Your first consideration should always be fire-safety. Think about where the heat is being applied, in addition to where the hot flakes of paint will go. Many a decorator has come unstuck, for example, when burning off the soffits of a house. Flames don’t know where they’re supposed to go, so if there is a way through the surface to the dry old timbers in the attic or a hidden bird’s nest, they will soon burn through, and fire spreads very quickly. Unless you can see where the heat is going, don’t risk it. Always have a suitable means of extinguishing a fire to hand and remove soft furnishings from the area.
Also, consider the age of the paint and whether it is likely to be lead based. Lead is toxic and heating the paint will produce lead-laden fumes. Simple lead testing kits are available. Always guard against inhaling toxic fumes – ensure adequate ventilation and wear a suitably protective mask.
Hot air gun or torch
Heat can be applied either with a hot air gun or a gas torch. The former is a lot easier to use if you have no experience with a gas torch. Gas torches are a lot faster but more difficult to control and HOTTER.
Heat the surface of the paint by playing the gun back and forth to distribute the heat evenly. As the paint gets hot it will blister. It is at this point that it is easiest to remove it. Do not allow it to get any hotter as it will ignite and smoulder. Excess heat will also scorch the surface. This can bleed through new paint, or leave unsightly marks if the wood is to be varnished.
Small scorch marks can be prevented from bleeding through by applying a coat of knotting.
Chemical strippers are painted on to the surface and allowed to work for a specified time. They soften the paint film enough to allow it to be scraped off the surface.
Read the instructions carefully. Some products need special processes – some require that the surface be covered with plastic to stop the stripper drying out while it acts. Others require that the surface be neutralised afterwards. Failing to do this can result in the new paint stripping itself! Check out the types of stripper available. There are different products for different jobs.
Wear suitable protective gear including goggles and gloves. These chemicals may burn.
Avoid breathing in the vapours. Check the label on the tin, and if required, wear a suitable mask designed to filter out the vapours.
Technique for stripping
Always protect the floor with a suitably resistant material.
The paint is removed with a variety of tools. The two most common being the stripping knife and the shave hook. Before applying heat or chemicals, scrape away loose paint.
For broad, flat areas the stripping knife is used in the same way as for removing wallpaper and is probably the most effective method.
For smaller shapes and mouldings, use the hook. The combination tool, with different profiles for work on different shapes, is the most versatile. Unlike the knife, this tool is used by scraping it along the surface towards you rather than away from you.
The cleaner you remove the paint, the less preparation work you will have later.
When burning off, use both hands – one to strip, the other to heat the next section. This will speed up the work.
Always guard against fire. Place a non-combustible container or board below your work.