Coming to Terms with Paint Removal
I spent a lot of time doing my paint scraping dance on the top of a ten-foot step ladder the other night, and I couldn't help but think of poor Chris. In particular, there was this comment he left on a previous post:
"I'm having to swiftly come to terms with the idea of dry scraping as I'm going to have to do it to all of the exterior woodwork of the house. Any suggestions you have in terms of process would be hugely helpful I'm sure."
My first thoughts were pretty knee jerk. You know, the stuff most people would think of using for a project like this: hard liquor, hookers, and lots of wasp spray - unless they have something else in Canada. I don't know what you'd use to take care of a nest of Grizzlies roosting up on the eaves. A Gatling Gun maybe?
But, once I got past these superficial suggestions, I dug deeper into the philosophical meat of this problem. It occurred to me that there is one central fallacy around which everyone bases their approach to paint stripping or scraping: that there is a good and easy way to strip off old paint.
The stark and central truth is there is no good way to strip paint. None.
No, actually I lied. If you have money to burn, you can hire a whole team of trained monkeys scrape your house clean and sit out in the yard under a shade tree drinking mint juleps and reading the newspaper. That is easy. Well, conditionally. We're assuming that the monkeys actually know what they're doing and come to work.
Each and every method of paint removal suck in their own way. What you have to find is the method you prefer to use, learn to do it well, and just get it over with. Divest yourself of the idiot dream, the Easy Way, and embrace the truth in all its filthy glory.
Over the years we’ve work on the Old Whore, we've experimented with a number of different paint removing methods: spray-on stripper, paint-on stripper, heat guns, UV strippers, sanders (hand sanding, orbital, random orbit, palm, etc), grinders, eco-friendly strippers, and dry-scraping. And, do you know what I've found? If I had spent all that time actually scraping paint and not dicking around with the newest path of enlightenment, I'd probably have finished long ago.
I find that all paint removal techniques have four components on which they may be rated: ease, mess, speed, and cost. I won't break these down any more than that (unless someone wants more detail), because they seem fairly straight forward to me. And, my final conclussion to date is: dry scraping is hard work but it is cheap, fast, and occasionally easy. The mess is unavoidable, just jump in and wallow in it.
One thing I have noticed is a correlation between ease and speed. For instance, a heat gun is pretty easy to use. You flip it on, heat the paint, it bubbles, and it glides right off with a pass or two of the scraper. But, compared to dry-scraping it is a very slow process. In my experience, dry-scraping goes roughly twice as fast (or more) for me, but it wears me completely out after a couple of hours. There is definitely a trade-off here.
Anyhow, here are my "big" dry scraping tips:
1) Use a scraper with a small blade. Sure, it will take more passes to strip the paint, but I find that they are easier to control (fewer gouges) and you can exert more pressure because of the smaller surface area.
2) Sharpen your scraper often. Depending on how tough the paint it, you may find it necessary to sharpen your blade every 5 to 10 minutes. It sounds like a hassle, but your muscles will thank you. It is soooooo much easier to scrape with a sharp blade.
3) Wear thick leather work gloves. If you are doing it indoors, wear a respirator or mask at the very least.
4) If possible, always go with the grain of the wood.
5) Manage your expectations. No matter how bad your paint is in, it will take a very long time to get it all off. Don't get discouraged, it can be done but it will take a while. Persistence counts.
6) Know when call in the big guns. Sometime you will find a section of paint that will not come loose no matter how much you dig at it. Save yourself some grief and time, and move on to Plan B. At this point, the heat gun is my back-up of choice. Unfortunately, since there are lots of gaps between boards into hollow walls full of 100 years worth of potentially flammable shit, I usually opt for spray-on chemical striper. Or, I might just take a sander to it and feather out the edges and paint over it anyhow. Below is a picture of some paint that would not turn loose on the foyer wall it. Took me longer to get it down to this than it did to scrape half of the foyer ceiling.
Now, as the final disclaimer, I will say that I haven't done too much exterior paint stripping, but, from what I can tell, all of the same principles apply. Also, you might check with Greg over at The Petch House. I can't remember for sure, but I believe he dry scraped the whole Petch House.
Hope this helps Chris. And, good luck.