Infrared Paint Removal: Speedheater™ Cobra

By Scott Sidler August 7, 2017

infrared paint removal speedheater cobraThe generous folks at Eco-Strip sent us a brand new Speedheater™ Cobra to test in our shop, and I put it through the paces for a couple weeks on a bunch of different projects. So, this week I wanted to share the results of my testing as well as a “How To” video on using infrared paint removal for your own projects.

We’re all looking for faster and safer ways to remove old paint (especially lead paint) and there are a ton of options I see people using like scrapers, heat guns, steam, chemicals and of course infrared. I think they all have their place depending on a few things like budget, size of the project, and time. So, today let’s take a look at infrared and how it can help you!

What is Infrared?

Infrared technology is different than the old fashioned way of just applying heat to paint. Used to be painters would use a torch to strip old paint. It worked great except that it caused a ton of house fires and vaporized the lead paint which is a serious health hazard.

Infrared works faster and at much lower temperatures than traditional heat guns. For example, the Speedheater™ I was testing runs between 400°F and 560°F compared to a traditional heat gun which needs to be at 900°F to 1100°F to get the same effects.

That cooler temp means there is almost no chance I am going to vaporize lead paint or start fires. That my friends is the awesome thing about infrared paint removal.

The Speedheater™ Cobra

I’ll come right out and say it, I really liked the Cobra. Having used the Original Speedheater™ for a few years I was used to a big bulky tool that worked great for doors and siding, but was not nimble enough for the large amount of windows we restore.

If the Original Speedheater™ is like the reliable work truck you use for the big jobs the Cobra is the Ferrari that you want to drive every day! I was worried about the smaller size slowing down production speed, but since the Cobra heats paint so quickly (2-4 seconds!) production time wasn’t an issue.

With the small size also comes a few other benefits:

  • Can reach in tight spaces (perfect for windows)
  • Not more tired arms
  • Easy to transport

I blew threw a 3-lite sash inside and out in about 20 mins which is about 10 mins faster that it usually takes me and I was less tire because with the soft paint I wasn’t working my scraper as hard.

The only thing I took issue with was that the Cobra doesn’t come in a carrying case like the Original Speedheater™. Since I’m mostly planning to use this in the shop it’s not a big deal, but infrared bulbs are expensive and I sure would like to have a custom case to carry this from job to job especially for the price.

How to Strip Paint Using Infrared Heat

The video below will walk you through the tools and techniques you need in just 5 minutes and give you a good demonstration of the Cobra. And please excuse the sweat, I’m using a infrared heater…in a warehouse…in the summer…in Florida.

The Tools

You’ll see me using a variety of tools in the video above and in case you are wondering what they are here are the links below as well as a few other tools that may be helpful. Some are available in our store and others are pretty standard and can be found online or in a local hardware store.

You can click on any of the links below to learn a little more about each tool.

28 thoughts on “Infrared Paint Removal: Speedheater™ Cobra”

  1. Thank you, guys and gals for the helpful responses. I too am concerned about the ladder issue but also like the potential ease with which I may be able to use this product. I appreciate the food for thought. If I decide to pull the trigger on the Cobra, you’ll be the first to know. I’ve got to get a move-on given the limited painting window we are now in.

  2. Hello, All. Possible dumb question. I have a cape style home. My house is stucco on the bottom half and shingles on the sides on the upper half. Is the cobra useful for exterior shingles or too small? it seems to heat quickly. i’ll be up on a ladder. i’m trying to do this paint job on the cheap so buying one of these would be a big chunk of my already paltry budget.

    1. Patrick, shingles are tough to strip. The Cobra would work well especially since it is about The size of a shingle exposure though. The original Speedheater would probably cover 2 shingles. The Cobra is nice and light which would be helpful on a ladder too. Just some thoughts.

    2. I have a Queen Anne Victorian with shingles. I prefer a smaller device like the Cobra, ,though in actuality I use some jury-rigged devices that are less expensive.
      Technique when you do it, try to avoid taking the lamp away from the surface when you scrape, instead move it to warm the next few inches while you scrape what was just softened.
      I am still working on something home made and less expensive, but don’t hold your breath waiting for my success.

    3. Patrick,
      As you know, doing any work on a ladder is a safety issue. If you do need to get the Cobra away from your surface for a bit, you can take an S hook with one end on your ladder and use the other for hanging the Cobra by its stand – facing outward towards the open air, of course. Being 22 oz and extremely concentrated infrared rays will make the paint heating much faster and easier on your arms and wrists. The safety issue I am concerned about is whether you can keep up with the need/desire to scrape the paint immediately after the quick heating by using one hand to hole the scraper and one hand to hold the Cobra. Let me know how the smaller Cobra’s paint stripping method works for you.

  3. I have the large speed heater that i have used under one hour. It is too big for me to use on my windows. Is there any market for a slightly used speedheater? I want to get the cobra instead. This one was purchased last summer.

  4. Scott,

    Your blog is great, and I come back to it as a constant resource all the time. Just a quick question – did the original primers typically have lead in them as well? The Cobra seems to abate concerns of lead in the scraping, but will I be facing lead concerns during final prep/sanding?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Justin,
      Controlling the heat of the paint prevents lead fumes. It does not eliminate the lead in the paint waste. You must collect and dispose of that safely. If remnants of lead paint linger on the the substrate after you have stripped, I suggest you wet sand lightly, only if you need to do it at all, to prevent dust from being released. Unless the wood surface is very smooth, it likely has some “tooth” or slight roughness to which the new primer can adhere well.

      1. Thank you both. I was referring the residual primer that’s left after the scraping that will need to be sanded down inevitably. I have the same primer on my trim in my house, and it has lead. However, sanding the primer is necessary to a smooth finish. I have the respirator and my orbital hooked up to a HEPA vac, but I’m wondering if I should be doing something more. Dust is inevitably all over the place. Is TSP the best cleaning up? I plan to do a whole house wipe down.

        1. Justin,
          -You are already being very thorough, even if this was your livelihood and you stripped 10 houses/yr. unless you plan to have infant children crawling around the floor in the next 6 months, I would not bother with being obsessive/compulsive with a TSP cleaning.
          -When you say respirator, do you mean a high efficiency mask to keep out the smallest particles, or a closed system that keeps out fumes as well? You do not need to worry about fumes with an IR device designed for paint removal as discussed.
          -In my experience, there is very little to sand if one is careful and attentive with the “final scrape”, unless you are trying to remove everything to refinish the wood with stain/oil/varnish. If repainting, the amount of primer left in the pores of the wood grain is negligible.
          -No matter. by the time the scraping is done, the amount of paint and lead in the paint is a very small fraction of what was there initially. Lead poisoning was first described in the context of toddlers eating peeling paint, not microscopic amounts in dust.
          I would do a TSP wipedown IF you plan to have very young children crawling on the floor within the next 6 months or so, and then primarily to avoid a hassle if the child’s lead screening comes back a little high (which would cause a panic, but would not need treatment, let alone cause damage), which would have been perfectly acceptable when my adult children were young. I am all for safety, but the way some scream about lead levels one would think most people over 30 have serious brain damage from lead, because the levels prevalent back then are considered terribly high today.
          I am a doctor. I know what the recommendations were when I was in practice, what the recs were when my children were young living in old houses with lead paint in them. Levels considered worrisome now would not have even registered on the tests we used to screen then.

          1. Mike,

            Thank you so much for your help and for putting it all in perspective. I think I may go with the TSP wipe down simply because we are going to start trying to have kids in the next few months (although those potential kids won’t be crawling for 16+ months, there is possibly significant dust in the house.

            My setup for the paint removal has been a hepa vac, a lead respirator mask (pink circles on the side), goggles, ear muffs, and a metabol paint scrapper. The paint scrapper really takes the paint off; however, dust and paint scraps go flying every where, which I subsequently sweep up and then mop thereafter. I would be covered in dust and paint chips. I sealed off every room that I was working in, but realistically some dust is still present. I’m not necessarily worried about me, just the mini-me’s who will eventually be in the home and a soon-to-be pregnant wife, which I think is why we’ll go with the belt and suspenders route.

            The Metabol is a little too powerful for interior paint scrapping (despite the company’s videos, this thing is a widow maker if handled improperly); accordingly, I just ordered a Cobra. The metabol got me through the bedrooms, but I would sometimes gouge the wood, and I do not want that to happen on the main floor. The Cobra appears to save time on the sanding end, which is a huge part of the process with the Metabol (due to the sheer power and gouging).

            I definitely didn’t want to spend this kind of money at this point in the game, but Scott said exactly what I was thinking. If you are doing a whole house worth of windows (I have downstairs trim and 60+ sashes), spend the money. I’m already saving thousands upon thousands in labor doing it myself; I might as well make it as easy as possible.

          2. Justin

            I don’t know what a “Metabol” scraper is, but it sounds like a power mechanical scraper. I have never used any kind of powered scraper or sander to take off paint for the reasons you describe.
            I would never use any powered sander other than something that Scott describes from festool because of dust control issues.
            You will find that when you use heat to soften the paint, it does not make any where near the kind of dust that mechanical paint removal does, and what material is scraped off is generally much larger and easier to contain.
            Yes, with a pregnant wife I agree it would be prudent to do the TSP. Even if you have already done 98% of what should be done, the last 1.5% makes sense too.
            You may want to check out what is on the Patreon site. I don’t know if Scott will do it, but I’ve asked him to discuss steam boxes for doing windows, something that requires an up front investment of time but in the long run is fast, and helps with lead containment as well (minimal dust, the little there is, is damp and clumps, dedicated place away from the living space.)

          3. Justin, check into LOCKUPLEAD.com lead dust neutralizer. I just learned about it for regular cleaning of window sills and doors where intact lead paint remains. It is supposed to do good lead dust containment and then neutralization during paint stripping and when you change HEPA filters.

    2. The other thing you could do is use the scraper Scott sells that hooks up directly to a vacuum as a “clean up residual” step.

      The following is an unofficial blurb not authorized by the blog host:
      Unless you have small children I need the house, and/or you do this for a living in many houses again and again, the amount of lead is not as dangerous as some would make it seem. When I grew up I had higher lead levels from breathing in the air when we used leaded gas than you will get using these techniques with a moderate degree of care.
      All painters of a generation ago did not die of lead poisoning, even though they took none of these precautions.

    3. Occasionally there was lead in the primers but less often since the lead was added to make the bright white and yellow enamel paints of the day. HEPA vac attached to sander or wet sanding will keep the dust down.

  5. I have found that dry heat like this did not work well on 100 yo window glazing that was hard as rock. We ended up using a hand held electric steamer that worked, but was very slow.

    1. Try painting linseed oil on dry glazing and dry paint and letting it set for a few hours. Once oil is in paint or putty, it heats and scrapes faster

      1. Catherine-
        Have you ever thought of putting people out in the field with demonstration models? I would be happy to take a Cobra and my window sashes to my local hardware and paint stores for demonstrations.

  6. Thanks again for something very helpful.
    I have been using infrared for maybe 15 years, having learned about it from a painter in Minneapolis.
    One thing about technique, he made a point to tell people do not give into the temptation to take the heater off of the wood while you scrape and then put it back on. He does whole house strip and repaint using infrared alone, and points out that it is much more efficient if one learns to keep the heat on the wood and follow along. Of course, that means learning to keep the heater close enough to the wood to soften the paint yet not so close as to scorch the wood.
    Pull scrapers are safer, but sometimes the paint bubbles up so nicely one can essentially just peal it off with a putty knife.
    Fwiw, I don’t fuss too much over getting every speck off with this method, especially on flat surfaces, as it is quick and easy to go over it with a carbide scraper to get a perfect stripping, and if one uses that scraper you sell, you can vacuum the (minimal) dust at the same time.

    While this is pretty quick, will you still use a steam box in the shop for most of the work you do? If so, have you ever posted how to make a steam box? If not, maybe you can do it on your Patreon site and make every body join us over there….
    15 years ago was before the Speedheater came out, which meant that he (and I) used a makeshift device adapted from a quartz light space heater.
    Since I had a lot of window trim to do, I long ago purchased a hand held lamp advertised for auto body work for about $100, but it was cheaply made and I had to rebuild it, which was a pain.
    I already wrote to the company to tell them it was a great idea, but I can’t see myself spending that kind of money to replace what I have. I may be “penny-wise and pound-foolish” as my grandma used to say, but some in our household are allergic to big visa bills…
    I have never seen one of these anywhere other than on line. They are such great products I am sure that they would sell more if they could get it out to the public. (Not everyone visits here, silly them).
    I believe they do have a program where you can rent it, and if you like it then the rental fee counts toward the purchase, which is a great ideal on there part.
    Pardon the long post, this is the one thing that I have some knowledge of, having learned from a pro.

  7. Hey Scott! This post and video was so helpful! As someone new to restoring anything with an old house, I have been discouraged and tempted to replace my windows. I have 15 small squares/windows within a single window sash (x 32 windows total in the house).For someone inexperienced as me this is so many muntins and profile surfaces that I need to scrape. I’m actually excited to order and try the infrared method out. A huge thank you for providing the list of tools and a link to purchase them!

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