No one likes to strip paint. Sure we love the end result, but it’s grueling, exhausting work that can be dangerous (lead paint anyone?) or messier than all get out (chemical strippers). As a restorer of historic windows I’m well acquainted with all the trials and tribulations of paint removal. I’ve tried all the tools (expensive and cheap) that claim to be the solution to my paint stripping ails.
There are a lot of tools out there to help you get the job done and depending on the type of surface you are stripping that will largely determine the tool you should be using. I get a lot of questions about what the best or fastest way to strip paint is and my answer is largely, “it depends.” It depends on what type of surface you are stripping.
How To Strip Paint
There are a ton of ways to strip paint and all of them work to some degree or another. What I’m going to focus on here are three specific tools that have greatly increased my productivity when it’s time to strip paint.
These tools are all lead safe and EPA approved when used in conjunction with a HEPA vacuum. One is good for large flat areas, the second for mid-sized areas of varying design, and the third for detailed intricate spots.
Paint Shaver Pro
To strip paint quickly from larges areas of mainly flat surfaces my favorite and fastest tool would be the Paint Shaver Pro. This amazing tool is basically a grinder with a spinning carbide scraper tip that powers through paint exactly like its name says.
Hook it up to a HEPA vac and you are EPA compliant for safe lead paint removal in minutes rather than hours. With all this upside you may be asking why wouldn’t everyone be using it? First, it’s the most expensive tool on the list. Starting around $700 and heading north to almost $1,000 for the beefier model, this is not a purchase to take lightly.
Secondly, if you use it improperly its power can really gouge and damage the wood below. You have to practice a bit and know how to handle this powerful tool. Is it worth it? Absolutely, if you have a lot of paint to strip on flat surfaces this will exponentially increase your speed and productivity. I wouldn’t be caught without it.
The manufacturer has a special deal for my readers where if you call 1-800-932-5872 to order and mention The Craftsman Blog you’ll get FREE Shipping. So if you are thinking about picking one up, save yourself around $40 by mentioning you found it here (plus they send me a referral fee so you’ll be helping me out by mentioning the blog too!) You can find out more about the Paint Shaver Pro on their website by clicking here.
My old reliable standby that has served me well for nearly a decade now the ProScraper is a perfectly simple, inexpensive, and effective way to strip paint from mid-sized flat surfaces. How well does it work? Well, my team used it to strip the paint from over 500 windows on an 8-story hotel in 2019!
It simple to learn, difficult to screw up, and very inexpensive, coming in at around $40 each. Though it doesn’t require much cash it does require a lot of elbow grease since it is not a mechanical tool, but rather a vacuum scraper hand tool that when attached to a HEPA vac allows for excellent collection of lead paint to keep the workspace clean and safe.
It comes with a reversible and replaceable blade so you can use it over and over. Trust me, you’ll run out of steam before this tool ever does. You can purchase the ProScraper and the replacement blades in my web store.
For small detailed areas there is nothing faster or more effective than the Speedheater Cobra. This lightweight and flexible infrared paint stripper has revolutionized window restoration for hundreds of pros who I talk to regularly. You can hold it with one hand without wearing yourself out and still use your scraper with the other hand.
It strips a 3 1/2″ x 3″ surface in just a few seconds which is very manageable when you are working with delicate window profiles or intricate woodwork. The infrared heat is well below that of any heat gun so there are no worries about vaporizing lead paint and it also minimizes the risk of fires.
For windows I usually use a combination of the Paint Shaver Pro for the jambs and flat parts of the sash and then come back for the profiles and muntins with my Cobra. This tool is not cheap either, at around $499 it’s a good middle ground for a super speed way to strip paint from the hard to access areas.
Use the Cobra in conjunction with a good detail scraper like the Hyde Contour Scraper which has a multitude of interchangeable blades to scrape almost any molding profile and you’ll make great time.
If you’ve got a big paint stripping project coming up consider purchasing one of these tools before you start because the time savings can be immense as well as the headache of using an ineffective paint stripping tools or method. If you want to read up even more about different methods of paint removal like chemical stripping or using steam heat check out these additional posts.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
4 thoughts on “A Better Way to Strip Paint”
I was fortunate to try the Paint Shaver and the Pro Scraper at a Wood Window workshop in April. I quickly assessed that I can gouge wood pretty darn good with the shaver! What a nifty tool! I also determined that I just don’t have the upper body strength to be working effectively (or for very much time) with the Pro Scraper. Fortunately, I have my Speedheater Cobra and I LOVE IT!! I’m content being a Myrtle-the-Turtle while stripping paint. I’m just thankful I don’t have to work with messy chemicals to get the job done.
I love this blog. Great job!
A family member did some wood and door stripping. Then, they used some environmentally friendly coating on the doors and trim. It seems they still detected lead.
Is this because of the weak coating or does lead leaches thorough? Any tips how to avoid this?
What type of lead test was conducted? Was it a nondestructive scan, or a chemical test on the new coating? The surface scans will still detect lead that’s encapsulated under new coatings (and therefore harmless).
The lead in lead-based paints is a solid (white lead, which is a salt), so it’s stable and doesn’t migrate through cured paint. Once it’s sealed in below secure new paint or varnish, it’s not a threat. In fact, that’s the preferred approach for EPA lead abatment, since complete removal increases the risk of releasing more airborn lead dust.