Removing Woodwork

Old_Home_LoverSeptember 16, 2012

The 1875 restoration we are embarking on will require all new wiring. Although the woodwork is in beautiful condition, some is painted and some is stained and we had thought with 12" baseboard to work with we could hide the electrical runs under them.

Two questions:

1- how best to remove them without damaging the plaster walls and also, would you have them sandblasted clean to have a fresh palette while they're off the walls anyway?

2- how to repair the rosettes that the previous remuddler screwed and hammered into to hang blinds (we plan to have shutters made for the interior of the windows to respect the arches.)

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Sandblasting is not the way to go to remove paint. :) You want to remove paint, but keep any original patina underneath so matching the finishes will be easier. A heat gun, or preferably a steamer is the easiest way to remove paint...also one of those infrared thingies.

Holes in rosettes can be filled and the repairs blended to match the original finish.

You remove the shoe molding carefully first, try not to break it as the newer stuff has a different look. For the base itself, it is usual to use a putty knife slipped behind the molding, and use another to ease the molding off, a bit at a time moving down the entire length so that no one section takes too much strain, which could break it. You might also score the paint layer just above the molding to ease the task.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 1:59PM
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Thanks, after I posted I did some research on sandblasting and definitely concur. The IR lamps look awesome. Pricey but for the amount of wood we have, worth it I think.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 2:06PM
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We attempted to remove our original shoe molding and found that it was attached with 4" nails. Yes, it snapped in two.

Heat gun or PeelAway (or similar stripper).

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 5:33PM
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    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 7:45PM
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Concerning shoe molding, it should be nailed into the wall, and NOT the floor--so you may try leaving it in place as you pry off the base--if it moves at the same time, you are good...if it doesn't budge, then some loon nailed it into the flooring and in that case, you might try prying it from the floor rather than the base....:)

You can buy new shoe molding, but see if it matches the old profile--and that it is made from one piece of wood, rather than tiny pieces spliced together which is only fit for painting.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 7:57PM
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When removing baseboards, it's wise to start at a door & work around the room rather than a radom wall; you may find the baseboards are joined at the corners by some wood joinery detail made to keep the joints tight & they neeed to be removed in a certain order. You don't mention if there is a base cap but we removed that separately as it was nailed through to the studs as well as fitted by tongue & groove into the baseboard & nailed there as well.

Yours appears to be a high quality house & the baseboards may not be easy to remove; mine are nailed into the floor as well as the studs & the plaster stop & have proven nearly impossible to remove without excessive damage. Of course that's why they remained in place for 150+ years with 60 of it being under slum lords.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 11:56PM
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Study your baseboards very carefully before attempting to remove them.

It's quite possible the baseboards, or at least some portions of them, were installed before the plaster. If this is so, removing them will cause a great deal of damage to the plaster. And plaster can be very expensive to repair properly.

The baseboards may have been built up from various elements of molding with the plainest, farthest back piece, installed as a leveling plane to help with the screeding of the first layers of plaster.

If necessary, in a concealed place, remove a small amount (1" diameter) of plaster at the baseboard /wall junction. If the baseboard extends under the layers of plaster (which is what is most likely) then the baseboard was put up first.

This may also be true of the door and window trim as well.

If the trim is up first then the more maleable plaster can be run right up to it and a clean, tight joint made.

On sheet rock, baseboards and trim are applied on the surface to cover the ragged edges - not so with the superior material, plaster on lath.

I'm not sure what kind of wiring you are planning to run, but behind the baseboards wouldn't be my first choice. Have you considered running it in conduit within the room rather than behind the walls?

In general try not to take anything apart that you don't have to. There is always more damage than you expect, even if you're very careful.

If this not a DIY project make sure your tradesmen know how much you value (and are willing to pay for) careful, non-destructive updating. Many will be frustrated at the permanence of old plaster walls and urge you to rip them out or open greta chunks of them. before agreeing to do that price out what new and restoration plaster costs so you know exactly how valuable it is. You may need to search for trades that have worked on old houses without going back to the studs.

If you are new to the ownership of this old house, or old houses in general, it pays great dividends to school yourself to go very slowly as you contemplate renovations. The house has much to teach you about what doesn't need to be done.

One of the most dangerous periods for an older building is being in the enthusiastic hands of a reasonably well-financed new owner keen on "bringing the house back". Lucky are the houses whose purchase price leaves the new owner strapped for a year or two.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 4:06AM
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"The house has much to teach you about what doesn't need to be done."

What a terrific way to put it! The first thing our new old home taught us was that the people who said 'gut it to the studs' are crazy. The plaster is in such good shape for a place that's been so neglected. And I really don't want to damage anything, especially the woodwork. In fact, other than the few places it's been painted and the screw holes some madman brutalized the rosettes with, it looks like it was just stained yesterday!

Unfortunately the last owners ripped out all of the plaster and lathing from the ceilings and they are for the most part open right now. I wonder if running the electrical under there, then fishing up to sockets might be the best way...

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 9:56AM
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Unless the plaster wall is textured or patterned it is easier to repair then baseboard damage.

Smooth plaster is easy.

If you have access from a basement or attic you can fish wiring into the stud cavities from only the holes needed for the receptacles and switches you will install.

If there is already some wiring you can use the existing holes for new boxes (metal will likely fit, but not plastic).

If you have to run across a plaster wall for a new receptacle, you only need to cut into the plaster at each stud.
Fish the wire from stud to stud, add a nail protection plate, then repair the plaster.

Using cable rated for burying in plaster is worth the trouble (type AC IIRC, just buy the correct cable cutter).

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 11:21AM
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In our home we found that the baseboard was installed after the plaster. But after the baseboard, the hardwood flooring was installed. We had some baseboard to remove for heating and plumbing runs,k and I think we cracked most of it. It is a difficult thing to do. The good new is, save the pieces, take them to the shop, apply wood glue and clamps, -and good as new.

Heat gun is the way to go. Buy the profile scrapers from Lee Valley.

I agree, removing baseboard for wiring doesn't seem logical. In my opinion it's easier to tear open a wall and replaster than deal with the baseboard. A plus is if you use outside walls, you can add insulation.

Below: Clamped and glued baseboard, paint removal via heat gun (or plate in this case).

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 7:34PM
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What everyone said about avoiding removing any woodwork. After a house settles for one or two hundred years, the plaster and the wood have twisted and shifted and settled along with the rest of the house. Which means if you take it apart it can be difficult to fit it all back together again like it was.

Re: wood trim and baseboard that has gone on AFTER the plaster, be careful with that type of plaster job too! The trim and the baseboard OVER the plaster is actually helping to HOLD the plaster of the entire wall in place, so if you remove it you may find that what you thought was firm plaster in other parts of the wall may loosen and fall off - creating much more of a mess than you anticipated. All the prying and yanking can shake it loose.
(Been there, done that.)

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 7:19PM
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Every time we tried to remove woodwork, it cracked or broke. So, we made a point of stripping all the rest of the woodwork in place.

We hired an electrician to rewire the majority of our 1912 house and he was amazing at fishing wires. He was even able to fish wires into our box beams without making holes in the walls or woodwork.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 5:01PM
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If you do break something or it's full of holes, don't give up on it. I have pieces that looked terrible to start with, but I touched up with a gel stain much lighter than the wood finish. Use a very light stain because damaged wood absorbs so much more stain; if I'd used the "right" color, it would have looked like black splotches on my wood--I know bc PO did that. That, wood filler* where needed, a couple of coats of shellac, and you'll be glad you kept that piece that looks hopelessly broken/chewed up beyond repair. I had always thought my neighbor's trim was in much better condition than mine, in fact I would have said flawless, but on a closer look, I realized it had taken a beating too. Apparently someone touched it up and I'd never noticed before. I never would have looked so closely if I hadn't been working on my trim at the time.

*The "stainable" paintable fillers at the big box stores are a joke. They stick out like a sore thumb, do not absorb stain like the rest of the wood, and if you accidentally get any on the pores of surrounding wood, that part will look lighter too. I have used it, but only with lots of camouflage touch-up. I call it "micro faux graining;" I use a couple different colored sharpies or wood touchup pens. For small holes, I prefer to fill with a color-matched putty that comes in a small tub; I often blend a couple of colors to get a good match. It makes an amazing difference; while you're working, you think it's no good, but then you go for some coffee, walk back into the room, and...where did all those nail holes go?

I love the 10 foot rule! Work up close to a project and fuss over it, but then step back 10 feet and all the little imperfections you were worried about disappear. If they don't, you can go back and fuss over them a bit more. If they still won't go away, have a beer and call it good. It's like you never notice the stitching on your clothes until you're mending them; it's the same way with your house. It'll come out great.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 9:24AM
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Patching anything except textured plaster is very easy.

Trim can be removed without breakage using cats paws, 'wonder bars,' drywall knives, and pieces of plywood and 1x and 2x lumber pieces.

After cutting through any paint or caulk holding the trim to the wall, cut through the joint between the trim and the door casing.

Then you drive a 5-6 inch drywall knife between the trim and the wall (the knife is wrecked for drywall use).

When you have a few inches in the joint, you drive ANOTHER knife between the first and the wall.

Now use the thin wide end of a 'cat's paw' pry bar between the knives to start separating them and removing the wood.

If someone nailed the trim to the door jamb you are going to have to use a hack-saw blade and holder to cut through the nails.
Remember the blade cuts on the pull stroke.

When the wood has moved about 1/4 inch off the wall, remove everything and move about 6-8 to the side.
Repeat the drywall knives and cat's paw.

You can use a wonder bar against some 3/8 thick plywood to pry at the first location a little more when the second is off the wall by about 1/4 inch.

Keep moving the drywall knives down the length of the piece, using the plywood and wonder bar to 'go back' and lift the sections a little more.

It takes a LOT of time and finesse to work the length of the piece and remove it bit by bit without braking it.

Do not worry if nails pull through and stay in the framing, and do not try to cut them in the gap you have created with anything but a hand tool.

Any nails that remain in the wood should be pulled out through the BACK of the trim.
Clamp vice grips on the nail, then use a wonder bar to pry against the vice grips to pull the nail though the back.
Do not pry towards a short end if the nail is near and end.
Pry towards the longest dimension you have.

The damage on the back of the trim will not show when it is reinstalled.
Mark the trim an try not to nial in the same spot when reinstalling.
At least an inch away.
Especially if the trim is painted.

The older the wood, the closer together the pry points must be, and the less of a bend you can create during removal.

Old finish nails may be rather long.

This was to make sure the nail made it though the trim, 3/4 of an inch of plaster, and then about 1.75 inches into the framing.
With 1 inch thick trim and 1/4 inch countersink you are up to needing 3.25 inch nails.
#12 finish nails are 3.25 in long.
Once they start out the force to continue pulling them usually drops.

Repairing painted trim damage is not very hard either, it just takes some chisels (carving and straight) to make the filler match.
A coat of primer and two coats of paint and you will never find the repair.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 3:17PM
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Wow thanks so much everyone for all the info!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 3:13PM
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