How to Strip Paint Without Chemicals
I learned how to strip paint without chemicals or a huge mess! This is a total game changer for me, I have seen the light, and this tool is the best.
I realize a lot of my posts begin and end with a ridiculous story about how we got the thing we’re making over, and this one is no different. I snagged a handful of doors from my neighbor who was moving, as well as the mantle you see here, and that one bench.
This mantel is so heavy and awkward, it makes absolute sense why Andrew and I would lug it downstairs, out to her porch, and argue about whether we: A) run it home as the sky is turning black right before our eyes, or B) just wait it out for who knows how long.
Obviously, we chose A. We slowly lugged it home up the hill as it started pouring.
This piece began as a creamy butter yellow chalk paint with dark antiquing wax on it, which looked gorgeous in my friends’ bedroom. In our house, with our paint and floors… it looked straight-up bright yellow.
It lived in the dining room for a while, so I could marinate on final plans for this thing. We were (read: I was) rearranging some furniture and decor in here when we ripped out the carpeting to lay new flooring throughout the first floor, and Andrew had the genius idea to bring it into the living room and swap the original fireplace, with this giant one.
Our plan was to strip the paint off with the Wagner Furno 700 heat gun, then evaluate what we were left with. This heat gun saved my hide, because I don’t like using a chemical stripper because of the mess and how long it takes. For my very first time using a heat gun, I was so impressed and relieved at how simple this was. I had no idea how much I was missing a heat gun, especially to strip paint.
I prayed over this mantle to not catch fire because it was so dry and old. Working on a drop cloth, we propped the mantle up on a ladder. It’s important to vent your space well, and wear a mask and gloves when working. Grab whatever scraping tools you need, depending on how much detail your piece has. I used a butter knife, wire brush, and a putty knife.
I varied the temp on the heat gun to find what worked best for me. I was most efficient at 1100◦, though this heat gun goes to 1300◦. Do make sure to keep the heat gun moving, or you’ll burn the piece to a crisp. I cannot tell a lie – this was crispy in a few areas as I was getting the hang of it. Once you find your groove, you’ll be sailing.
The most effective method was to heat up a section as wide as my putty knife and a few inches long, until it bubbled (not all paint will bubble), then gently scrape the layers off. It’s so much easier to heat the paint thoroughly through the layers before you scrape. This way, you only need to make one scraping pass. I repeated this process in big sections over 4 days.
Under the wax and yellow paint, was another layer of wax, white paint, and a ton of wood filler. Once it was all scraped, we sanded it lightly and wiped it down really well. It sat untouched for a few days while I agonized over a finishing treatment.
Andrew decided it’d be awesome to build it out so we could put a little electric fireplace inside, so we decided to just do it all at once. He framed it out with a bunch of scrap wood we had in the garage. If you’re really particular, you can measure your fireplace insert and make the fireplace really deep, but we were short on floor space. After a light sanding, I decided to stain the whole thing with a random mix of neutral stains very, very lightly.
Sidebar, I heavily considered staining, painting, or waxing it black. I love when I say things like this to my friends, because they probably think I have lost my mind and didn’t have the heart to tell me I was being ridiculous.
The back of the fireplace is where I opted to get my pop of black, by coating a brick panel with 2 coats of flat black paint (a sample size jar works perfect for this). We sat it on a hearth we made from a repurposed bench top we covered in marble peel and stick tile. The hearth is just sitting on the floor, and the mantle is anchored to the stud with a ridiculously long screw, toenailed through the top. After this was in place, we drilled a hole through the brick backing for the fireplace cord to go through, and plugged it right in. Instant cozy!
This little electric fireplace log set is so adorable, and has lots of heat/fan/light settings. We found this particular one at our local Home Depot, but this is very similar on Amazon! You can use it with just the lights (on 3 settings) or both heat/lights. The flickering lights really warm up the whole fireplace and makes the living room a really cozy space! I absolutely love it, and the kids have been sitting in front of it playing and warming their feet.
I am beyond happy I didn’t paint/stain/wax it black (or paint/stain it white for that matter). The leftover funk in the grooves and on the wood tells a story of where this thing came from, and the white wax shows off those ridges and grooves perfectly.
Don’t let a project like this intimidate you!! All you need are the right tools and some inspiration!
This whole situation is just dreamy! The black brick takes it to another level. 😍😍😍
Oh my dear heavens, Kim!!!! This is drop dead gorgeous and I am also so glad you didn’t end up painting it- the finish you chose is PERFECT!!! And it suits your living room so well 😍😍😍 Bravo, girlie!!!!!
Your vision for this fireplace was a success! It turned out amazing, love the cozy finished project!
Good Evening Kim,
The mantle is beautiful! I’ve been dreaming of refinishing an old mantle for my home, as well. I currently have multiple pieces to refinish, one of which is a dining table that is stained and sealed. Do you know if this technique you’ve used will work on a stained, sealed piece?
Hi Staci! I’m certain the heat gun will help remove the sealer, but I think a varnish remover/stripper would be more effective on the stain. I have used ZAR before on stain on our kitchen island, and it worked wonderfully!! I followed these steps from this video: https://youtu.be/bV74s1zo4a0 I hope that’s helpful!!
Beautiful outcome! Love the mantle! Thanks for these paint stripping tips also!