Taking the Paint Off

As anyone who’s watched a child knows, kids’ hands go everywhere!  One place they’ll definitely be is the stair bannister, which is why I’m switching out the white-painted finish for natural wood. It will show less wear-and-tear this way, and will eliminate the layers of old paint.

Before starting the Healthy Home Project, I consulted with an environmental testing company.  I’ve used them for two projects before, and they truly deliver on a range of environmental testing services, remediation and expertise.  In any home built before 1978, they advise to err on the side of caution and assume there’s lead-based paint (unless you get it tested and know otherwise). For the Healthy Home Project, we’re using this Precautionary Principle throughout the renovation because it’s a best practice for anytime work is done in an older home (The EPA covers the basics in their “Good Work Practices During Remodeling”. As mentioned in an earlier post, it’s definitely a must-read before starting any home reno project.)

To strip down the bannister to the bare wood, I’m using Ready Strip Pro by a company called Back to Nature, purchased from the local paint store (reviews and tips also at HomeDepot.com). There’s several similar products in this line but the “Pro” formulation is a gel that won’t drip down the bannister  while other products in the line are more liquidy.  The gel changes color when the paint is ready to be scraped off, removing the guesswork.

According to the manufacturer:  “Ready-Strip Pro is non-flammable, biodegradable, virtually odorless and can be cleaned up with water. It does not contain methylene chloride, caustic, flammable chemicals or harmful vapors like many traditional strippers. Ready-Strip Pro avoids the uncertainty associated with other strippers that are ineffective if removed too soon, or dry out and do not work if left on too long.”

As there were so many layers of paint on the bannister (over 100 years worth), it took close to three hours for the product to change color. Overall, the project took three applications, which made this a lengthy process. Though I did learn through professional testing this wood wasn’t painted with lead paint, I used the EPA lead guidelines as a matter of course.  After the scraping and re-applications, it needed some sanding.  I misted the surfaces with a simple spray bottle of water and used a wet sanding sponge to minimize dust, in addition to wearing a face mask and gloves. A few layers of eco-safe poly on the wood will finish it off.

This project was time-consuming and tedious (easily 20 hours), but the final outcome brings the back the natural beauty of this wood bannister to how it was a century ago.

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