I started this project in 2009. The ceiling, like every square inch of this house, was covered in aluminum siding when I bought the house. I removed the aluminum to reveal the original tongue and groove porch ceiling which had been painted over. I wanted to restore the porch ceiling to the original varnished look. This is not an easy task. Many methods were attempted, many failed.
First, I tried a heat gun and scraper and tested a small section. That was going to take forever and it was too painful to do that upside down.
Next, I tried Peel Away 7, a product I love and have used on several other projects. I made the mistake of applying the Peel Away to the entire ceiling at once. Then, for one reason or another, I waited a week before removing it. Most of it had dried out and wouldn't come off. For the rest, there was some strange chemical reaction with something on the porch ceiling which turned the Peel Away into this gloppy glue which fell all over the porch floor as I removed it, stuck to the bottom of my boots, and my feet would stick to the floor. It was a nasty mess. Plus, now there was Peel Away stuck in all the grooves between ceiling boards.
This project was the last remaining large-scale exterior restoration project. As soon as the weather broke in 2014, this project was resumed.
I began by sanding with 80 grit on a palm sander, trying to get rid of the dried up Peel Away and leftover paint. This was being done upside down and was incredibly painful. I spent two days and sanded about 10 boards. However, there was still some white (either paint or Peel Away) in between each board and in all the small hairline cracks from weathering. I realized there was no way this was going to work. At the rate it was taking, it would take 14 days, morning till night, of upside down sanding just in the initial stage of 80 grit and that still wouldn't get the grooves between boards. I could not get between the boards with sandpaper or scrapers or a wire brush, nothing was working. And then I'd still have to go back and sand again in finer grit and then stain and varnish everything upside down as well. My entire summer flashed before my eyes. My entire list of projects for 2014 postponed until 2015 at this rate. I needed a better way.
I reluctantly decided on soda blasting, a method I had used before, on my fireplace brick. I already owned a soda blaster and compressor. But it is a HORRIBLE job. It gets everywhere. The entire porch would need to be enclosed in tarps, all the other parts of the house masked off. I'd spend a fortune in baking soda. It's not an enjoyable experience at all. I decided to give it a shot. Did a test and realized it would still take forever, cost a fortune, and after it was all stripped by the blasting, I'd still have to sand, stain, and varnish everything upside down.
I then really began the restoration process. I washed the boards with TSP because they are filthy on the backside and inside the grooves. I removed the nails and glued back any important parts that split or broke off during removal.
I thought I'd just sand them each individually with 80 grit and it'd be a breeze since I could do it while standing upright. Wrong again. Sanding through the Peel Away and any leftover paint was pretty simple. But getting through the darkened, weathered wood and stain was taking FOREVER. I switched to 60 grit, still taking FOREVER. And there still remained the hairline cracks with white in them. I'd have to give each of those extra attention with the sander. It was going to take over an hour, maybe 2, of sanding like this PER BOARD. Multiplied by 135 boards. And that was just the preliminary sanding. I'd still have to go over them all again with finer grit before stain. Then the staining and vanishing steps. No way. Ain't nobody got time for that.
Finally, I decided to buy a planer, AKA "The Miracle Machine." Where has this thing been my whole life?! What an amazing tool! Stick a board in, it comes out the other end looking brand new! Two seconds. Fabulous invention. I ran a couple tests on scraps and could hardly contain my giddiness. My summer had returned. I might actually have a life outside of this porch ceiling project!
Since the edges of each board are tapered, the planer did not clean off everything. I still had to scrape and sand paint and dried Peel Away from the edges and tongue of each board which was time consuming. Each board was sanded with 80 grit, then 120 grit, then 220.
I then tried my best to find the closest color to original. First I was going to try an all in one exterior (deck) stain but they do not give the nice shiny, transparent finish. Then I tried a bunch of colors of Minwax samples from Lowes and wasn't happy with any of the colors. Then I went on Minwax's site and saw there was another color, Red Chestnut which seemed like it would be close to original since English Chestnut was really close but didn't have the red tint I needed. Returned to Lowes (again) in search of this color but it was not there. Found it at Sherwin Williams and it turned out to be about as close as possible to the original color.
I began staining the boards in batches of about 20. Followed with a semi-gloss Spar varnish. It still took forever. I'm not going to lie. I would discourage anyone from this project because it seemed like it would never, ever end. Each batch would take about a week to complete. Sanding, gluing, filling, sanding, staining, wiping, varnishing... on and on it went. Brutal.
The entire porch ceiling was restructured. There were originally only two 2x4s going lengthwise. These had sagged over the years. I removed all of the old 2x4s and replaced with three 2x6s. No more sagging.
Even though the boards were numbered when removed, nothing went back together correctly. So it was a lot of work to play with the spacing between the boards to try to get things lined up right.
But the results were pretty spectacular and I've already gotten several compliments.