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The Best Way to Remove Paint from Wood

Inside: Tips for the best way to remove paint from old wood and how to strip veneer off old furniture. Tackling an old railing and more. 

It’s rare that we actually write about a full on how-to, but today – that’s what we’re doing. It’s also equally as rare for us to remove paint off wood, because let’s face it – for the past few months we’ve been painting a lot of things! Nevertheless, we’ve had some questions about the wood railing in our hallway, so we thought we’d explain how we did it.

While you’re here, you might also want to check out how we had our stairway completely updated with new spindles and railing in one day, and my best tips for removing veneer from old furniture. I test out using a heat gun and I have to say, it works beautifully.

Supplies to Remove Paint from Wood

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The best way to remove paint from wood (without a heat gun)

Recall back to the before pictures. The ledge was there, it was just hidden under layers and layers of paint. The irony is, it was the one piece of wood we thought would look lovely exposed – where the rest of the wood in the space was no where near as lovely and needed to be covered up.Upstairs Hallway BEFORE

First things first, we set about to see just how painted the surface was. Using a sander and a scraper, we both went at it manually. We managed to get a fair bit of paint off, but decided to speed things up by using this citrus-based, environmentally friendly, low-VOC stripper.

It says ‘pleasant smell’ right on the bottle. It’s not exactly pleasant, but it certainly didn’t require any masks or venting other than a few open windows. Basically, we poured this into a ceramic dish and slopped it on the painted wood with a synthetic bristle brush. It sort of has the consistency of face wash or moisturizer cream. We did wear gloves and eye protection though, just in case.

Within a few minutes the paint started to bubble up and get soft. You can see in this photo there were at least three layers of gunk on the wood – a green-beige, a soft white and a dark burgundy.

Then, while the wood is still gooey from the citrus stuff, scrape off the softened paint with a surface scraper. It’s best to apply pressure and pull the scraper rather than push. Hard to explain, but once you do it, it’ll make sense.

You’ll end up with a whole bunch of gross gobby bits of paint. We just wiped the surface with some paper towels and collected them all up and tossed them. Then we’d gob on more of the paint remover goop and wait another 15 minutes and repeat the process. We did it about three times.

From here, the most important step is to let your wood dry out. Then go at it with an orbital or palm sander with a low grit paper to really pull out any and all remaining pigment.

You’ll notice that we didn’t do the edges of the wood. That was deliberate because we didn’t want the paint thinner to drip all down the sides. So we ended up doing those sides separately with a much smaller brush. But we used the exact same method. And yes, we should have done this stripping BEFORE we painted the bead board. But, we didn’t even realize we wanted to strip the wood until everything was painted… so there were some touch-ups after all was said and done. Whoops. Oh well. Live and learn!

Once we went over the wood with the low grit paper (we used 50), we switched to a finer grit to smooth the surface out.

Then all we had to do was stain it and seal it! We wanted to match this wood to the stair treads as closely as possible.  First things first, we applied a thin coat of Minwax Wood Conditioner. This step is especially important when you’re working with a less than perfect surface. The conditioner helps the stain to soak in evenly and helps you get a more natural looking finish.

Then we applied two thin coats of Minwax Early American wood stain. We let each coat dry for about 4 hours. After the second coat, we used a clean, lint-free rag to apply wax sealant. Rub in circles with a bit of pressure and you should get good results!

At some point, we will paint out the rest of the orange-y colored bead board that lines the stair well and also do the stair treads to emphasize the awesome. But for now, this is where we are and that’s how we uncovered a hidden gem of reclaimed wood in our hallway.  🙂

So there you have it! The Secret to removing paint from wood!

It really is such a small thing that has made a big impact. Have you ever stripped a railing or banister or anything else for that matter? How did it go for you? Curious to know how many coats of stripper you needed to apply and what methods you used.

Other Methods for Removing Paint or Varnish from Wood

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