Adventures in Stripping: Tackling the Trim

Stripping Wood Trim in Our American System Built Home

We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for the past five years, paralyzed by the question of whether to strip the interior trim in our house or repaint it. In the early days of ownership, when we were full of the exuberance that’s common to new homeownership, we stripped some small test sections of the trim and discovered that wood had been replaced in some areas. That discovery provided the excuse to put off the decision until a later date. And now here we are five years on and we’ve made a decision … sort of.

Now that the old kitchen cabinets – which are in the process of becoming new built-ins for the fireplace – have been stripped and prepped, we need to make a decision on what to do with the trim. If we’re going to paint the woodwork in the living room, we’ll paint the cabinets. If, however, we’re going to strip the trim and stain it, we will also stain the cabinets. Finally, I decided to let safety make the decision for us. We would test the trim for lead paint and if any was found, we would paint over it.

I picked up a DIY lead paint test kit and followed the easy instructions. And I do mean easy! I scratched off a little paint from the trim and then swabbed it with the testing pen. If the tip of the pin turned red, that would indicate lead paint. If the trip didn’t turn red, we’re free to proceed.

A lead paint test kit indicated that there is NO lead paint

Good news! The test kit did not indicate the presence of lead paint. Well, I guess that’s good news if you’re looking forward to months of labor. Which, oddly, I am looking forward to stripping paint. OK, maybe I’m not looking forward to the work, but I am excited to see how the living room is transformed when the trim is no longer painted white.

Satisfied that I wasn’t go to release lead molecules into the air, I started stripping paint in a corner of the living room. This is a corner where I had performed a strip test five years ago so it seemed like the perfect spot to return now that we’re going to strip all the trim. The plan is to complete this entire corner – the baseboard, door frame, wall trim and window frame – before moving on to the rest of the room.

I’m happy to report that progress has been fairly quick. Although some areas of trim are stripping easier than others, it’s all coming off fairly quickly. Stepping back and surveying the progress, the stripped trim looks so much better. When it’s covered in white paint, the trim gets lost. Now that it’s back to the dark color of the natural wood, one really notices the intended affect of the classic Prairie style lines.

We are still noticing that some of the wood trim has been replaced and thus doesn’t match the original trim. This seems to be most prevalent around windows, where there may have been leakage that damaged the wood and required replacement. We’ll likely need to stain this replacement trim to match. But of course that’s putting the cart before the horse. First, of course, we have foot after foot of trim to strip. Like all other house decisions, we’re taking it step by step … or, in this case, strip by strip.

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