6 Things to Consider Before Stripping Doors and Trim

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

6 Things to Consider Before Stripping Doors and Trim

When renovating an older space, especially pre-war buildings, the question often comes up about what to do with that not so wonderful old trim.  Stripping doors and trim can sound appealing and it can be.  Modern products have reduced odor and some are even considered green. But often stripping is not the best option.  When making the decision to strip or not to strip, here are 6 things to consider.....

1.  Was your home built before 1978?  Do you have lead paint? 

Lead paint is more often present on trim, especially metal trim than on other interior surfaces.  Certain strippers handle lead paint well and the resulting materials can be landfilled after testing in most cases.  There are lead test kits available for homeowner use but the minimum requirement for lead testing by a contractor is EPA RRP certification.  Remember if you are stripping yourself you must test all the layers of paint not just the top one.  The older the paint the more likely it contains lead.  Once you know whether there is lead present, you will need to determine how to handle the work.   EPA RRP certified painters can strip lead paint or remove old trim as part of a paint job but only abatement contractors can do official lead abatement. 

2.  Are the door frames metal? 

When in doubt use a magnet to find out.  In pre-war buildings, some door frames that look like  wood are not.  If the building is plaster, the metal door frames are often plastered into the walls in such a way that they cannot be removed and replaced.  These types of frames are very cost effective to strip in place and repaint or clearcoat for a modern look. In certain cases the doors will often be metal as well, especially the entry and service doors in apartment buildings.  Check to see if the hinges are welded or screwed on.  If the hinges on the doors and frames are welded, on-site stripping is called for.

3. Should I replace all or some of the moldings? 

In most cases the answer will be yes.  You may be surprised at how many classic molding profiles are still available and if they are not and you have a lot to replace you can get blades made to cut molding to match for a few hundred dollars each.  If you have a classic three piece base, at a minimum replacing the cap and shoe moldings are usually cost effective.  The base itself is usually a 1x4 or a 1x6 its is easy to strip because it is flat stock.  Replacing it will be determined on a case by case basis and whether you are having other stripping done.  If no other stripping is going on you might as well replace it too.  "Box" picture frame type moldings common on pre-war buildings and picture rail moldings are also best replaced especially if you are going to have skim coating done.  Working around them is slow and you loose depth when skimcoating.  When you see new applied wall moldings or you can chip the paint off the old ones (if its not lead)  you will see the detail they used to have before 80 years of paint turned them into lumps on your walls.  Unless your crown moldings are in terrible shape the loss of detail there is harder to detect.  You may consider saving money there by using basic paint preparation methods, but if you want the sharpest of lines, replacement in conjuction with skimcoating is often best.

4. Time, Access, Sequencing etc. 

Modern strippers can take time to work...up to a couple of days plus removal time.  Access should be limited and children and pets kept away and if at all possible the stripping should be done early in the project, before the floor is finished.  Duct tape and heavy plastic can protect floors but can fail.  We have done many door frames successfully after the floors are finished but why take the risk?

5.  Consider off site solutions for doors and radiators. 

If you have a large number of these, a dip type operation may be best, for a few most painters will do them in their shop for you at a reasonable cost.

6.  What are you uncovering? 

Repairs, dissimilar woods, cracks filled with who knows what that are painted over must all be addressed after stripping but before painting and especially before staining.  Caulk may be at joints and in cracks that will have to be dug out.  Many of these materials will not take stain and will need to be replaced by ones that will.  Stripping to repaint is one thing and stripping to stain is quite another.  Before deciding to strip and stain a test of the worst areas would be in order to see exactly what you are going to wind up with.


To summarize, stripping metal doors and frames or radiators is usually cost effective on or off site.  Large numbers of wooden doors are best sent off site and most moldings are best replaced, especially if you are skimming.  If you do decide to do stripping, be safe, minimize traffic, use an EPA RRP certified contractor and if at all possible complete all the stripping early in the project before the floors are down or finished.

View our facebook album for more before and after pictures!

We appreciate input and comments! 

If you feel that we have missed anything or you have an interesting story to tell about your stripping project please let us know!

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