Stripping paint from bannisters

lam13April 2, 2010

Our 1920 craftsman has unfortunately had EVERY piece of moulding, every door and the bannister and newel posts in the staircase painted white. Not just once, but but many many many times over. (Did I stress many enough? Lol.)

I am working on getting some of that original woodwork back, starting with the handrails and newel posts in the staircase. (I believe I'll leave the spindles white.) I have tried 2 different brands of stripper and a small hand sander and had very little progress. The paint gets very gunky after 2 coats of stripper and refuses to budge. I have no idea how I will get the paint under the railing off as the stripper won't stick to the underside of the railing very well. Are we going to have to dismantle the handrails to get this accomplished or is it feasible to do with everything still intact? I am sure there is lead based paint under there so I don't believe a heat gun is an option. Any suggestions would be appreciated. (If there is a previous thread on this specific to staircases, just let me know. I didn't see one after a quick search.)

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Hi my name is Heather and I'm known as the "stripper" in the family and my husband is the "ripper". My advice is take a small section and work only on that section to ensure what is underneath is what you think is there and that you'll be happy with it. I stripped (as in taking off the paint off) door frames and baseboards only to discover the wood had never been sealed, so I couldn't get to the bare wood and had to repaint. Many years later I striped the handrail and the spindles on our staircase - 320+ hours later, the varathane went on and when I stood back I said " it would have looked JUST fine being painted. Having said that , it does look great and everyone makes a fuss (maybe because they know how much time went into the project).
I don't think you'll be able to leave the spindles white as your striping solution will drip and run, I even had the problem of it running down my wall but I was able to sand and paint that area so no big deal.

A note from the other side of the family, Heather stripped the bannister balusters and newel posts in our 1919 house that had 16 steps and a 10 foot return . She started with regular cheap stripper and then for the " finish" work cut the stripper with wood alcohol to prevent the gummy build up. The interesting thing was that when she started we thought that the balusters were square when in fact they had four grooves cut in the inside and outside faces. We guessed at between 14 and 16 coats of paint.
We ended up selling the house a couple of years ago but the new owners absolutely love the house , especially the staircase.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2010 at 8:26PM
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Not sure if you are interested in trying something other than chemical strippers, but I LOVE This machine: Silent Paint remover. Check out the link. I'm now on the second set of bulbs after stripping all the exterior, the kitchen moldings, old windows, etc. The more and the older the paint is, it comes off so easy! Even in all those hard to reach places. Just hold the machine up there for a little longer to loosen the paint. Better yet, it doesn't burn wood, just releases the grip wood has on paint. I've used it on Oak, cedar and fir- Love, love love this machine!

Here is a link that might be useful: better way to strip!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 12:11PM
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Sounds like months of work - I was afraid of that. Kudos to you for soldiering through it! What did you mean by the wood hadn't been sealed? The portion of wood I have gotten down to appears to be OK to accept a stain. I saw a product (can't remember what it's called) that is a sheet you place over stripper and leave on for 24 hours. When you peel it off the paint is supposed to stick to the strip. I was thinking that might be helpful if I can cut it into small pieces to wrap around the handrails in between the spindles. I saw it used on flat moulding, but didn't know how pliable it was - i.e. can it be wrapped around the railing.


I would love to have one of those, but they are a little pricey. It may be worth the investment as I plan on eventually stripping the paint off all our doors. I will have to see if I can work it in the budget. I know it says safe for lead based paint, but heating that stuff up still makes me nervous!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 7:11PM
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There are old threads around here that deal with types of paint stripper, from IR to chemical. Since you're working indoors you will not want to the use the stinkier kinds. But you will hear that some people have good experiences with products that other people hated. I think your sheet product is one of them - and I watched the promo video with my mouth watering on that one too.

Heather and Paul: wow!

If you're going to strip doors, the IR paint stripper will be worth it. I am half way through stripping my first door and it is not fun. Heck, I just bought $280 worth of my preferred chemical stripper in the fall (EZ Way), and I'm still thinking I need an IR remover.

Even if you repaint, I think stripping paint is worth it. As Paul pointed out, you lose the profile of the moulding after a number of coats, and thus almost the whole point of having it.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 12:05PM
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Sorry to take so long to get back to you, cottage reno stuff ! Back to our original post, when I said " the wood hadn't been sealed " typically prior to painting woodwork back in the old days ( when I was young ), shellac or some other sealer was applied to prevent bleeding, so in many cases the painted woodwork isn't that difficult to strip because of the sealer and sometimes the layers of varnish that are under the paint. However there are situations where the sealer that was applied was in fact paint cut with turpentine which sealed the wood alright but also sucked the paint pigment right into the pores of the wood which is one awful mess to try to strip unless you dismantle and dip strip. In our case the mess was further complicated by the type of paint we think they used which was a commercial or maybe military issue "fire retardant " paint which resisted stripping like you would not believe ! However when all is said and done , if you were able to get down to the bare wood fairly easily , more power to you and the best of luck. .. and if you're good , someday I'll tell you the story of the removal of the upstairs carpet, the two layers of underlay over the asbestos tile over the construction paper stuck to the painted 4 inch groove and tongue hemlock floors that Heather scraped sanded and finished with five coats of urethane ... Oh and the doors that were now 2 inches too short ... anyway , again good luck with the stripping, I'm sure that you won't be sorry with the result

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 6:42PM
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For trim with patterns, a heat gun along with the IR strippers helps a lot, as do molding scrapers.

Buying molding scarpers with removable/replaceable heads allows you to grin the heads to match your actual molding and reduce damage.

Even with chemical strippers you usually end up needing to do at least some scraping to clean things up, especially if you are after a stained finish.

In some cases it is actual cheaper (and less hazardous) to have new oak molding custom run than strip simple older shapes.

A 1920 house is VERY likely to have lead paint on the trim.

Keep this in mind when deciding between removing, striping, or striping in place.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 5:07PM
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I also bought a 1912 Craftsman where every bit of woodwork was painted. My husband and I have slowly been working our way through the house stripping paint. I'm excited to have just finished stripping and staining our stairway and banister!

We primarily used a heat gun. I think our woodwork had some sort of shellac coat over the wood, so the heat gun got off much of the paint. I then followed the paint with a commercial stripper, which works fast, but you have to wear gloves or you burn your skin. But, did I mention that it works fast? =)

I finished the stairway in about a month, working a bit every day. I stripped everything in place because I didn't want to damage the wood by trying to remove it. The hardest part was stripping between the balusters, but I found that special sanding heads for my multi-tool and dremel tool, I was able to sand the area pretty well.

Any crevices I couldn't reach were touched up with stain-colored paint before I went over the wood with shellac. I'm extremely happy with how the project turned out.

Here is a link that might be useful: Laurelhurst Craftsman

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 1:14PM
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Impressive! A staircase is the worst to strip but you've done a beautiful job.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 11:25PM
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