Catching up

It has been ages since I have blogged about progress, and almost as long since I worked upstairs.  I started grad school in January and recently decided it wasn’t for me, so I am back to work on the house.

Before I started school, I had a few months to continue work upstairs, so I thought I would post a summary of earlier progress and where I’m headed.  Once I get back into it, the details will come back to me and I can share some of my tricks.

Still dizzy on the fumes of successfully finishing the back bedroom, I started stripping paint in the small “former kitchen”  which continued out into the hall when I realized that the paint was peeling off of the shellac in large strips.  Unfortunately, this just left a sticky layer that had to be removed with Citristrip, denatured alcohol, and elbow grease.

Of course I didn’t realize this until I had peeled the whole hallway (it was kind of addictive).  So the hallway and the former kitchen got stripped, sanded and stained together and now look like this, or at least the wood does.


The picture on the left gives clues about two other things we did.  If you notice, there is no longer a kitchen linoleum floor in the “former kitchen”.  In order to get down to the bottom of the baseboards, we removed peel and stick tile, vinyl flooring, a subfloor and finally an old orange linoleum that was glued directly to the floorboards.  There were also the hundreds of tiny staples that were used by a rabid staple gun user every 1/2″ or so to attach the subfloor.  A modified staple remover, heat gun and knee pads were the final solution, but that was a lot of work.



And if that weren’t enough, during the process of stripping paint off the trim, the stripper managed to loosen the layers of wallpaper around the frame and I thought I should remove the wallpaper.  Come to find out, the first layer of wallpaper was attached using clay, and I still haven’t washed the plaster well enough to begin repairs.  There is wallpaper on the ceiling too, but I am afraid to know what is under it.  I think repairing cracks on the ceiling will be terrible.


So in addition to that, I also managed to strip the paint from everything but the doors in the front bedroom before the weather, our trip to Japan and the holidays consumed the time remaining before school started.

I am planning to spend the next week cleaning and organizing the downstairs living area before

  1. Stripping the paint off the front bedroom and closet doors
  2. Sanding the doors and trim in the front bedroom
  3. Staining and applying polyurethane on the doors and trim
  4. Sanding and painting front bedroom, closet walls and ceiling
  5. Cleaning and refinishing the hardware to said doors
  6. Cleaning and repairing the walls in the “former kitchen”
  7. Sanding and painting walls in the “former kitchen”
  8. Replacing attic stairs with modern pull down stairs
  9. Sanding and painting hallway
  10. Installing exhaust fan for upstairs bathroom
  11. Finding someone to refinish the floors upstairs

Don’t worry, it’s not so bad.  🙂  I’ll let you know how it goes.


Stripping paint

Tuesday we finished stripping all the wood in the “former kitchen”.  That makes it two weeks from when we started, and we don’t work Wednesdays or weekends and also took days off to work on restoring hardware.  Granted it is probably one-third of the wood in the back bedroom, but that room took a year of struggling, giving up, forgetting how hard it was, struggling again and finally finishing.  I think I must have gone over every piece of wood in that room three times to get all the paint off.  The difference?  I finally nailed down a method that works and found  the right tools for the job.

My procedure for stripping paint from molding that is still on the wall

This process assumes we will be staining molding and painting walls.

All of our molding has several layers of paint and was never varnished.  You may find it takes less time for stripper to work, but we wait 24 hours.

This process starts first thing in the morning and finishes the next morning around noon.


  • Stripping gloves (the heavy duty ones you find by the stripper at the hardware store – don’t skimp -you can get serious burns)
  • Disposable nitrile gloves  (optional, but I wear them under the stripping gloves)
  • Safety glasses (you don’t want this stuff in your eyes either)
  • Painter’s Tape (the wider the better)
  • Citristrip Stripping Gel  (I get the big one and go through a lot of it)
  • Citristrip Paint Stripper After Wash (to remove any residue.  You could probably use mineral spirits, but I haven’t tried it)
  • Disposable pie tin or other container for holding stripper
  • paint brush (I use a 2″ natural brush)
  • small piece of plastic wrap (wrapping the brush means you don’t have to clean the citristrip out every time)
  • 1″ putty knife
  • Nylon brushes ( I have a stripper tool that has a big nylon brush on it and a plastic scraper on the other end and a tooth brush size that came in a set of 3 with a brass and stainless steel brush.  I learned the hard way to only use the nylon one)
  • Bamboo skewers
  • small long nail (optional)
  • spray bottle ( got mine in the gardening section)
  • 91% isopropyl alcohol (a cheaper alternative to denatured alcohol, I buy several every time I am in Walmart.  I don’t use 80%,  it has too much water)
  • Rags (I reuse shop rags until they are so filthy I can’t anymore)
  • Clean lint free knit rags for final wipe down


  1. Prepare work area.
    • Remove any hardware from area, including light switch and outlet covers that might be near by.
    • Apply 2″ or wider painter’s tape to walls adjacent to molding to reduce damage.  This will not completely prevent stripper from softening wall paint, but it will reduce the damage and subsequent repair work.
    • Cover the floor near by.   I use newspaper, but I am planning to repair or replace the floor, so I don’t mind if the stripper makes the paper stick to the floor.  Use thick plastic and tape it down if you want to preserve your floor.
  2. Apply first coat of Citristrip (we usually do just the crown molding, the rest of window or door, or about 8-12 ft of baseboard at a time so the stripping takes about 2-4 hours)
    • Dump a large blob of Citristrip gel into the pie pan.
    • Apply liberally to molding with paintbrush.  You should be able to see thick orange on every surface
    • When finished wrap paintbrush in plastic wrap for next time.
  3. Spray everything you just coated with a fine mist of alcohol every 3-6 hours to keep the gel moist and working.
  4. After 12 hours, the top layer of paint will be wrinkled and lifted from the wood.  For us, the deeper layers are still attached, so we apply a second thinner layer of Citristrip over everything and a thick layer over any parts that aren’t bubbly.
  5. Leave it overnight and spray it down with alcohol first thing in the morning.  It is now ready to strip.
  6. Strip paint off of wood.
    • Score edges between wall and molding with putty knife
    • Use putty knife to lift off one continuous piece of gooey paint from all curved areas, when possible
    • I hold a piece of newspaper in my other hand to dump paint and wipe off putty knife.
    • After removing as much of the loose paint as possible, spray surface with alcohol and wipe with old rag.  Trouble spots will remain and need more attention.
    • Scrub area with nylon brushes to try and loosen as much as possible.  Wipe off again with rag.
    • Use bamboo skewers to dig paint out of remaining curves.  Use putty knife to get between molding pieces.
    • Keep working until you see no remnants of paint, then spray with alcohol and wipe down one more time.
  7. Using a clean rag, apply Citristrip Stripper After Wash to all surfaces.
  8. Carefully remove tape from wall and evaluate damage.  Some paint may be soft and stick to tape.  I did a lot of damage in the first room before I started using tape, and I just painted over the low spots.  They are not terribly noticeable, but I do plan to use paint-able caulk this time to fix those places.
  9. Clean any spots of citristrip/paint residue on wall with alcohol and a rag.  Alcohol will probably discolor paint, but I  wouldn’t attempt this without planning on painting the room afterward.

Ready to strip

The biggest tip I found on the internet was using the isopropyl alcohol to keep the Citristrip working.   Before I found that, I would re apply the stripper 2 or 3 times to keep it wet and working.

Forcing myself to wait 24 hours has also helped a lot.  When I was waiting ~16 hours, it was still a lot of work to scrape paint off. Now it just lifts off with very little work.

Now that the stripping is done, I will start sanding…

The Beginning

When we first walked through our house with Tracy, our real estate agent, we saw a house that was clean and well maintained, but had been whitewashed to make it look more modern.  We heard the previous owner had worked with a house stager for almost a year to make it look uniform.  It is in a good location and was by far the largest and had the best condition of houses we saw, so we decided to go for it, though we had been hoping for wood molding and trim.

Here’s an example of the rooms on the second floor and you can see more of the house here.

Superficially there is nothing wrong with the house and we could probably have lived comfortably if we kept the lights dim and didn’t look too close.  We are not that kind of people, however, and immediately noticed paint drips and painted hardware that would drive us nuts.  Luckily, the house is rather large for the two of us, and had been split into two apartments for a long time.  That meant we had a 3/4 bath on both the first and second floors, and a room suitable as a bedroom on the first floor.  So we have been able to live on the first floor and modify the second floor without living up there.  This previous life as two apartments also meant that one of the rooms upstairs had been a kitchen for a long time so it had a vinyl floor and no longer had a door.

So, long story short, we set about stripping paint from the wood in the back bedroom that would be our bedroom when all was said and done.  It was started soon after we moved in, found to be much more difficult than expected, abandoned for a year, and then revisited when we had a friend staying with us who had some time on her hands and was interested in helping me move things along.

I started doing a lot more reading on the internet about other people’s experiences, tried a bunch of different things until we found a system that worked, and finally got the room looking the way we had envisioned it. You can see more before, during and after pictures here.

I also did a lot of reading about hardware restoration and have removed the paint and restored the patina on the doorplates, and faux finished the doorknobs to match.  I plan to post a detailed description of the process for each, but for now, check out the before and after

We have now moved on to the former kitchen, and I have been more diligent about photographing progress. We also have a pretty good system for stripping paint and finishing molding still attached to the wall that I plan to detail in future posts.

For reference, here is the upstairs floor plan I drafted at floorplanner.com.  If you’d like to take a look in 3D, check out this link.

My goal is to have all the wood upstairs finished by August, so we can either restore or replace the floors and move upstairs in the fall.  Then we’ll see about the downstairs and outside…  🙂