We get mail...removing trim

Category: Mailbag

Greg writes:

I bought an SPR, based partly on the positive review here. I have a house built in 1909 - it's a kind of Craftsman/Foursquare hybrid - I think the builder borrowed ideas from both styles.

I wanted to try stripping the multiple layers of paint off the door and window trim downstairs. My first thought was to remove the trim and do the stripping outdoors. So I pulled off the trim around one door and discovered that (as was apparently common) the plaster isn't really finished behind the trim - and it cracked and broke and crumbled as I removed the trim. So I had to repair that as well as refinish the trim.

So my next thought is to try to strip the trim around the next window while leaving it installed. I'm concerned, though, that I will have unsatisfactory results that way as well since I wont be able to get into the corners, etc.

My question: have you stripped door/window trim, and if so, did you leave it attached to the wall, or did you remove it?

Our answer:

Dear Greg:

Saving and reusing trim is a most satisfactory thing. It requires patience and time, but it is so worth it in the end if you have nice, original trim. To create brand new trim, OUCH! Cost and effort. So here is what we have done...

This weekend, I was carefully removing trim from the plaster walls...some walls are getting 5/8" blue board and some are staying original. I like removing trim because it is easier to strip.

The ideas here aren't my own. I learned a combo TV Show/Internet site lesson from Norm Abram and Tom Silva of This Old House for my technique. And then improvised a little bit as well. :)

I use the following tools:

- Thin, flexible paint scraper
- Thin end of pry bar
- Hammer
- Sharpie Marker (my favorite)
- Hacksaw with metal cutting blade

(Click for close-up picture...NOTE: In these photos, we are taking trim off of a wall that will be blueboard. But it works on plaster walls that you are trying to save too.)

Norm Abram taught me to work backwards...the last piece of molding put on is the first to go. Let me demonstrate on a small piece of molding.

This toe kick was the last piece of molding installed and it was installed in a certain order around the room. So I have to figure out where the last piece was put in place and work backwards.

I run my finger along the board to find out where it was nailed into place. I carefully set my paint scraper point between the toe kick trim and the trim lining the bottom of the wall. I try to position it to the right or left of a nail.

I do this up and down the trim border with light taps of the hammer on the paint scraper... making the gap wider and wider, sometimes slipping a thin piece of wood or linoleum between the scraper and the wood to prevent gouging or scratching.

Once the board is a half-inch or so away from the main trim, I insert a prybar BEHIND a piece of plastic tile or thin piece of wood to protect the bottom trim. I then pry up and down that line to gently wiggle the trim free.

DON'T use the claw of the hammer OR the prybar to leverage against the plaster...that will ruin it. Use that layer of protection and try do any leveraging against protection over studs.

Once I've removed it, I mark each piece of trim on the back so that I remember where it goes!

To protect plaster, try the above technique but use something larger under the paint scaper tool and/or pry bar and GO SLOW! Use an old piece of tile, tough cardboard, anything to protect that plaster.

After the trim pieces are out, cut off the nails on the unfinished side of the wood using the hacksaw. Trying too hard to force them through the wood can create cracks. Just watch out for those nails when you hammer that trim back on!

That's worked for us. Hope it works for you too!

Looking for More?

House in Progress Search for more on 'Craftsman-style trim' on this site.
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We have stripped alot of molding without removing it in our home using both stripper (strypeeze) and a heat gun separately. It is backbreaking work and even with that we did some minor damage to some plaster around doorways and edges and had to repair it. I prefer using a heat gun to remove the bulk of the paint and then going over it with stripper. I am hoping I haven't killed too many brain cells with the fumes I have inhaled! We have not yet tried the "super heat gun" (name escapes me) that you have reviewed on your site. Next round of stipping woodwork we may go there to save time and backache.
I agree with you that it is way worth it for a number of reasons- cost savings included. The results are outstanding.

Hey, I post a comment and I get a whole blog entry in response! What service! Thanks for the tips - I am using some of them already, but I'll try to incorporate more as I go. Since the downstairs rooms are in okay shape and we're using them daily, I'm trying to limit how much destruction I do before I reconstruct. I'm doing the trim around the front door now; when that's all back up I'll move to a window, and so on.



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