Advice on baseboards in 1920s home & melding old with new

JaniefulAugust 17, 2012

We are currently in the last stages of a bedroom/ bathroom addition on the back of our 1920s bungalow. We have a general contractor who was sensitive to making the addition feel like it was a part of the original home. He is matching the trim exactly, and there are three place where old trim and new trim will be meeting in door frames and window frames that are now becoming pass throughs.

My question is regarding paint. We decided not to match the color of the white trim in the old house with the new. We went instead with a standard white latex trim paint. The color in the original home is consistent but somewhat odd. I can't tell if the paint was originally creamish or if it has just faded over the years. So far I have instructed the painters just to paint the new trim and leave the old to me.

The reason is because the old trim is in really bad shape. Over the years so many people have slapped on different paints and overall done a poor job patching it. It's impossible to clean and overall just bad looking (our house was condemned for a while in the 80s and has had its rough history).

I have no intention of ever stripping paint and staining it. I like white trim. Most of the discussions I see on here are regarding stripping the paint full down to stain. My question is - how much work should I put into stripping the paint down now in order to re-paint it white?

I just can't slap more paint on. It would look terrible. I've tested, and the paint on the top layer now is an oil based paint. So I figure I have two options:

1) find a creamish oil based based and patch the bad parts and accept that it won't match the white that the contractors are putting in. This would also be the lazy option.

2) strip most of the paint down and start from scratch and repaint with a latex trim paint that matches the addition.

#2 would be a SLOW process as I have kids and not much time, but do you think I should do this? We plan to stay in the house forever, and the bad look of the trim is a sticking point for me.

But it is not all bad - the arches and other areas are great. It just certain places on the stairs and in the dining room and kitchen that are just bad.

Would I have to remove the trim to strip it? And I presume I don't have to be so precise about the stripping if I plan to repaint it? Any advice from those who opted to repaint would be much appreciated.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Just a thought, but you might try scrubbing down the bad areas with a cleaner that includes bleach. We had some trim years ago that we thought was absolutely hopeless but an application of a bleach cleaner had an amazing effect. If the paint isn't peeling off, I am not sure why you would want to strip it if you intend to keep it painted.

If you do strip, Peel-A-Way works quite well, but it is a lot more expensive than using a heat gun!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 7:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The paint isn't necessarily peeling, but whoever put that last layer of oil based paint on clearly didn't sand or clean before he or she painted. There are glops of plaster or who knows what built into the wood. Heck, one original door has this huge visible area where someone presumably spackled and didn't sand or smooth it out.

Plus there are many areas where the paint has been chipped off to the wood, especially on the stairwell or in often used door frames. In many cases someone then came along and touched up the frame with an ill-matching latex paint.

Am I correct that I would either have to paint an oil based paint on top, or use an oil based primer first and then latex on top of that? It just seems that I am adding on awful lot of new layers of paint to baseboards that probably already have several layers.

Since this is likely my forever home, I just thought the long term solution was to strip at least some of the paint off. I'm not a masochist, though, but I just want what's best long term.

I will try your suggestion of a bleach cleaner. Maybe I can improve the look of whole rooms that way and leave them be.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 8:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Latex goes over clean oil paint just fie.

Spic n span or TSP type clean, with HOT water (insulated gloves under the rubber gloves hot).

Painting over dirty surfaces is a leading cause of paint adhesion failure, especially grease contaminated surfaces and latex paint(the often high gloss on old oil paint does not help adhesion).

If it is gloss it will need cleaning and some roughing up.

Unless you know there is no lead paint present, use a chemical etcher to rough the surface.

If you want the look of the old full gloss woodwork, SW has an acrylic latex full gloss paint that works very well.

It needs some Floetrol added to ensure good leveling (about 4-6 oz per gallon) but works very similarly to oil paint.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 11:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

On our trim, the paint had chipped down to the wood. What I found when I used the heat gun to strip it was that the original finish was shellac. This made it a breeze to strip. That may be the case with your trim. Maybe you should test it. Use a putty knife in an area that is already chipped and see if you can get underneath the paint. If the paint separates from the wood, you may be able to strip it off with a paint gun pretty easily. You must use precautions when using the gun though. Proper mask, good ventilation, and don't burn the wood!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 11:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I agree with powermuffin. We have the same problem, and the only solution for me was to strip and repaint. The results are outstanding, as once I got to bare wood, I could fill in the dings and sand flat. I mainly started this because our windows were painted shut, and after opening them, the paint looked terrible. The downside is that it will take me many years to finish the house, as I can only strip paint during the seasons when the windows are open. I also recommend buying a very high quality thermostatically controlled heat gun, such as a Steinel, to allow you to find the minimum temperature that removes the paint without burning the wood or creating fumes.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 12:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My guess is that the old paint is likely oil-based lead paint. Be cautious if you do any scraping. Good luck1

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 9:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Fori is not pleased

This isn't a popular option with old house lovers, but if it's a very plain rectangular baseboard profile, you could just...

...replace it.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 2:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I was going to mention the same thing. After removing baseboards in my old house, I realized 2 things: how costly it will be to replicate them to fill in newly created gaps, and how many layers of yellowed, oil based paint have been accumulating. I'm seriously considering whether in this one room I can just replace everything.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 2:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I was going to mention the same thing. After removing baseboards in my old house, I realized 2 things: how costly it will be to replicate them to fill in newly created gaps, and how many layers of yellowed, oil based paint have been accumulating. I'm seriously considering whether in this one room I can just replace everything. Now I need to hunt for base that's close enough not to look out of character, and that might be a challenge.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 2:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sorry guys - I relly didn't think my point was worth making 3 times! I kept trying to push through a server error message, which was obviously a mistake.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 2:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


I just did what you are contemplating. 1922 bungalow with 10" plain board fir baseboards. Since were were replacing the old fir floor (just plain worn out after 90 years and no more meat to resand) I carefully removed all the baseboards and trim. Using a good heat gun and scraper on tressels in the yard, 2 solid days of stripping had them down to clear wood. As someone mentioned, where they had been shellaced first, the 90 years of paint came of very easily. From there it was easy to sand (make sure you have a good RO sander) and spray primer and paint.
It is time consuming but it yields good results.
Because the wood is so old, it will be hard and brittle; be extra carefull not to split it when removing.
I could not imagine how awkward it would be to strip the boards in place!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 7:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"Because the wood is so old, it will be hard and brittle; be extra carefull not to split it when removing. "

And pull any nail trough the back carefully.

Clamp Vice Grips on the nail shank, and then use a 'cat's paw' or 'wonder bar' to pry against the vice grips.

Any blowout will be in the back.
If the nail is near the end of a piece, pry from the longer side of the board.
Prying toward the short side can result in splitting.

An old 4 inch drywall knife makes a good tool to start removing small cross section wood.
You can hammer it between the wall and wood with minimal damage, then prey gently, or drive in another drywall knife behind the first.

A cats paw can ten be driven between the two knives.

If you are handy just about anything can be created with a router mounted in a router table with a good fence.

Amana used to make bits just to create old molding patterns.

Sometimes you need a way to tilt the router for a better match.

WoodHaven sells cradles that mount under the router tale insert and allow the router to be tilted.

When I needed 1880s brick mold the Amana bit was about 90%, but tilted 5 degrees it was perfect.

The 'historic commission' could not tel the old from the new under a coat of paint.

Even the scarf joints between old and new matched.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 8:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

From what you've said, I'm guessing the best solution for you is to figure out what is really bugging you, and address that with the least possible work for the short term. Either match the grubby patches with the creamy colour, or paint it all so it matches the addition. You are in the busiest years of your life! You'll have more time later.

Later, figure out what you want to do in the long term. Do it later. The only thing you want to avoid now is doing anything irreversible - like removing and discarding all the old moulding. Remove by all means, if that's what it takes to keep you sane, but don't discard!

If your moulding has a nice profile, it is worth stripping even if you are going to repaint. Even if it is flat board, it's probably lovely old-growth wood, so give a future owner a chance even if you don't want to see it.

You cannot strip "some" of the paint - it's pretty much all or nothing. But there is nothing forcing you to accept wood frames if you strip. Just clear-coat or shellac before you put more paint on, so a future owner can go that direction if desired.

I have been living for 20 years with just the kind of paint you describe. Globby, put over unsanded filler, and drippy. Unbelievable that anyone could paint like this! It's on doors, moulding, and wainscoting. Actually we removed a lot of the moulding, but not all, and have done a lot of stripping. So I had some un-framed doors and windows for a long time, but they are almost all done.

We will eventually strip more (kids are now grown), and probably repaint some of it. There is so much to do if you have an old house while the kids are small, we have always done whatever bugs us the most, and the rest, you just promise yourself you'll do it someday. What I have found the worst is living with half finished jobs - finished or unfinished is almost easier, though of course you have to get through the transition. And you know, someday comes before you know it. Enjoy the kids, put the time into them!

One thing I have discovered is that painting over the drips and globs and ridges softens the old paint, so for about a day or two after your paint dries, you can relatively easily cut, with a utility knife, the worst offenders. That's been a lifesaver upstairs, where the attic is all beadboard that I am NEVER going to strip. I'm assuming I'm dealing with both latex and oil layers when this happens, so I hope it works for you.

Karin L

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 10:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

personally, i don't mind the look of 15 layers of paint on molding. i consider it a character element. you can work the paint so the newest layer looks good.

but i have stripped wood only to repaint. it looks good and you don't have to be nearly so fastidious with your stripping (eg getting out the dental tools). one coat of peel away (original formula) should do the trick.

also, even if you strip it down the new woodwork won't look like the old. it will be in too good of condition. set designers will often beat new wood with chains when they are designing a set that is supposed to be old. food for thought. if i was replacing a large section of baseboard, e.g., i would do something similar to give the wood an aged look. maybe that is insane, though. and where you are talking a totally different room it probably isn't so important.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 11:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for all the advice, everyone.

It turns out that they are fully replacing the molding on one window and a door frame in the existing house. This means that both my dining room and the kitchen are going to have old directly next to new. This honestly doesn't bother me that much, so I don't think we are going to have them replace the rest of the woodwork in those rooms. One reason is because we are out of money. The other is because I don't think it's fully necessary.

Probably what I will do is leave it as is in the rest of the house and focus my stripping and repainting efforts in those rooms. The dining room is truly the worst and always irks me when I am sitting in there.

I'm discouraged by those who say that it is a massive and unwieldy project if you leave the molding in place. I can't imagine removing it, mainly because it will wreck the plaster walls. The contractor, who is presumably much more skilled than I am, already messed up the plaster around the window molding he had to remove.

We had plaster work done already in the house, and I was pretty displeased with the results. You can definitely tell where the new plaster started. Maybe we just had bad luck, but I'm not sure how they match the "patina" of the old walls with the new.

Obviously I don't want to start a project that will take me eons to finish, but I just don't think removing it is an option for us.

Maybe I can adjust my expectations and be happy with the globs of paint.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 1:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Fori is not pleased

Perhaps start with the bit that bugs you the most and keep the job small and contained. Doing floor molding in place isn't as bad as ceiling. (Isn't that like the most obvious statement ever?)

Just pick the smallest wall, mask everything really well, use a chemical stripper, go corner to corner, and see if you want to do the next one some other day. Maybe it's not that bad. Some stuff comes right off, or at least off enough to repaint.

Gee that sounds easy. I don't think it's that easy. But I think doing it in manageable discrete bits instead of trying to do all of it at once is how I'd try it.

And anyway, nobody will make fun of you for having new and old baseboards with different paint glob patterns. If they do, hand them the stripper.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 4:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In 2004, I began to remove the paint with peel away 7 on our 3 piece crown in place the dining room. (It had been painted purple with white 'splatters' = an 80's decorators idea to make the room "festive".) I managed to do about 3 ft at a time, that was about all the clean up manageable after work and dinner in the evenings. The whole project took me about 9 months to do slowly and included all the woodwork in the room and removing the textured ceiling back to the original plaster (never again on that!) You can do it to repaint, but its a messy slow project to take on.

Here is a link that might be useful: Stripping the dining room wood trim

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 6:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh, I should have added that we're working on wood trim now as well, which involved removing the door trim, using stripper and scrapers, then sanding. Then we restain and finish. I like this way, and its looking very nice. When we strip the painted bedroom trim we'll use this method.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 6:50PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
This old house plus church!!
Well I need someone to talk with about my latest plunge....
Jason J
Color advice for new front door
I am buying a new front door (textured steel) to replace...
Should we try to reuse old windows?
I am not sure how old the windows in our second floor...
prairiemoon2 z6 MA
Yikes. I just bought an 1898 Victorian house
Hi, I have always loved old homes and had the opportunity...
Adding a full bath to an old house.
Hello, first post in this forum. I am relocating and...
Sponsored Products
TRIBECCA HOME Estonia Olive Green Upholstered Dining
Flourish Black 28 to 48 Inch Regent Curtain Rod
$29.95 | Bellacor
Caluco 10 Tierra Ottoman
$628.00 | LuxeDecor
Maddux Spring Chair
Home Decorators Collection
Blue Star Wars Anakin Lightsaber Flashlight
$19.99 | zulily
Copper Belle Pendant
| Dot & Bo
Meticulously Woven Lula Geometric Polypropylene Area Rug (7'10 x 10'10)
Hammary Urbana Sofa Table
Beyond Stores
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™