Stripper Mama and Strip Monster

Moulding under 100 years of paint
My husband and I have recently dubbed ourselves Stripper Mama and Strip Monster. Over the past month, (when I first drafted this post it was "past week") we have been stripping as though our lives depend upon it. Our lives do not, but finishing a livable space in our new home does. Stripping is a messy business, so until the trim is done we can’t sand and finish the floors, lest stray stripper strip our pretty new floors as well.

We have two areas of gorgeous crown moulding, 4 pieces of oak trim built into each other to create a dramatic transition from wall to ceiling. These two areas are the 12’ x 16’ dining room and the 5’ x 7’ entryway. (I just checked my room dimensions list and realized that I knew the exact measurements from memory. Happily I am getting to know my house quite well.) In addition to the moulding we have five door frames that were painted over countless times. Restoring it all back to the original oak was one of the jobs we considered bidding out, thinking it would be faster for someone else to do it. But the quotes I got were in the several thousands. And now after weeks of stripping, we know why! I do not begrudge you your trade, dear wood restorers of the world. You deserve every last cent of those thousands; I simply can't afford you! So, we rolled up our sleeves, studied the masters, and went to work.

You can read about stripping paint with a heat gun here. You will note that was back in October. Looking back and realizing that I thought THAT was time consuming now seems silly. While we've never attempted tracking the amount of time we've given to stripping, (best guess is 2 hours per linear foot) I attempted to count the steps:

1. Use a heat gun to remove surface layers of paint and scrape off with a putty knife as you go.
2. Apply stripper (Citri-Strip is amazing) with a paint brush to remove what the heat gun didn't get.
3. Let it set up to 24 hours. Scrape off with a putty knife. If it's pigment based stain you will quickly have a a mess of of what looks like melted chocolate ice cream or dark molasses.
4. Apply a light layer of Citri-Strip.
5. Lightly spray with  good old fashioned isopropyl alcohol, and then gently scrub the stain out of the wood grain with a copper bristle brush. Wipe clean.
6. Repeat steps 2 - 5 where necessary.
7. If working with dye based stain: Apply bleach (Requires a special grade - we used pool cleaner). Let it set for an hour.
8. Wipe it down with water and scrub where necessary to make sure no bleach is left in the wood.
9. Repeat step 7 - 8 if necessary.
10. Apply peroxide (Sally's Beauty Supply for the win. We essentially bought hair bleach. They said people buy it all the time to bleach deer sculls and their dog's hair. You want your dogs hair lighter? Really?) and let it set as needed.
11. Wipe and scrub it down with water to make sure no bleach is left on the wood.
12. Repeat steps 10 - 11 if necessary.
13. Apply linseed oil to restore luster.
14. Apply polyurethane finish.
Testing the bleach on the moulding. 
15. Sand.
16. Apply polyurethane finish.
17. Sand.
18. Apply polyurethane finish.

Ta-da! You're done. That was easy...? We recently met some neighbors who are also rehabbing their home. However they are going more for finishing than restoring. When I was asking them for stripping tips the husband said, "Why don't you just paint it all white?" Because I can't. I realized that as we spoke I was referring to the dining room as "she," and "her." I've spent a lot of time with her, and frankly, there's no way I could quit halfway through the process and paint. The wood is too beautiful to cover up and we're willing to do the time to bring it back to life. And after this experience I don't know that I'll be able to paint or stain anything ever again! Not now that I know what it takes to undo it.

From childhood I always dreamed of making an old home new again. I have to say I had no idea what it would take. I do have days where I am overwhelmed by it all. The work is so slow it's sometimes hard to realize progress. Until last weekend when I was scrubbing wood grain and looked over to realize my husband was applying the first coat of poly on a door frame. It was kind of like seeing crocuses in spring. That brief heart skip of joy and hope - we're almost there.


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