Stripping Painted Trim

Category: Do it Yourself

So, after asking if other housebloggers would write up 'how-tos' about their own stripping techniques (and seeing some already do it) I am of course obligated to share my own approach.

Here's how I've been stripping painted trim...

Early on when we bought the house, we made the lucky decision to invest in the Silent Paint Remover. While an expensive investment up front, the SPR has saved us lots of cash over the course of our renovation. Specifically, it's allowed us to do lots of stripping work without purchasing any chemicals.

Most recently, we've been stripping the window and doorway trim for our second floor. In those rooms, the original trim has been preserved but painted several times. Our goal was to strip the paint and original shellac off, and then restain the woodwork to match the original look.

For our work on the second floor, we've removed all the trim because the walls all had to come down anyway. That said, these steps should work when leaving the trim in place, too.

First, I removed the paint with a single pass of the Silent Paint Remover. Applying the SPR for 10-15 seconds to any 20"x5" area should blister the paint, as shown in this photo. (Note: Be careful to not let the SPR stay too long or you'll burn the original wood surface1)

While still hot, take a quick pass with a wide flat scraping blade. Typically, the paint should come off easily. This is especially true when the paint was applied over a smooth surface like varnish or shellac (like this example).

After a single scrape, you may find that scraping a second time is complicated by residue left on the blade. Latex paints may become very sticky when hot and stick to the blade.

To address this, I keep a second, narrow blade handy to scrape off the primary blade between each pass. It may also help to apply the SPR a second time for about 5 seconds between each pass.

As a second step, after going over the entire board with the SPR, I then go over it again by rubbing it down with denatured alcohol. I apply the alcohol with steel wool.

The alcohol degrades the shellac, leaving the warm smooth stain beneath. The nice thing is that the process also loosens any remaining paint residue because the alcohol is loosening the shellac below. I find that often a pass with a paper towel is necessary at this point to remove the gunky layer of paint and shellac and get the board truely clean.

Going over the board with the denatured alcohol can be a messy process, so be prepared with plenty of steel wool pads and roles of paper towels.

This process should get you down to the original stained finish. The added benefit is that the steel wool can smooth out any rough patches leaving you with a very smooth board. The alcohol also helps, giving the board a warm glow and an almost satin-like finish. From here you can either re-apply a shellac to restore the original look or change the hue of the wood with a different color stain.

In our case, we plan on using a darker finish than the original. This will actually be pretty close to (but more attractive than) the color when we bought it, because the aged shellac had darkened the overall color over the years.

Looking for More?

House in Progress Search for more on 'stripping trim' on this site. Search for 'stripping trim' on on other houseblogs like this one.
Google Search for 'stripping trim' on Google. Search for 'stripping trim' on


Ooooh. This is great stuff and I'm squirreling it way for the day I get to refinish our woodwork. When do we get to read about what you're going to use for the new finish? :-)


I use a heat gun (and I have the burn marks on my arms and legs to prove it). I have an arsenal of variously shaped scrapers. Then 60 grit sandpaper followed by 120 grit sand paper. One coat of oil based primer, then two top coats (lightly sanding in between). And you are done!!

I find that stripping wood that has shellac or a varnish as a base coat is way easier since the apparent melting temp of the varnish is less than the paint. In my office it is just paint on wood. Your SPR might be a help though. I need to get back to work on that job.

I have been using the silent paint remover and am very happy with it. My only issue is what do you do about the tight corners and crivices where the heat just won't reach? I'd like to avoid the super toxic chemicals, any advice is welcome. Thanks for the tip about d-natured alcohol. I look forward to trying that.

I live in Roanoke, VA and my family and I just moved into a 1922 American FourSquare (saw Roanoke and Vinton on one of your logs) I just finished stripping a door that had 6-8 layers of paint. I am down to the original finish and haven't been able to get that last little bit of paint and residue off. I am going to try the denatured alcohol. When I called the company they couldn't give me any suggesttions which kind of PO'd me since I spent all this money on this tool and figured that they should be able to help. I really want to get all the woodwork in my house back to it's original condition. I have tried several things - Opps, Mineral spirits with linseed oil, and reheating but nothing is really working and some if it is taking off the original finish. For the most part I am happy with the SPR, it does work great, just a note, if you have stripped the wood down to the original finish and try reheating areas to get that last little bit of paint or residue you will BURN the wood. Since this is my first go with the tool I am practicing on the back of the basement door. I figure I need more practice and my next project will be to strip the 84 years of paint off of the cedar shingles on the porch. I figure since we are going to repaint over them I don't have to worry about getting all the residue off. Thanks for the tips.

You can make a SPR yourself - do a google search, it is not that hard and costs a fraction of the price... :D

basically, you use the IR elements of a heater that can be purchased from walmart (got mine on amazon)... an aluminum housing, and some electrical and you're good to go. Mine is a LOT bigger than the SPR too! So I can strip MORE wood quicker ;-)


Email this Entry to a Friend

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

a neighborhood of home improvement blogs

Cabinet Refacing
Cabinet Refacing:
Face Your Kitchen | Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing