Monday, August 02, 2010

Stair Progress Report

Yes, there is actual progress to report on the stairs. Shocking, I know. When I should have been slouched on the couching watching a rerun of Friends, I was instead stripping shellac and grunge off the intricate balusters of the front stairs. My goal was to try and spend an hour a night on them every night this week, but goals often go unmet around this house these days. Because of all of this, I am right now typing with one hand while I pat myself on my back with the other.

Late yesterday I tried to work on one of the newel post with denatured alcohol. While denatured alcohol will strip shellac off of shellacked woodwork, it is the hardest and slowest method there is. For flat surfaces I will use a heat-gun first and then maybe go at it with the alcohol and steel-wool. Unfortunately, there is nothing flat about these stairs at all.

For this project I turned to my old friend methyl chloride. It’s been a while old friend and if I wasn’t forced to wear a respirator while working with you I would say that it is good to smell you once again. Methyl chloride is the active ingredient in the most caustic of paint and varnish strippers. I prefer Jasco Professional Semi-paste, but there are others. The “semi-paste” distinction is importing because it means it will stick to vertical surfaces. Think snot and sulfuric acid mixed together.

This stuff works so fast on shellac I can only work on very small sections at a time because as soon as you put it on it is ready to take off, and if you leave it on more than 10 or 15 seconds it starts to dry out. If it does dry out, no problem, just apply more and wipe.

I didn’t get a before shot, so this is more of a comparison between a section that has been stripped and one that hasn’t. The flash of the camera lessens the contrast. To me, in real life, it is dramatic. The wood is really coming to life.

This is one that has not been stripped. It is also missing the center finial.

Here is one after stripping, and it has one of the last remaining finials.

I did the top 4 plus the stringer in about 45 minutes. I still need to strip the banister.

My method is to tare off every sheet on an entire roll of paper towels before I even begin. As I said, it works fast and my gloves get messy, so the last thing I want to do is waste time reaching for a roll of towels and then have to rip one off.

I have a 1 quart plastic bucket with less than a half a cup of the stripper in it. It evaporates quickly, so have as little exposed to the air as possible. I use one of those really inexpensive chip brushes that you can get for a dollar or less at the hardware store.

I apply the stripper to one element of the baluster section at a time. That is, one of the reeded posts or one turned columns at a time. I then scrub briefly with steel-wool and immediately wipe everything off. If it feels sticky in the least when I am wiping that means I waited too long and too much of the stripper has evaporated. At that point I apply more stripper and just wipe off without scrubbing again with the steel-wool.

I’m feeling a lot better about this project now.


Larry said...


Keep up the great work!

Oliver's Bungalow said...

I'm just amazed that after all of these years you still have the patience to do such tedius, intricate work. I am in awe of you once again.

Anonymous said...

it looks gorgeous, glad it's going so quickly. a whole hall full of gorgeous olf caramel colored wood will be practically like a cathedral of yum.
will you fabricate the missing finials? if your brain cells survive the meth?

Greg said...

Eh, I've killed better brain cells than these. ;-)

The missing finals, along with two new newel post caps are on their way.