I am going to be getting some old bookshelves that are likely made from 2x10 pine. I really want to use those for building a workbench top. So I am going to be cutting them up. Since they were previously at my work they have been painted with the times over the years and have ~4 layers of various paints. I have no reason to think they are lead paints but that is pretty easy to test anyway.

I have an older question related to this but since I cannot see what's under the wood I worry about the blades, old or otherwise. Also I am curious what my other options are.

When it comes to removing multiple layers of paint off cheap wood what are my realistic options? Inevitably some will be related to chemically stripping wood and while those are answers, I am looking for something outside of that. I don't really have a place for that nor do I want to deal with the chemicals and their removal (played with them once in the past trying to restore a dresser).

  • Anyone tried an infrared heat lamp, like silentpaintremover.com? I read a glowing review (ouch.... that was not intentional) in This Old House about twelve years ago, but I haven't really heard much about it since. Unfortunately I read that review after doing a whole bunch of paint removal the hard way on my house. Seemed like it might be worth investigating. Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 2:20

5 Answers 5


Although I'm a big advocate of scrapers this isn't something I'd personally do by scraping alone unless I had a paint scraper (AKA hook scraper). A thick layer of paint made up of multiple layers built up over time is particularly resistant to a conventional scraping action with less-robust scrapers, as you can get a parting of the ways between subsequent coats. What this means in practice is that you might have to go over a given area multiple times before you're down to bare wood (DAMHIK).

Hook-type paint scrapers

If you use a dedicated paint scraper such as the ones above instead of wimpier options (e.g. card scraper, shaving hook) you should have better results because they have a very aggressive scraping action. But still it would likely require substantial muscle effort, although the type of paint and just how thick it is are obviously factors here.

Heat/flame + scrapers
Although there are safer chemical strippers (note: almost invariably much slower than their nastier cousins) the other traditional option for removing a heavy coating of paint was to use a blowtorch, which you can still use, or alternatively a heat gun which is a little safer.

Oddly this seems to work best on thick paint. Some of that might be a user reaction to how amazingly it softens and releases that much paint, but thicker paint does tend to sort of 'sheet off' where a thin coat tends to cling to the surface more tenaciously.

Hand planing
A scrub plane/roughing plane (or a jack with a good camber on the iron) can be a great way to get off a very thick coating of paint, just as it's a great way to remove a shaggy or heavily weathered surface from wood. Working diagonally over the wood this requires surprisingly little effort.

It's perhaps too aggressive for the handtool-only guy who would then have to flatten off entirely by hand, but with a planer to smooth the wood afterwards it's worth considering this approach for its speed and effectiveness.

I wouldn't do this level of paint removal by sanding pretty much ever, there are just too many downsides. Cost of the belts is an obvious one, as is the mess (even with dust extraction the amount of dust released can be pretty bad). The potential to 'dub over' the wood or is also very high. Worst though is the potential toxicity of the paint dust not captured by any dust extraction and it's not just lead paint that we have to wary of — all paints and other finishes should be considered harmful when converted to a fine dust.

  • +1 for using a scrub plane, if the OP can tolerate the end result.
    – grfrazee
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 18:39
  • Don't have a scrub plane. I think i only have smoothing planes and a jointer plane. Will have to check the numbers. Would love an excuse to use hand tools effectively. Likely I will get the paint of and plane it as I plan to laminate with this wood. Thanks Graphus
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:27
  • @Matt, you'd know if you had a scrub I think because they're narrower than a standard bench plane and have a single iron (no need for a cap iron). Because scrub/roughing planes are rare-ish the majority of people who want one these days end up converting another plane, often a beater since this is for rough work. An alternative is having a swap-in iron for one of your other planes, although with the low cost of many 2ndhand planes (cheaper than new irons!) I don't see there's much reason to go this way unless you're just really dedicated to doing the most with the least amount of kit. [contd[
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 8:19
  • @Matt, two of the best links for you on this IMO. First is from StumpyNubs, who converted the poor HF "Winsdor Design no. 33" plane (cheapest plane on the US market I believe), linkee, and Paul Sellers talks about scrubs in a historical context here. Don't worry that opening the mouth of a no.4 will ruin it for its primary purpose, the size of the mouth can play no major part in smoothing if you use the cap iron properly (set very very close to the edge).
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 8:32
  • I'd personally be tempted to give it a go with a belt sander. belts are cheap and they should last a while even taking off paint. Also most belt sanders have built-in dust collection and I find you get low dust release using a shop-vac. What is "dubbing over"?
    – WhatEvil
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 15:03

You might be able to find a commercial paint stripping service in your area. They can safely use aggressive processes to remove the paint. They might even be able to pressure-treat the timber afterwards too, if termites or mould are a concern.

It could be worth checking the price, especially if you have other painted items that could do with stripping, such as doors, at the same time.


When it comes to removing multiple layers of paint off cheap wood what are my realistic options?

A belt sander with 60 or 80 grit sandpaper will make quick work of it, assuming you're just removing paint on flat surfaces. You already identified that you will test for lead, so I won't go into that. (Edit: @Graphus makes a few good points about sanding in his answer)

Aside from that, if you don't want to use chemicals, your only other option is scraping, as @keshlam said. Using a heat gun (or hair dryer) may soften the paint some and make it easier to scrape. It's likely that you'll have to sand some paint off after scraping, anyway, since it likes to get into nooks and cracks.

I have an older question related to this but since I cannot see what's under the wood I worry about the blades, old or otherwise.

I've seen other questions of yours where you talk about using recycled wood, so investing in a metal detector might be a good idea for you if you're worried about planing a nail (or other piece of metal). The question you linked already talks about planing off paint, so I won't go into that either.

  • I have a stud detector but I think its a cheap one and I don't trust it. I have better luck knocking on the wall and listening. Probably a good idea to get a metal detector. I already sent a broken(hidden) staple though my neighbors planer.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 15:39
  • Stud detectors don't really do anything for detecting metal. What you want is something like this. My dad has one and it works pretty well. It may cost a bit, but it's cheaper than ruining multiple table saw/planer blades.
    – grfrazee
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 15:40
  • That's a lot of birdhouses and a few wine racks. Need to save up. Cheaper than breaking knives though.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 15:41

Attacking it with a paint scraper will work, with enough time and effort.. . Take appropriate precautions against possible lead paint, obviously.

Some of the newer paint removers are much safer than the traditional ones, and can be used indoors. Watch out for drips attacking other things (use appropriate dropcloths!), and keep kids and pets away, of course.

  • Hmmm... don't know what that didn't occur to me. I suppose I could also try and take my heat gun to it. Thanks.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 13:55

A carbide scraper is the best mechanical method. Organic paint removers are ok, methylene chloride based strippers are best but very harsh. last but not least are powered sanders and angle grinders with a 60 grit or higher TrimKut, sand blasting (not for wood ).

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