Being in the business of restoring old houses, I do a lot of paint stripping. And much of that paint is lead paint so I have to be extra careful to make sure we keep our dust under control. Here are the best paint stripping tools I have used over the years.
Some work better than others, and their performance often depends on the type and condition of the paint you are removing. All of these are the biggest contenders if you are looking to do some serious paint stripping. Caution: Remember to use lead safe work practices with any of these tools!
Infrared Paint removal may sound like something that is over the head of the average homeowner, but I can assure you, it is not. The Speedheater isn’t slowed down by multiple layers of paint. I’ve used it to strip around 13 layers of paint from old windows in one pass! The infrared heat causes the paint to lose its bond with the wood fairly quickly. And since it keeps temperatures in the 400ºF range, it helps prevent fires and the vaporization of lead paint (which occurs at around 1100ºF). Both of which can occur when using heat guns. You’ll need a good scraper to take the paint off after the Speedheater heats it up. It’s simple to use and doesn’t have a steep learning curve. You can get to work right out of the box and not have to worry about seriously gouging the wood. If you’re using it indoors, make sure you provide excellent ventilation. I’ve also found that its effectiveness is greatly reduced when you encounter severely dried out or alligatoring paint. Craftsman Blog Rating: A- (Retails $599) Buy It Here
I bought this tool from the uber-expensive maker, Festool, to try and speed up the stripping of historic window sashes in my shop. And without a doubt, it works great! This tool is fast and powers through multiple layers of paint with no problem. It can be connected to Festool’s HEPA vac to make the tool a lead-safe tool, but I wasn’t impressed with the dust collection. Festool is famous for its incredibly powerful HEPA vacs, and while mine could suck a 2×4 down the hose if it would fit, the dust collection setup for this tool is plain awful. There isn’t an effective way to keep the dust from escaping. I may have had more luck if I was working on a wide flat surface, but for window sashes and doors, the dust got everywhere. I brought the tool back to Festool to try and see if mine was defective, but indeed it was simply bad design. There is a work around that I found, which brought this tool back into use in my shop. If you have a downdraft table in your shop, this tool has the potential to be a powerhouse once again. Overall, its an amazing tool and it does what it says. I’m just waiting for Festool to improve the dust collection system. Craftsman Blog Rating: B+ (Retails $315) Buy It Here
The ProScraper is the most low tech of all these tools and yet it performs like a champ. The ProScraper is essentially a hardened plastic hand scraper. It comes with a replaceable 2″ carbide scraper blade and it has a hollow body that hooks up to your shop vac. The best thing about this scraper on steroids is the dust collection. If you hook it up to a HEPA vac you will have almost flawless dust collection. It is rare that a paint chip gets away from the vortex that this little beauty creates. Another good thing is the price. At $34.97 it is around 1/10 the price of most of these tools. On the downside, dry scraping lots of square footage will cost you in replacement blades and be a slow and tedious process. For small areas and small budgets, this is the best option. Craftsman Blog Rating: A+ (Retails $36.97) Buy It Here
Festool ROTEX 150
After my experience with the Festool RAS 115 I decided to give Festool another shot. This time I was very impressed. The ROTEX 150 is the Mac-Daddy of rotary sanders. This baby has a 6″ head and operates in either full rotary mode (like the RAS 115) or random-orbit mode for less aggressive sanding. The dust collection on the ROTEX 150 is very effective as well. It’s not quite as clean as the ProScraper, but I didn’t have any airborne dust in the shop once I started using this big boy. This thing is so powerful that we’ve even used this to refinish small areas of hardwood floors! The downside of the ROTEX 150 is that like most sanders, it bogs down when it encounters heavy paint build up. Anything more than a few layers of paint and you’ll be changing sandpaper all day long, especially if the paint is still gummy and not decades old. This tool falls somewhere in between the Silent Paint Remover and RAS 115 in terms of speed. But the fact that it is not only a paint removal tool, but also one amazing sander makes it worth to additional cost. You’re essentially getting two tools in one with the ROTEX 150. Craftsman Blog Rating: A+ (Retails $545) Buy It Here
This tool is by far the fastest way to remove paint. It doesn’t blink at multiple layers of paint and will power through anything I put in its path. I can strip a sash or piece of siding free of all its paint in seconds with very little effort. But with great power comes great responsibility. There is a pretty steep learning curve with this tool. It will require plenty of scrap pieces to practice on and get the tool adjusted properly to the right depth of cut before starting work on pieces that you care about. You can very easily gouge wood surfaces with this powerful tool, so make sure you are ready before you use it. Dust collection is excellent when hooked up to a powerful shop vac. If you have lots of square footage to strip, this is the way to go without a doubt. This tool will cost you a pretty penny, but since the power from this tool comes from a standard angle grinder you can buy an angle grinder separately and then purchase the paint shaver head attachments on eBay to get the same tool setup at about 60% of the retail price. Craftsman Blog Rating: A+ (Retails $699) Buy It Here
How about you? What is YOUR favorite tool/method for stripping old paint?