Stephanie Staton
October 15, 2013

Saving original farmhouse details, such as wood mouldings and fireplace surrounds, might sound like the cheapest option during a renovation, but that isn’t always the case. We are dedicated to keeping the original period features we fell in love with at first sight, but it isn’t without its challenges.

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After pulling decades’ worth of nails from the carefully salvaged wood, the wood still needed layer after layer of sealant removed. While painting over it sounds like a good idea, the sealant still needs to stripped to allow the paint to adhere properly. In other words, you don’t want to watch your hard-earned paint job peel off at the first sign humidity. The heavy layers (read: thick, runny applications) would gum up the paper with straight sanding, so the only option that remained was to start with a chemical applications to scrape off the bulk of it.

I had been told that it was possible to take the wood to have it dipped in a solution that would eat it away. This wasn’t an option in our area. While it’s something to consider and investigate if stripping a large amount of wood at one time, what I could find about it warned that old wood, particularly softer woods like the pine that made up our moldings, might not hold up to the harsh chemicals. Because this wasn’t an option, we’re doing it the hard way: One piece at a time.

I found an eco-friendly stripping product, and against the retail salesperson’s advice that “eco products really don’t work,” I decided to give it a try. After painting the orange-pink goop onto the wood, you could immediately see it eating at the layers as they seemingly boiled and bubbled under it. I was tempted to start scraping that stuff off—don’t! This is where I think these products get a bad rap.

The only thing we did different from the instructions was to “touch up” areas that seemed to dry out quickly with a second application before letting the remover sit the minimal time (or longer) recommended by the manufacturer. The result: It was almost fun (I said, “almost”) to watch years’ worth of polyurethane and whatever else had been applied to the wood just glide away with each pass of the scraper. Because we weren’t using the proper scraper—I knew I was forgetting something—we had to take great care to avoid gauging the wood but were decidedly sold on the product’s efficacy. This technique continues to work as we slowly work our way through the mountains of doors, jams and other mouldings.

After removing the varnishes from each piece, it gets a thorough sanding, wood filler for the major defects, a second lighter sanding and then a few coats of paint. When looking at it from a materials and labor perspective, this is not the most cost-effective option. It demonstrates, though, our love of this house and builds our appreciation for the details into which we have poured our sweat, along with the occasional blood and tears.

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