removing paint from antique hutch

Jean PopowitzAugust 27, 2006

I have just purchased an old handmade farmhouse-style hutch that has several layers of peeling paint. It seems as though the first layer may be a slate blue. I was told this piece is pre-Civil War era (square nails, pegs). I would like to strip it down to the blue and repair the blue if possible. There are a couple of layers of paint...the top is white enamel.

Should I use a heat gun or chemicals? Would they remove the blue too? Could the blue be milk paint? Can I restore it? It seems to be a different texture than any paint I've come across. The horizontal planes are bare wood. How can I treat/seal these?

Thanks for any help or resources you can point me toward. I have a quote to have it done professionally ($5,000)....not gonna happen when I have the patience to do it myself.


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Only caustic strippers will remove milk paint (like peel-away, lye, etc) So a heat gun is a good choice to expose an original milk paint finish.
If it's actually milk paint, you can then clean up the residue with liquid paint remover (kutzit, etc) and apply a coat of paste wax. (Johnsons wax)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2006 at 9:54PM
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Jean Popowitz

Well, I've got a mess now. The heat gun worked on the white, tan and green layers, leaving the blue paint in most places but turning everything into goo in some places. It also seems as though liquid is coming out of the wood in spots. Can that be? I think this piece was washed just before I bought it because it smells of lysol. It was also outside in the damp when I found it.

The pine is quite dark & reddish underneath the blue. I'm thinking there might be another layer. Should I forget the blue and strip down to that? Would I have to use a chemical stripper for the blue? What do you suggest?


    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 8:59PM
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The stuff coming "out of the pine" may just be pitch/pine tar/sap. The chemical stripper will remove that, too, since it's a resin. If chemical remover takes off the blue, it was not milk paint, OR it was applied over another layer of paint that wasn't MP.
Red Oxide was the most popular pigment way back when, because it was least expensive and totally color-fast (didn't fade in sunlight- it is essentially rust).
So there may have been a red paint/varnish below the blue.
I guess there's no choice but to see what some kutzit will do to clean it up.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 9:33PM
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Jean Popowitz

Okay...I've finally made some progress!

Here are the after and before shots:

I am pretty happy with the color. I have a bit more detail work to do but I've gotten a lot of the surfaces down to bare wood because most of the reddish brown color came up with the blue. I left patches of the other colors near the bottom on the sides for interest & because that's where there is water damage & the wood is darker anyway.

Two questions:

That water damage gives off a mildewy smell. What can I do to get rid of that?

Finishing: What do I do now? The wood is dry and very soft. I know I need to protect it. I did not strip the inside paint yet. It was too hard to do inside the house. I'll need to lay it down outside if I want to pursue it, but I was thinking I'd just repaint. Should I use oil based paint? What should I for the bare wood? I rather like the natural color and wouldn't want much sheen. Do I just hand wax it? Shellac? Polyurethane? Should I seal the rough wood on the back and bottom to help the smell?

Thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   December 14, 2006 at 5:10PM
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Shellac will seal any odors. But it will cause some color change. The dark areas may become considerably darker. If I were me, I'd prime the interior with oil primer and then use an oil finish coat (but I'm old-fashioned) If I used shellac on the outside, I'd then follow it up with wax applied with steel wool, and buffed with a woolen cloth.
From the ghosts of old trim on the sides, it looks like it was originally a freestanding cupboard, then the side trim was removed (I suspect it became a built-in),painted; finally, it was removed from it's built-in situation and painted again (and again?)

    Bookmark   December 16, 2006 at 3:44PM
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