Stripping paint off of beams

GaleForceApril 28, 2005

Hi folks. We're working on a wonderful 100-year-old house arts and crafts house and I need some feedback.

The whole interior has incredible solid beams throughout. The living room actually opens up two stories to exposed 18x18 inch beams. Other rooms have beams that are about 9x9, most of which are painted. The few that aren't painted tempt me constantly to attempt to strip some of the painted beams.

We are painting our bedroom this summer. It has 10 9x9 beams that are about 18 feet long. They have three coats of paint, the top coat is oil-based about 20 years old and very good quality. The middle coat is a very poor quality thin paint, likely water based. The under coat is anybody's guess.

Would I be absolutely out of my mind to take on this project? If so, I'll be putting two more coats on it, so I figure this is the time to be crazy.

If it's not crazy, are there any new-fangled tools or products to assist me? I have stripped furniture with stripper and a scraper. That's the extent of my experience.

Thank you all.


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The key questions, for me, are what wood are they made of; were they originally painted or stained; how smooth are they and are you dealing with a lead paint issue?

Some woods are better left painted.

Some design concepts were intended to be painted, right from the start. What can you tell from other Gill houses?

Sometimes wood was stained initially prior to someone else painting it, in which case you not only have to remove the paint, but extract the stain coloration as well.

If the beams are rough sawn, getting paint out of the grain and crevices will require sanding, not just paint removal to totally remove it.

If I was removing just paint overhead in an occupied building like this (assuming no lead paint is present) I would use a heated plate stripper in preference to a sander, though a sander might be quicker. You need to have a deft hand to it that way, though.

If you have lead paint, then I'd recoat it in situ, even if I painted it dark brown to look like old wood.

I'd try covering up the beams tightly with tape or plastic and doing a mock-up of the proposed colors to see how you like it, first.

I've never had too much luck with any of the propreitary stripping compounds, and I've tried a range from the flammable, cancer-causing, obnoxiously smelly chemical type to the "green" ones made from soybeans and orange rinds. Whenever I am faced with a big stripping project, I always try what's new, only to end up with the plate stripper and the sander, alas. Perhaps someone here can suggest a really good stripper, in which case I'll be very grateful you posted your question.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2005 at 7:20PM
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Hey Molly,

Thanks for your answer to this and to the many other questions I've posted. :)

I need to test for lead. I don't know.

The wood was intended to be seen. I think it's pine -- the other unpainted beams in the house are. It's not rough sawn, but there are some cracks in a few of them.

With all of the work around here this is probably terribly unrealistic anyway. The room also doesn't have the very best airflow.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 5:56PM
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If the beams were painted imemdiately on installation it may be feasible to remove the paint. My sister-in law is a timberframer--I've seen many installation, and pretty much all beams wil crack and check somewhat after installation.

IF (and this is a big if) it was painted _before_ it cracked, you'll only have a surface layer to deal with. but if--as I suspect--it was painted some time after it cracked, you'll have a devil of a time getting the paint out o fthe cracks, if you ever do.

If you're really determined to depaint the beams, Ii'd just plane it with a handheld power planer. The beam's probably strong enough to plane off an inch on all sides without affecting strength; 18x18" is insanely oversized. Which is to say taht 1/16 inch won't make a damn bit of difference and will likely get almost all the paint. Ask an engineer, of course. You'd end up with 'new looking' wood, which may bother you more (or less) than paint, though it won't stay new looking forever.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2005 at 3:24PM
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THanks so much for the information. I am sure that, as you suspect, that the beams were painted after they cracked, so that is an issue. The beams in question are actually only about 10", we've got others that are 18" but, luckily, were never painted. I'm not sure why since at some point in the house's history the stone fireplace was painted a yellow-gold color. It has been sandblasted, luckily. I expect the large beams remained unpainted because no one had a tall enough ladder. :)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2005 at 3:31PM
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We're actually in the middle of stripping an entire redwood T&G ceiling. So far Peelaway 7 is the big winner, but it's slow tedious work.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2005 at 8:09PM
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Sandblasting will remove the paint and should leave a nice grained look. One drawback is sometimed the knots do not want to release the stain. preperation is key, covering and masking nearby surfaces is crucial.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2015 at 9:30PM
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Sandblasting will remove the paint and should leave a nice grained look. One drawback is sometimed the knots do not want to release the stain. preperation is key, covering and masking nearby surfaces is crucial.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2015 at 9:34PM
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removing the 3 layers on an over head beam is an unholy pain in the neck and back. sloppy face splattering is the norm. think michleangelo and the sistine chapel. it's only when you get to paint in the grain that you will know what frustration really is. but that's just me.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2015 at 9:59AM
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Well, here's a question for you--are you intent on getting the beams down to the wood or would you be content for them to just LOOK like wood? An exterior full color stain--not the transparent stain--would work really well. You don't have to remove the paint--just stain right over it. I've done this a couple times--on a barn that was painted green. Used an exterior stain right over the paint and it worked out SO great. Didn't have to restain it for 10 whole years!

Today's stains are gell-type stains so no dripping. I think this would be the easiest thing to do. I also did something like this in a rental property many years ago and it looked great.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2015 at 10:52AM
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green zeus, i like the way you think.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2015 at 5:02PM
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