Removing paint from wood may seem like a very difficult task, but this is not really true. Although doing so is going to take some work, particularly if you have a large area to cover, luckily there are a few different ways to go about it.
Today, we want to take a look at some of the best ways to remove paint from wood including sanding, using a heat gun, using chemical paint strippers, and more. Due to the fact that there are so many choices at your disposal, finding the best one for your situation should not be too hard.
5 Common Ways of Removing Paint from Wood
Let’s get right to it and cover the five best and most common ways to remove paint from wood, starting with the most obvious and common one, sanding.
If you are working with a fairly small object, something like a small shelf, chair, a stool, or something similar, manually sanding off the old paint by hand is a decent way to go. Depending on the size of the object, you will most likely need a lot of sandpaper. When sanding paint off, sandpaper will get clogged and ruined quickly, so you will need quite a bit, even for smaller wooden objects.
Remember that there are many different kinds of sandpaper, particular in terms of the grain, or in other words, the coarseness of the grit. To remove the outer layers of paint, you will need sandpaper that has a very coarse grit, as this will make the job as quick as possible.
Once you have finished removing the majority of the paint (preferably all of it), with the coarse sandpaper, move to using finer sandpaper with less grit. This will help prepare the wooden surface for a new application of paint.
Ok, so of course you can do this manually by hand, but if you want to do this quickly, and you want the best looking result, in the end, an electric sander is the best way to go. For relatively small objects, a handheld orbital sander is recommended, and if you are working on something like a large floor, a full-scale electric sander is your best bet.
You absolutely don’t want to manually sand more than a few square feet with nothing but your hands and some squares of sandpaper. That will take forever, plus your hands won’t thank you either. In all reality, even for smaller objects, if you are willing to shell out for an electric sander, even a cheap orbital one, we would recommend doing so.
Using a Heat Gun
The next option at your disposal for removing old paint from wood is to use a heat gun. What you need to know here is that this method is much easier and faster than sanding, but also much more dangerous. Heat guns are not toys, and they need to be handled with care and respect.
To use a heat gun to remove paint from wood, first off, always wear heatproof or at least heat resistant gloves, as well as goggles, and a face mask, or even a full-scale respirator. Those hot paint fumes won’t do your lungs any favors, so you want to open up a window too, all of your windows. Finally, make sure to have a bucket of water nearby, plus a functioning fire extinguisher too.
As we said, this method is dangerous, and you do risk causing a fire, so the utmost care is required when removing paint from wood with a heat gun. Before you start, remember that some small flames are common when doing this, so if you see any small flames, just stop what you are doing and sprinkle a bit of water on the area.
Turn on the heat gun and hold it roughly seven or eight inches from the wood. Heat up the area just enough so that the paint starts to bubble, crack, and come loose, but make sure not to hold the heat gun in any one place for too long, or else you will burn the wood and possibly start a fire. Just move the heat gun along the surface in a slow and steady manner.
Use a scraper to remove the loose paint and dispose of it properly.
What most people may not realize here is that the surface still needs to be sanded down before a new layer of paint, gloss, lacquer, or whatever else can be applied.
Using a Chemical Stripper
The third way to remove paint from wood is to use a chemical stripper. These come in all sorts of types, or in other words, various chemicals may be used. Something to remember here is that all chemicals for stripping paint are a bit different, so you do want to follow the directions on your product very closely.
However, the process is going to be quite similar across the board.
Take the chemical stripper and pour it into a painter’s tray or something similar. Then, use an old paintbrush that is still in good condition, dip it in the chemical stripper so that there is a generous amount in the bristles, and then proceed to brush it onto the surface.
Make sure to only brush in one direction, and do not apply two coats. One coat will do just fine. Depending on the exact product, you will need to wait for 30 to 60 minutes to allow it to work. Once the paint is soft enough to remove, use a paint scraper to scrape it all off.
Now you should wipe down the area with a rag soaked in paint solvent to remove any remaining paint and chemical stripper residue. Once you have scraped the paint off the wood and removed any chemical residue, you will still need to sand it down before you can apply any kind of new paint or stain.
Using a Scraping Tool
If the wooden object you are removing paint from has several thick layers of paint, using a chemical stripper will not be effective. In this case, you may want to resort to using just a scraper. No, this is not particularly easy or fast, but it does work well for excessive amounts of paint.
Before you get started, use some kind of sharpening tool to ensure that your paint scraper has a very fine and sharp edge. How fast you can complete this task will depend on the quality and the sharpness of the tool. Simply start scraping away, and you can do so in any direction.
Keep scraping until all paint has been removed.
If there is paint leftover that is impossible for the scraper to remove, you can use a rag soaked in some paint thinner or paint solvent to remove the remaining paint. Once you have done this, you will need to sand down the surface before you can apply new paint or a new finish.
Using a Chemical and a Scraper
This method is somewhat similar to the third method listed, but just a little different. This method is best used for relatively small objects. Here, you want to get something like a rag or cotton ball, soak it in some paint thinner or lacquer thinner, and rub it over the paint. You may need to rub for quite a while for this to work.
Here, you can just keep rubbing until the paint starts coming off, which is fine if there is just a really thin layer of it.
For thicker layers of paint, let the thinner soak in a bit, and then use a scraper tool to peel off loose paint. Of course, you will need to sand the wood before applying a new layer of paint.
What is the Best Way to Remove Paint from Wood?
This question is a bit too simplified in our opinion, and the reason for this is because which method is best for this task really depends on the scale of the project as well as how much paint you need to remove, and the type of paint too.
If you are working with a relatively small wooden object, using some chemical stripper or paint thinner will do fine. This is because these liquids need to be applied by hand and doing everything manually will take some time.
If you need to remove small amounts of paint from wooden objects, ones that have curves and lots of nooks and crannies, manually sandpapering it may be your best bet. That said, if you are working with a large and flat surface, an electric sander is going to be much more efficient.
Finally, if you need to cover a very large area or if the paint has been used that is very hard to remove, your best bet is probably to use the heat gun and scraping method. Heat guns are perhaps the easiest tool to use for paint removal, but once again, remember that they can be quite dangerous due to the fire hazard they inherently come with.
The bottom line is that any of the five methods for removing paint from wood are viable options to go with. As you can see, which one you choose depends on the scale of the project as well as the amount of paint that needs to be removed. For those thick layers, using either a heat gun or electric sander is best.
Before choosing one of the above, you might also want to read my detailed comparison of using a heat gun vs. a chemical remover.