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8 Year Anniversary

Not much to report on this year. I have a few more things left to do on the exterior, including getting new copper gutters soon, but I'm mostly switching focus to interior projects. I've been working on stripping the built-in cabinets in the dining room, a very tedious project involving dental picks and removal of all trim. I'm pretty much done stripping the main part of it. But I still have all the removed trim, cabinet doors, drawers, and shelves to strip (easier since they have all been removed). Then the process of refinishing and attempting to match other woodwork begins. I'll post all those pics when that project is complete.

Made a pretty cool discovery this past week that I'm excited about. All the woodwork in my house was painted over without properly prepping the surface first (thankfully). Until this past week, I assumed that refinishing all the woodwork in the house would be a long, laborious process, like the built-in cabinets have been, and would involve stripping down to bare wood and refinishing from scratch. I've tried basically every paint stripping method known to man over the past 8 years and so far everything that involved removing paint from the surface of the wood also meant removing the original finish on the wood. I decided to try one more method: steam. As an experiment, I ran out and bought a cheap $55 wallpaper steamer and tried it on a section of trim in an upstairs bedroom. It immediately removed the top layers of latex paint, with minimal effort. However, there is one or two layers of oil-based paint under that which the steam doesn't seem to have much effect on. But, since the surface doesn't seem to have been prepped properly (sanded), that layer comes off with a bit more effort with the paint scraper, but not too bad. What I did find interesting though, is that someone had obviously already stripped this bedroom woodwork once before. After getting the oil-based layer off, I noticed gouge marks in the original finish that weren't coming from me. Fortunately, these gouges don't go all the way down into the wood, so I believe with some light scuffing and a new layer of shellac, they'd disappear. We'll see.

I then went and tested another area, downstairs in the dining room. The paint on the baseboard has areas that already flake off easily, so I had a feeling it would be easy to remove. I put the steamer on and in a matter of a few minutes, I was able to remove most of the paint (100% latex) from the entire face of the baseboard. It peeled off in large pieces with practically no effort. Right down to the original shellac finish, without having any effect on the original finish at all. Completely amazing! I then tried the trim around the window in the same room with mixed results. Some of it was like the upstairs trim, it had a layer of oil based paint that was more stubborn, and some came right off easily like the baseboard. It's as though someone has already stripped it before but then gave up half-way through and decided to paint again. Because some areas have a layer of hippy green oil-based paint and some areas of the same trim don't have that layer. I do think that I can remove it all, with some more coaxing though. So my plan has changed from stripping and refinishing all the woodwork in the entire house, to attempting to salvage the original finish on most of the woodwork, if possible, which would shave years off of the interior restoration.

The biggest hurdle is that at some point, they painted the top edges of baseboard the same color of paint as the wall (oil-based), but left the face of the baseboard original (too lazy to mask the top edge basically). Then, years later, they painted the face of the baseboard, which is why it's just latex whereas the edges and window trim have a layer of oil-based paint. And same in the upstairs hallway. That is the only section of the house that was never painted. All the woodwork is original, and the doors are the original finish. But the edges of the vertical trim are painted, even though the face of the trim is not. That is probably going to be the most difficult part of this procedure, removing the oil-based paint from those edges without damaging the shellac. So we'll see if it can be done. So far it seems promising. If anyone has any ideas on how to remove oil-based paint from shellac without removing the shellac, let me know.

Another thing I've been doing lately is researching the history of the house. I will post an entire entry about this topic soon, I hope. So I'll just give some teasers for now. I'm still hunting for an old photo of the house (before the 1955 photo) and so far have been unsuccessful. I've done some genealogy research on the original families (2 related families owned my house for the first 47 years) and recently discovered that one of the original children who grew up in my house just died 2 years ago. I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for not doing this research sooner and speaking to her before she passed. But I have tracked down some of the grandchildren of the original owners and am reaching out to them, hoping for pictures and stories. I was able to find a picture of one of the original children of my house, sitting on my porch steps with a bunch of other kids, in 1925, in a book written about Lakewood. And I was able to find out who the owner of the tin toy car found in my attic was. The only boy to grow up in my house in the first 47 years (the toy was made in 1922). I believe they purposely put this car in the attic, after his death, for someone to find years later (me). The boy died at 21 years of age of a pulmonary embolism after having bronchitis. I have a picture of him and some of the other family members. I will post when I figure out more of this story.

While doing research on the history of my house, I managed to find the original building permit from 1914. In the comments, it said "duplicate of" and listed another address in the city. I went to that address and found that, sure enough, there is another house nearly identical to mine, without the dormer. Everything else, down to the style of leaded glass windows, is the same. Same fireplace, same front door, same layout, same flooring (narrow 1.5" wide tongue and groove oak). The owner was kind enough to give me a tour of his house and I was able to learn some things that I didn't realize about mine. For a long time, I've wondered why the edges of the molding at the top of the door and window trim (the little crown piece of molding), didn't touch the wall. I have all these little crown edge pieces on the sides of all the door and window molding, that go partially back to the wall but not quite. Well, it's because there used to be picture rail molding all around the master bedroom, and possibly the living room. So that same crown molding, at the top of the door and window trim, continued around the entire room. The cut pieces happen to all be cut at the exact angles that the pieces attached to the wall would meet, all miter cuts. In the rooms where there was no picture rail, those little edge pieces of crown molding go back flush against the wall. So someone removed all the picture rail. Fortunately, I think I have enough salvaged, matching profile trim, to replace it in the master bedroom.

I also found some original wallpaper underneath some trim in a closet. In hours of online searching for historic wallpaper patterns, I was unable to find anything even remotely similar.

Stay tuned...


  1. Wow, it's lucky that you're able to steam off so much of the paint. Since the wood looks like it was stained and shellacked before, the oil paint should come off pretty easily with a heat gun. Have you had any problems removing trim? I found our wood was really brittle and would often break or split which is why we eventually stripped everything in place (except drawers & windows). I hope you have better luck.

    1. You know that "I'm Sexy and I know it" song? The chorus goes "wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle....". That's my theme song when removing trim. They key is gentle wiggling motion to loosen up those old rusty nails. My trim is not brittle, it just hangs on for dear life and won't let go. I have to use so much force to get those nails to let go that sometimes I crack stuff. The other day I cracked a 1" thick baseboard (fortunately it was in the closet so nobody will see). Those nails don't want to let go! I rarely ever crack anything though. First I slide a putty knife behind the trim and wiggle it enough to where I can get the thinnest pry bar I have in there. Once the pry bar is in, I use gentle wiggling motion little bits at a time, across the length of the board.

      What I found with the trim attached to the walls though (baseboard and trim around windows), is that it requires way too much force against the plaster to release those 3" long rusty nails, and it ends up damaging the plaster before the boards come loose. So I decided against removing anymore of that. If I have to remove it, the secret, I found, is to pry it back from the wall (wiggle wiggle wiggle) just enough to get a long sawzall blade behind it and cut the nails with a sawzall.

      What I'm discovering today is that when I try to clean the light layer of paint that remains in some spots, with paint thinner (shellac safe) or anything else for that matter, it's lightening the color of the wood. Even though I'm very gently cleaning these areas. The paint is coming off easily, but then the color of the wood is going with it. So I'm not sure if this can be restored with just a new layer of shellac or if I'll need to strip it all and start again (which I'd really like to avoid).

    2. I've heard you can pick up heat guns pretty affordably at Harbor Freight. Honestly, I think it's worth your time to try a heat gun. It might save you time. I didn't really have any trouble burning the wood, as I used the heat gun at the lowest heat setting that softened the paint and I kept moving the flow of heat so it didn't stay in one spot. Perhaps you know someone with a heat gun you can borrow to try it. We had really good luck with a heat gun and it took off almost all our paint and we had all kind of oil paint on it. I suspect it would be faster than removing the wood, stripping it and then reinstalling it.

    3. I have 2 heat guns. Use them regularly. But the steamer was working at a much faster rate and much cleanear. However it appears thereally is something wrong with the shellac. Although the steamer takes 90% of the paint off leaving the shellac in perfect condition, the moment I try to clean the remaining paint off with anything, including just plain water, the shellac diseappears. So this would happen even if I removed 100% of the paint and then wenter to clean the woodwork one day. It's weird. It acts like it's disintegrated but it looks fine.

  2. When I restored all the window sashes in our house, I had very good blending new stain with old finish in areas I didn't fully strip and sand. The windows were all stained (no paint to deal with), but in the course of repairing rot and damaged finish, I sanded all the flat areas to clean wood, but didn't struggle on the curved areas. I re-stained a very close shade, and after I varnished, you can't even tell. You may want to test that approach in the areas where you only need to strip the sides of the trim. Especially since it's in the sides and not on the same plane, it may blend in very well. You may need to put a new coat of shellac across the entire trim to bring the gloss to the same level, though.

    Unfortunately, I don't have any of my work written up on a blog, but I have a ton of photos in a G+ album. If you want to shoot me an email, I can send you the link. I have a lot of photos of restoring my original wood Windows, including some that were deteriorated a fair amount.

  3. I know in the 60's the Potters lived there....How do you get all this info on your house..My hoyse just turned 100. I want to see old pictures of my house and learn the history of the previous owners


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