What’s the Best Way to Strip Off Old Cabinet Paint?

A friend wants me to refinish some cabinets and drawers and I can do that. I told her that I did not want to strip them, it looks like old lead-based enamel and caked on pretty good. What would you recommend to get down to bare wood and if we don’t want to do it can they be dipped in a vat somewhere, by some company? – Ed Chiaverini

Chris Marshall:¬†One way or the other, getting down to bare wood is going to require stripping off the old paint. You might be able to have them dipped, but is that worth the cost? Only an estimate from a refinishing company can answer that question. If you do the work yourself, the real clincher here is how to do it safely and efficiently. I’ve removed really old paint from cabinets using thick liquid chemical stripper from a home center. It’s definitely not a fun job, but it’s much safer than creating sanding dust that’s potentially laced with lead or creating hazardous fumes by stripping the paint with a heat gun. If you’re patient and scrape carefully, the liquid stripper will take it all off. Use a coarse synthetic pad and more liquid stripper to remove the paint from contoured moldings and to clean up the flat surfaces. If you need to do any sanding to complete the job (presuming here that the cabinets are pulled off the wall, which given the mess and potential paint toxicity is probably a good idea), wear a respirator — not one of those flimsy “dust masks” but one with cartridges on it that is approved for hazardous particles like asbestos or lead. I’d take the cabinets outside to sand them where there’s plenty of good ventilation.

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