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Porch Ceiling Restoration

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.

I realized that the porch roof was leaking and the water was coming through the porch ceiling. So it made no sense to continue this project until the roof was replaced. The porch ceiling remained a blotchy mess until the new slate roof was installed in 2014.

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 decided to just remove the porch ceiling boards entirely. This seemed incredibly daunting at first, but in comparison to the previous methods, it wasn't that bad. The nails were rusty and disintegrated and most let go pretty easily. I was able to remove the entire ceiling in one day. I numbered every board in hopes that they'd go back together perfectly. 135 boards total.

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 the 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.


  1. Wow, what a beautiful porch ceiling! It looks like an amazing amount of work. Great job!

  2. Wow. I think I would have settled for just paint or complete replacement, but it looks amazing. The city has nothing to complain about now, do they? The detail looks a little unusual to me--I would have expected more of an architrave over the posts to visually support the roof and some sort of molding or top to the tapered pillars..

    1. There is supposed to be trim on the columns. It was removed when they installed the aluminum siding. I took measurements of all the unpainted areas before I primed the columns and have done a lot of research on neighboring columns to figure out what it probably had originally. There are a couple areas on the ceiling I am not happy with and plan to fix before installing the trim. There is a crown molding that goes around the top, a base molding around the bottom, and a square framed border around the center area.

  3. Dazzling! I so admire your dedication to doing such high quality work. Dazzling!


  4. O happiness. O joy. What a lot of work, but what a great result.

    Makes me wish I had the time and cash to get the aluminum trim off my house.

  5. You really did do a beautiful job. Like really good.

  6. Wow!! Your porch ceiling is beautiful! I plan to remove my beadboard porch ceiling and flip them. I will sand the flipped side then stain. I learned the hard way on our built in China hutch. It came out pretty clean.

    1. I'm not sure of the condition of your ceiling, but I'll say that the backside of my ceiling boards were very cupped and extremely weathered. They would have had to be run through a planer before being able to do anything to them. Also, once you flip them, they won't fit around anything like posts, columns, etc. If all of yours are the same length, all the way across, it won't be an issue. But if they're like mine, and there are areas on the ends that are longer, and cut outs for the columns, etc, it wouldn't work once you flipped them. Mine weren't beadboard, they were just tongue and groove, so the backside was not same profile as the finished side. Not sure how beadboard would be. Good luck.

  7. I hope you are able to come back with an update this spring, I would love to see how your Foursquare is coming along - you have done a tremendous amount of work and it looks SO BEAUTIFUL!

    We are slowly working our way through the issues with our 1907 Victorian and often refer back to your blog for what you've done and how we can learn from your own successes.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Miranda! I appreciate the support. I just finished a flat-seam copper roof on the small balcony in the back of the house. I have to build the railings and install them and then I will be writing a post about that. I have a few areas on the porch ceiling that didn't come out the way I'd like and I want to fix those this season. And I have a bunch of small projects around the exterior that I want to take care of this year. Good luck on your house. I love Victorian's but after the work I've done on this one (with clean, straight lines), I can't imagine what it'd be like to work with all those intricate curves and ginger bread. Lots of details.

  8. Holy Moley! What a project. I certainly know about these kinds of painful projects.

  9. Nina - your well-documented efforts have been a great help to me. If you ever come to the upper Hudson Valley, I owe you at least a couple craft brews on our own porch. When we moved into my wife's grandmother's house, I seemingly was the first person to pull up the carpets in decades. I found New York Times newspapers laid down under the living room carpet... from 1927 and 1929. And it was from here where we started.
    However, people like you (and a nod to frankly) have given me great hope and encouragement from afar. <>

  10. HI is this post still alive? I'm pioneering something for the entire perimeter of my Chicago Bungalow, and this involves 6 boards depth and almost infinity length if you consider the length of house is the longest at maybe 60'.

    Doug Fir, 90yo, and painted of course. Luckily it's 100% symmetrical and an octagon front LR bay. That angle section about 5' was a great test, and that was even easier than your method. A gentle bristle dish brush, Dawn water, and hose it down. Repeat about 4x

    I am screwing a 1x2 across all 6 boards for the next challenge, LR front is about 20' total span
    The idea being, keep the entire thing as ONE UNIT. Ropes holding it up and lowering it as I pry more joists.
    Then add more ropes and screw more boards across. Lower as needed. Then when one unit is across several horses, add (nail) more 1x2's by nailing with 4 pennies, from the dark/unused side.

    Then unscrew the 1st boards. It's still one unit! Then clean with the Dawn, hose and brush. Then lightly sand with 220 so it doesn't stain dark. Then when dry brush 1:5:10 Spanish Oak stain to Linseed to Turpentine.

    Then it's dry and ready to nail back in place. Only thing is you always need a clean opening to pry so you have to leapfrog which sections you take down

  11. Wow, your Porch ceiling restoration is impressive. Thanks for sharing your experience with me.

  12. Nina, you have my heart! LOL. I've been working on my house for years....going through all these same types of scenarios...and learning all the way. I'm completely amazed at what all one goes through in decision-making, design, and trial&error (& I realize that others who just buy brand-new houses could never even come close to understanding what we've put into our homes; no one but us can truly appreciate it; God knows though, lol). Thanks for documenting all of this. It makes me feel sane. ;-) I would LOVE LOVE to see what color your exterior colors ended up being. Maybe you have a post on that. I just ran across your blog am still perusing. BTW, that porch ceiling is 100% beautiful.

  13. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Big thanks for the useful info. oil painting restoration


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