrasting wood finishes, the fireplace faux painting, and the gilded polychrome, not to mention the Lincrusta entry. I don’t know how that was painted, but I bet the colors were like the dining room in the vandalized Bushwick party house! (Those colors keep popping up here.)

  • Johanna

    It could be maple. I would do lots of tests with stain to see what you like. The proper stain will bring out the character and grain of the wood. The new gel stains are fantastic. I have not used minwax penatrating stains since quality gel stains are available.

    • NeoGrec

      If it was maple, I believe the stripping would have left it much much lighter in tone — almost blonde. Zip Strip removes all the stain and then some. Our walnut looked identical to Cate’s photos before we restained it. I had the same conversation with neighbors of a house in the same row as ours. The woodwork had been stripped but never refinished by the previous owner. When they moved in, they couldn’t believe it was walnut because it seemed too light to them. Those chemical strippers can really bleach the natural color out.

    • NeoGrec

      If it was maple, I believe the stripping would have left it much much lighter in tone — almost blonde. Zip Strip removes all the stain and then some. Our walnut looked identical to Cate’s photos before we restained it. I had the same conversation with neighbors of a house in the same row as ours. The woodwork had been stripped but never refinished by the previous owner. When they moved in, they couldn’t believe it was walnut because it seemed too light to them. Those chemical strippers can really bleach the natural color out.

  • Looks great! Are you leaving the wood bare or are you going to seal it with a wax or oil?
    Also, Can you please post who did the work as I’m about to embark on a similar project.
    Thanks.

  • Looks great! Are you leaving the wood bare or are you going to seal it with a wax or oil?
    Also, Can you please post who did the work as I’m about to embark on a similar project.
    Thanks.

  • rf

    Beautiful, Cate! I’m so glad that you are being careful; you don’t need to be inhaling petrochemicals!

  • Awesome woodwork and a very nice job stripping. It doesn’t look at all like maple to me, but looks like some of the doors in a park slope house I stripped that are poplar and dates from 1895. It’s also possible it’s walnut, though it seems just a little light. It’s hard to tell, but both of those seem like good guesses.

    On finishing, I’ve tried a variety of things. Pratt and Lambert makes a waterborne varnish that is dull (as opposed to satin) which looks natural. I prefer a surface that is a close to the bare wood as possible. More recently I have switched over to Minwax wipe on poly, believe it or not. It’s easier to work with, also gives a natural surface and is very easy to do touch ups to if an area gets scratched and you need to lightly sand and refinish a small area as it matches in to the surrounding area perfectly.

  • Johanna

    I guessed maple because the top photo clearly shows and amber color and tight grain. My house is full of hard maple and it looks just like that. Just the same it is a hard wood of some sort and will finish really nicely.