I have just finished my second old door project around here, and after my DIY day by the pool with my girlfriends I’ve started looking more constructively at how I work with old wood.
It was fun to be with my friends, and showing them new things, and realizing that what seems second nature to me might be new to others. So, here are some of my thoughts as I work with old wood. Some are technical, some are personal preference, some are physical and some are mental tips. Hopefully you find some, little bit of it useful.
Finding Old Wood
Where - dumpsters, trash day, construction sites, home improvement store (or any big store) trash area, the beach. Keep your eyes out, it’s everywhere. I found an old window frame in a roadside burn pile and a friend of mine said ‘I never even notice those piles are there’. They. Are. Everywhere.
What - old doors, windows, pallets, furniture, construction materials … oh, construction materials are my favorite. I built our entire floating shelf out of dumpster construction material.
Update: This is not intended to be a safety awareness post as much as a description of my working process. When working with all old wood please be aware of the possibility that the paint could be lead based and the pallet wood could be chemically treated and take the appropriate precautions.
How - as in ‘how do I know if I want it?’. Check for a few key factors:
- is any of the wood rotted?
- if it’s furniture, is the construction of the piece solid?
- if it’s a pallet, does it have more than 3 nails in each spot where the pallet is nailed together?
- does it look like more work than you can handle? (fair question)
If you can answer those questions to your satisfaction, you’re good to go. I’ve patched rotting wood, secured wobbly furniture and worked extra hard to get a pallet apart when I LOVED the slats … all because I loved the piece enough for the extra work. If you’re not up for that, skip it and move on to the next dumpster.
Scraping and Stripping
and Sanding, oh my the Wood – whenever I bring a new piece of old wood home I most often start by scraping it.
What to scrape - Whatever paint, stain or other aged debris that you want removed.
How to scrape - My biggest tips for scraping:
- ‘Read’ your chipping paint – meaning: scrape into the piece of paint you want to remove – I call that piece the one where you can ‘see daylight’ under it. Scrape towards the areas you can ‘see daylight’ under. It’s not important to scrape with the grain of the wood at this point
- Work in sections – if I’m working on a door, for instance, I’ll scrape my way around the perimeter of the door working toward the center. I think this is beneficial for a couple of reasons. 1) Sometimes a section is stubborn and just won’t budge (for now), move to the next section and continue – you can tackle the stubborn paint on the next go round, or with stripper, and 2) you get a better idea of exactly how much of the paint you’ll want to remove as you work around the whole piece – why work to get all of the paint off one little spot only to realize you kind of like the look with some patches of old paint remaining?
- Wear safety glasses for sure – this should probably be #1 on the list, you definitely do not want those little pieces you’re chipping away to get in your eyes.
- Learn how to use your off hand – Scraping is tiring! I get much more work done in a day when I can do a few spots with my left hand (basically guiding the scraper with my right but using more force with the left had) or at least use more pressure from my left side. Equal opportunity workout.
As far as any type of scraping goes, my absolute favorite tool for this step is the 6-in-One. With all of the different angles of the blade, you can work in any detail, corner, nook, cranny, and crevice.
When to strip - When you know you want to remove almost all if not all of the paint. Even here, I tend to start with scraping (what can I say, I’m a sucker for punishment) … as I scrape, I gauge if I like the look of the piece as some of the paint comes off before I decide if I want to remove it all. Personal preference only. And when stripping, follow the instructions on the product you are using and follow the scraping techniques above.
Sanding Old Wood
Where - All over. Make sure to get rid of all rough edges and smooth out the ‘transitions’ between layers of remaining paint. I like to round every corner, I think it gives a softness to an otherwise chippy piece.
How - These are the steps I take:
- Always sand with the grain of the wood, I start with my 1/4 sheet electric sander similar to this one using usually a 60 grit piece of sandpaper. Work your way to a smoother grit sandpaper. The higher number sandpaper equals the smoother grit and finish.
- Then, don’t hesitate to get in there with your hands. There are going to be edges and details and crevices that the electric sander can’t get. Fold up a piece of sand paper, or use a sanding block and get in there.
- Take extra care on those spots where you transition between layers of old paint down to the wood. Even though there will always be a difference of finish at these spots, sand the transition edges down smooth. This will give the piece a more finished look.
- Enjoy it! Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am ‘choosing’ to do this work. Unlike that house with the 23 windows, 21 doorways and 6 fireplace surrounds that I arrogantly bought thinking I could scrape, strip, sand and repaint and come out the other side a cheerful human being. Lesson learned … the hard way.
- Take a break! These kinds of projects always take me longer than I think they’re going to. I usually run out of steam half way through the scraping, because I tend to scrape and scrape … and scrape … instead of stripping. Which leads into…
- Work on a variety of other projects at the same time! It always helps me to have few ‘lesser impact’ projects going on during these old wood projects. When I’m tired from the scraping making a little leaf wreath or creating a fall mantel are a welcome ‘break’ from the ‘work’.
- Sun deteriorates old paint quickly! This one I learned inadvertently. Leave your projects out in the elements if you can for a few days and the paint will scrape off so much quicker. At least here, 12 degrees from the equator, this tip works.
So, that’s how I get through my old wood projects. How about you? Am I crazy for just not using stripper? Would you rather just buy something new?
And here is the newest old door project … I turned it into a coffee table.