I have some rough sawn timbers in my house that were painted over by the previous owner of the house1. I believe the timbers are a softer wood like fir as they are more decorative than structural.

The three 4" x 8" x 18' timbers appear to have been painted over with a roller and there's some bits of ceiling spackle on them too. They at least tried to do a quality job and made sure to paint the little nooks or notches in the wood.

The single 6" x 8" x 5' timber has a gawd-awful faux stone spray paint applied to it.

Both sets of timbers were stained fairly dark when they were originally put in place. My goal at this point is to get rid of the paint. I would be fine with the original dark stain that was in place, but it would be bonus points if I ended up with a lighter look.

I'm 99% certain that the paint is lead-free, but I haven't tested yet to verify. I will do so prior to commencing work.

I have tried using some citrus based paint remover. It's worked okay, but has left an orange tint on the test areas. I'm hesitant to use a chemical based paint remover because of the fumes and the timbers are located inside.

I have also considered grinding via wire brush; sanding with a belt or orbital sander; and planing it with a hand plane. All of these seem like time intensive operations and I'm a little worried about the mess from grinding or sanding.

What's the most effective way to remove the paint from these timbers?
Or is it a lost cause and I should cover over them instead?

1Yes, I'm consoled by the fact that there's likely a special place in Hades for people like that. < /jk>

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    Wow. What a challenge. This will make me whine about my paneling attached to drywall with liquid nails. Good luck. I hope for you a good outcome. I'm sure someone around here has some advice/experience. I'm thinking it will be by some mechanical means. Spot sandblasting maybe? Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 13:11
  • In most parts of the United States, most structural lumber is either engineered wood (such as plywood, OSB, I-joists, LVL, PSL, et cetera) or softwoods (such as pine, hemlock, or fir). Where I live, the "hem-fir" tables are used to calculate the strength of most non-engineered lumber.
    – Jasper
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 0:39
  • Tangential alternative: cover them with trim. Probably will take less time, and produce a finish that is exactly what you decide, rather than whatever you end up with.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 20:53
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    @rob - No need to migrate - I'm satisfied with the answers I have received here. I considered asking on DIY, but I wanted to ask a community with a broader expertise in woodworking tools.
    – user2
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 0:42
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    Okay, great...be sure to let us know what worked best in the end!
    – rob
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 1:36

11 Answers 11


When we stripped the paint in my house growing up we used a heat gun and paint scrapers. It was tedious but fairly effective.

  • Did the paint come off in chunks or more like flecks? In other words, how bad was the cleanup?
    – user2
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 1:47
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    The paint bubbles and will probably be large flakes for the most part. Any method you use will be messy I'm afraid. You'll want to tape a drop cloth or plastic sheet under the project. If it's adjacent to a wall, tape to the wall so nothing falls through the Crack. Cleanup is just picking up the tarp.
    – Daniel B.
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 1:50

I think your best bet would be to use dry ice blaster. It is sort of like sand blasting, but the way the dry ice works is it will destroy the paint and evaporate into CO2 before it will harm the sub-structure (meaning the wood). The information on the page says:

Dry ice blasting:

  • is a non-abrasive, nonflammable and nonconductive cleaning method
  • is environmentally responsible and contains no secondary contaminants such as solvents or grit media
  • is clean and approved for use in the food industry
  • allows most items to be cleaned in place without time-consuming disassembly
  • can be used without damaging active electrical or mechanical parts or creating fire hazards
  • can be used to remove production residue, release agents, contaminants, paints, oils and biofilms
  • can be as gentle as dusting smoke damage from books or as aggressive as removing weld slag from tooling
  • can be used for many general cleaning applications

This solution should get you a relatively clean surface without destroying the way the board looks underneath. As you suggested, test for lead before you do this for safety's sake.

  • Be warned, this will be pricey. Looks like a 1-day equipment rental near me is $750, or $1,850/week. Cost will vary per region. Any word on ventilation needs? I imagine a ton of CO2 sublimating inside would require the windows to at least be open.
    – Doresoom
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 15:24

To completely remove the paint (nooks and crannys included), the wood will eventually have to be planed down. The majority could be removed with a heat gun and scraper, then planed to get the last traces off. A hand scraper could get paint out of nooks and crannys. You might consider just covering the timbers (box them in) with new wood of the type you want and finished the way you want. That would be my choice.


I have also considered grinding via wire brush; sanding with a belt or orbital sander; and planing it with a hand plane.

I would certainly make an attempt with a hand-plane (after sharpening the iron). I've done this to clean up smaller pieces of painted/treated rough wood.

All of these seem like time intensive operations

That is true but I find using a hand-plane very therapeutic. At least on softwood.

An alternative might be to rent or borrow a power planer.

  • I updated my question with the lengths & quantities of timbers. That would be a lot of planing which is why I'm reluctant to go down that route. Likewise, I'm worried about the paint clogging up the plane.
    – user2
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:56
  • @GlenH7: That's a good point and I can understand your reluctance, especially if the work has to be done in-situ - where hand-planing would be totally impractical for me. On the other hand, it reminds me a bit of this. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 15:09
  • In the video, he also has the advantage of having the beams hanging out over sawhorses. In my case, they are fixed to the ceiling and wall so I don't have the same degree of freedom in movement. Now I'm just more bitter at the previous owners. :-) But I'd be really good at using a plane if I went down this route...
    – user2
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 15:16

Speaking of Hades....I've actually used a planer (not a hand plane, but a motorized one) when my blades were on their last leg. I didn't care if the plane ruined them because I was about to replace them anyway. Plane the wood, then replace the blades. Easy, easy!

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    No....Hades. See @GlenH7's footnote.
    – dfife
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 15:48

Another motorized solution would be to take a "veneer cut" off the face with a bandsaw. Less punishing to your tools than using a planer would be, and bandsaw blades are less hassle to replace if it came to that.

I've just posted a related question about upcycling "pre-loved wood", though it may get shot down or broken up as too general.

  • Good suggestion for wood that isn't attached to anything. Unfortunately in my case, all of the timbers are securely attached and I don't see an easy means of removing them.
    – user2
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 16:48

I use two ways to remove the paints:

  1. Use a chemical for peeling of the paint. Since you do not want that we go to next step...

  2. Use a heat gun and carefully hover over the wood (keep it at a proper distance so you don't damage the wood). Then after a bit of time use the scraper to slowly peel off the paint. Although it seems risky, its one of the fastest way to peel of the paint if you are careful.


Your question, "I should cover over them instead?" got me to thinking about yet another solution.

This requires that you can remove the wood in one piece and that those 18' lengths are one piece. I realize that you have already stated that you see no easy means of removing them, but this might be the solution for the next guy who comes along without that restraint. I actually had a similar problem where once the decorative beams were removed, I ended up forgetting about them, but replaced the ceiling. In a different lifetime.

Remove the wood, resaw each beam into 3 1x8's and use them to make box beams.

Easier said than done and there are obvious problems to be solved along the way, but hey, if you have a bandsaw, planer and enough space (move the equipment outside for a day) it can be done.


I embarked on this mission yesterday and was quite successful by using a heat gun on low heat at first. Once the paint bubbles I used rigid hand scrapper like the ones used to fill holes in walls. Once the main coat of paint was off I used an old toothbrush to apply paint stripper and left for two minutes before brushing with a small metal bristle brush that looks like a toothbrush. Worked a treat


Methylene-chloride paint remover (or an organic waterbased one) to soften the paint up and then power wash the stuff away. This will preserve the wood and remove the paint. Use goggles.

  • I can't power wash as the timbers are inside of my house. Is there a different means of removing the softened paint that you would recommend?
    – user2
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 16:46

I friend of mine recently had a similar issue with his log cabin (which I offered to help - why do I get myself into these things!). He wanted to clean the entire house outside AND inside - yikes. After quite a bit of research he opted for a solution sort of like what was mentioned above, but he went with something new called WET ice blasting. Environmentally friendly because it only uses ice cubes.

The difference (as far as Mike believes) is there is less wear & tear on the wood, no dry ice cost and only uses normal ice cubes. Pretty cool. It took us just a weekend to finish the cabin. Quite the wet experience for sure. Not sure if the dry ice method would have done a better job, but Mike and Andrea were happy with the end state.

My two cents anyway.


Moderator Note: Reader Warning : The process identified in this answer makes a direct link to a single manufacturer's product. The equipment appears to be proprietary in a process similar to sandblasting.

Don't get it?? Link removed - I don't understand why there is a warning??

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