Tips, Tricks, and Techniques on Removing Paint from Wood

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Removing paint from wood/wooden furniture

Painting furniture is fun and has become very popular in recent years. You can basically turn any old piece found on a curb or Craigslist into a modern or shabby chic one. But painting wood or furniture is one way of bringing it back to life. 

Sometimes it is worth trying to restore the beautiful wooden surface hidden under a layer of paint. Or simply removing old paint is necessary for the new paint to properly stick to the wood surface.

But removing paint from wood can be tricky, and you should know the best approach for your project. The method you’ll choose depends on the object(like a door or furniture or even old pallet project), the size of the project, and the result you want achieve(restoring wood surface/restaining or repainting).

Sanding vs. stripping vs. heat gun

There are three main ways of removing paint from wood. A physical scratching, aka sanding(by hand or with a sander), stripping – using a chemical solution to loosen the paint and then scratch it off the surface. And using a heat gun to loosen the paint and then scratching it off the wood. All of them include some type of labor, i.e., scraping or/and sanding at some point. 

How to remove paint from wood without chemicals

If you simply don’t feel comfortable using harsh chemicals or don’t have conditions to do it, you can follow two of the methods below. You can use a heat gun or sander to remove paint. 

Using a heat gun

Using a heat gun will help you if the painted surface has a lot of paint layers, and you want to get to the bare wood. Although I must say, it’s quite labor-intensive, it’ll speed up the whole process. 

It’s also safe in case the paint contains lead. You should be aware that you mustn’t sand lead-containing paint as this is a health hazard. You also must make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area, and you’re wearing a good quality respirator

Materials needed
How to use a heat gun to remove paint-step by step method
  1. Test the paint for lead
  2. Read all the instructions included with your model of the heat gun
  3. Make sure you work at a small area at a time
  4. Use safety goggles and a respirator(especially important if working with lead paint)
  5. Heat the paint until it bubbles. Use a special nozzle if available. Make sure you don’t burn the wood surface.
  6. Scrape the paint with a metal scraper
  7. Repeat if necessary(if you have a lot of paint layers)
  8. Sand the wood surface with a sander or sanding block, sponge starting with P120 and then P180

Using a sander

If you’re planning on repainting the surface, then you don’t have to remove every speck of paint from the surface. Scuff it enough for the paint/primer to be able to adhere to. 

However, if you want to restore/restain the wood, you’ll have to sand it all to the bare wood. Using a sander is viable when you have a lot of flat surfaces to do. I’ll speed up the whole process. Just make sure you pick the right tool for the job. If you’re not sure, check my article on the best sanders for removing paint.

For small objects and delicate surfaces and surfaces with a lot of details, you can always sand by hand using a sanding block or sponge. It’ll take a lot longer though so I’d consider using a paint stripper in this case. Make sure you test the paint for lead before you start!

Materials needed
How to use a sander to remove paint-step by step method
  1. Clean the surface with a cleaning solution or soapy water and let it dry
  2. Use the belt sander only for removing the paint
  3. Belt sanders are used for fast stock removal and are quite powerful but can be difficult to control. If you haven’t got any experience using one, I’d advise choosing a RO(random orbital) sander with variable speed.
  4. Choose coarse grit sandpaper for the sander like P80
  5. Change the sandpaper as soon as it gets dull
  6. Once you’ve removed, the paint change the sandpaper grit to P120 and make sure you sand along the grain
  7. Once the whole piece is sanded with P120 change the paper grit to P180
  8. If you plan on staining the piece, I wouldn’t go higher than P180-the stain might not take. You can use higher grits for sanding between finish coats.

Check out these articles if you want to learn more about wood sanding, sandpaper, and how to use sanders.
How to use on an orbital sander
Best sander to remove paint
Best sander for furniture
Wood sanding tips for upcycling and pallet projects
A quick guide to sandpaper for woodworking

How to remove paint from wood without a sander or a heat gun

While the methods above are reasonably effective, sometimes using a chemical stripper is necessary, like the surface has a lot of nooks and crannies. Or have loads of old paint layers. Or you simply don’t own either a heat gun or a sander. It’s also a way to go with lead paint removal.

Removing paint using a chemical stripper

When to strip wood/furniture

Using a paint stripper isn’t always necessary. I’d only use it in cases like:

  1. Removing paint to restore/restain wooden surfaces
  2. The paint I want to be removed contains lead
  3. The surface is covered in a lot of coats of old paint, and new paint won’t adhere to it even with sanding and priming
  4. The surface has a lot of detail, groves, etc.
When not to strip wood/furniture
  1. The surface going to be repainted
  2. The surface is mostly flat and can be sanded
  3. The surface has a few scratches
  4. If its painted- sand lightly and repaint.
  5. If it’s stained/sealed – use a wood scratch repair kit.
Choose the right type of paint stripper

There are a lot of paint stripping products available on the market. You can choose from a different form like liquid, paste/gel, or spray. Or different strengths like professional-grade ones. There are also products more natural with a low odor like the Blue Bear made from soybeans.

Word of caution

Before you go along with using a chemical solution to remove old paint, make sure it’s safe to use and doesn’t contain methylene chloride. This chemical is harmful, and most of the manufacturers stopped using it in their products. But please check anyway to be on the safe side.

Make sure you dispose of all used paint stripper/stripped paint and all the gunk properly according to safety regulations for your country/state. Especially if the paint contains lead.

Always use chemical resistant gloves, and safety goggles as chemical strippers can harm your eyes and skin. Use the respirator when working in poorly ventilated areas, especially working with chemicals like mineral spirits.

How to strip wood/furniture step by step

You’ll need some tools and materials for this process. Please have a look. The list includes links to the products so you can find them easily.

Materials needed

  • Thick rubber chemical resistant gloves
  • Face mask/respirator
  • Safety goggles
  • Paint strippers like Citristrip
  • Steel wool/wire brush
  • Mineral spirits
  • Paintbrush
  • Small bowl/metal bucket
  • metal scraper/putty knife
  • rags/tack clothes
  • random orbital sander or finishing sander
  • sanding sponge
  • Sandpaper
  • Vacuum(optional)
  1. Prep the space
    Before you start, make sure the area you’re working in can get dirty and messy. There are no carpeted floors, and the place is very well ventilated. Place a protective plastic sheet/drop cloth/old sheets/old towels on the floor.
  1. Prep the piece
    If the piece has any upholstery, make sure it is covered. Remove any hardware. You can sand the surface a little with coarse-grit sandpaper to make the remover work even better. But remember to check the paint for lead beforehand.
  1. Apply the stripper
    Fill a tin bucket with the paint stripper and the using a paintbrush apply it to the surface in a thick layer. Make sure you get all the nook and crannies. Then you have to wait for it to work as long as it says on the packaging. 
  1. Scrape the paint
    Now it’s the time for the elbow grease. Although most of the paint should come off easily, you still have to remove it using a plastic putty knife or a scraper. If you’re using a metal scraper, make sure you dull the sharp edges on a piece of sandpaper, so you don’t damage the wood. Unless you’re repainting the piece, then you can skip it. For all the groves, nooks use a wire brush to remove the paint. 
  2. Apply another coat of stripper
    Wipe the rest of the dissolved paint with an old rag and apply the second coat to the places you’ve missed or are more stubborn.
  3. Remove the rest of the paint (mineral spirits and wire brush)
    Once you remove the majority of the paint, use steel wool, a wire brush, or a putty knife and mineral spirits to remove the remaining pant in all the hard to get places, groves, corners, and crevices.
  4. Wipe it all with a damp rag and let it dry
  5. Sand the wood
    After you’re done with the stripper, it’s time to sand the surface. You can use either finishing/sheet or random orbital sander. If you have a lot of nooks and crannies, use a sanding sponge. Start with P120 and then switch to P180.
  6. Clean the surface
    You can either use a shop vac to remove the sanding dust or a damp rag. But Make sure to get it all; otherwise, you’ll end up with some dust particles in the stain/topcoat or paint.

How to remove paint stains from wood

Sometimes you only want to remove paint stains from the surface, not the whole paint coat. Below you’ll find some useful tips to help you with your task.

Water-based paint-fresh stain

For water-based paint, stains use water and a cloth to wipe it off while still fresh. If it doesn’t want to come off, use a cloth soaked with denatured alcohol instead. That should do the trick. Use gloves and eye protection as well as a respirator.

Oil based paint-fresh stain

If it’s an oil-based paint stain, wipe it off with a rag and mineral spirits.

Removing dried paint 

If you need to remove a dried paint stain, you can soften it with boiled linseed oil. Soak the rag with boiled linseed oil and press it on the stain leaving for 30-60 sec. Then wipe off. Make sure the cloth you’ve used with this oil is dried thoroughly before disposing of it as this oil can spontaneously combust.

If the stain doesn’t come off after soaking with oil, use a putty knife to remove the dried paint. Remove any stubborn residue with a linseed oil paste(boiled linseed oil and rottenstone. Mix the oil and rottenstone to make a paste and then using a cloth rub it onto the paint stain along the wood grain.

Summary

Removing paint from wood doesn’t need to be complicated nor difficult. Choose the right method for your project, follow the steps, and you should be good. The tools and products that you’ll use are also crucial to your success.

Whether you choose a mechanical or chemical way to get rid of paint from wooden surfaces, make sure you take all the safety precautions necessary to protect yourself. I hope you liked this article and that you got all the information needed to help you with your project. If you have any more questions, I’ll be happy to help. Just leave a comment in a box below. 

Don’t have time to read now? Pin it for later to your DIY tips board, thanks!

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