Boiling Hardware

Our world is covered in (undesirable) paint: woodwork, walls and hardware. Sometimes it seems that all we do is remove paint –  and yet, we haven’t made a dent!


Egg and Dart patterned door knob.

Back plates with tape residue

Back plates with tape residue

Intricate (and rusty) door set

Intricate (and rusty) door set

The door knobs and plates we picked up on our trip to the Historic Albany Foundation’s Parts Warehouse were no exception. Luckily, removing paint and grime from hardware is actually pretty easy. It just requires water, baking soda and a little time. Using a stainless steel pot (once you use it for this,  you can’t use it for food anymore, so make sure it’s marked accordingly).


Boil up water with  baking soda. How much baking soda, you ask? Uh… a bunch? Some? I’d say  pretend you’re boiling pasta and add about 4 or 5 times more baking soda than you’d add salt (you can also substitute the baking soda for dish soap, just be careful not to let it boil over, as things will get very sudsy). Once the water comes to a boil, toss in your hardware. You’ll see the gunk come off in the foam.


Let it boil for a little while, then check to see how your door knobs are doing.

IMG_9842Some of the items may need a bit of scrubbing. The paint will be soft and bubbly and will pretty much wipe off. It goes without saying that they will be very hot, so curb your wild enthusiasm as you grab the searing metal to admire your handy work.



Back plates free of paint, but still looking a little sad

Once your hardware is free of paint, you may find that it’s still looking a bit shabby. Sometimes items get rusty after their bicarbonate bath, but it’s all temporary – because you’ll buff the living daylights out of it.


If it’s good for rims and candle stick holders, it sure is good enough for our door knobs

Some metal polish, a little steel wool and an old T-shirt will get you this:

Before elbow grease and after

Before elbow grease and after

After it was all said and done, our door hardware looked like this:





For the Why Did They Paint Over This? file:

Fireplace Cover Detail

I decided to take a break from stripping the bedroom walls and strip the front parlor fireplace cover. This poor thing  has been relegated to the basement since before we bought the house, as the previous owner replaced it with one of those awful Home Depot brass monsters. Here it is in its gaudy paint scheme (which incidentally matches the paint scheme of our front parlor/living room. So. Much. Muppet Flesh paint!)

Fireplace Cover before

I wasn’t expecting much from this cover, until the paint started coming off. Unlike the one in our bedroom, which is just black cast iron, this one has a little something-something going on:

Fireplace Cover Mid Strip

Weekend projects by crazy people

A  comment from a neighbor pretty much sums it up: “I always see you here, working. Never partying.  Just working.”


I’m pretty sure the neighbors think I’m absolutely certifiable. Stripping a stone façade is really not a typical DIY project. People usually hire professionals to do that, and methodology aside, I do understand why.  Passers-by provide random words of encouragement, usually punctuated with “that’s a lot of work,” or “this would go a lot faster if you hired someone.” No shit!

This past Sunday over the course of 8 hours, I managed to strip about 18 sq feet of stone. At first glance, seems like a worthy amount, until you realize that it’s really a drop in the bucket. Not accounting for windows and doors, the area of the façade is 558 square feet – give or take.

Some of the paint came off super easy, yet there are patches of stubborn pink that will need a second application of PeelAway. Damn you pink paint!


The angle of the sun makes it difficult to see any progress. Behold my amazing Photoshop skills! Yellow denotes done-ish. Click to enlarge. 

But wait! There is more!

Because we have two major projects going at the same time (hence the crazy people part) while I scrapped and scrubbed, the hubs worked on leveling the bedroom ceiling beams. The question of the day was “level it to what?” Under normal circumstances, you’d level to gravity: something is either level or it’s not – simple as that. But  nothing is ever as simple as it should be, at least not at our house. As is the case with many old buildings, ours settled over time and the floors are no longer level. The Pink Lady has a noticeable dip towards the center, common to brownstones. It used to drive me crazy and I wanted it gone, but I’m so used to it now I don’t really notice it anymore. Call it charm. Call it being realistic.

The previous fake ceiling was leveled to gravity, making the moldings look super crooked.

Old Ceiling


If we leveled the new ceiling to gravity, then leveled the floors, we would have to open the walls and adjust the all the door openings (2 regular doors and the massive double pocket door), or else the doors wouldn’t close). That just seemed too big of a job in the grand scheme of things.

So reality rears its ugly little head again, and since the dip is normal and is not affecting the structural integrity of the house, we decided to level the ceiling to the floor. By having everything crooked together, it will appear straight. Basically we’ll be mimicking the original ceiling (minus the sag in the middle).  Cooky plan, I know – but it seems like the best option.

After the required number of trips to the hardware store, the uttering of a lot of profanity, and a few beers, we are perhaps a teeny tiny bit closer to being done.

And then this happened

Sometimes, even the most hard core DIY needs a little professional help. Since we seem to be a bit morose these days when it comes to getting stuff done around here, we decided to treat ourselves to a little help in the paint stripping department.

Check out the results of day 1:

Pocket Doors

Fireplace progress

The initial feeling of being inadequate and unable to get it together to make progress on the house was quickly replaced by “holy crap! That looks awesome!” And with that, I accepted that fact that it’s totally OK to hire someone to help every now and then.

Yes, we’re still here…


It has been a while since the last post. As with any reno project, sometimes life gets in the way. We’ve been tackling smaller projects that we can start and stop as needed. For example, we’ve been stripping our shutters, which is easy – yet incredibly time consuming. Most of our front windows have shutters, all of which are painted in and caked with many layers of paint and goop. At 8 panels per window x 5 windows, there are a lot of shutters in need of some love…

First we removed the shutters and labeled them so that they can go back in the correct location. They are probably interchangeable, but didn’t want to risk it.


Cue the tools: PeelAway6, Mineral Spirits, Denatured Alcohol and a variety of scrapers, brushes and small metal tools that will help get paint off the small crevasses. And gloves. You’ll need many pairs of gloves, as they quickly get sticky and unusable.



The next step is to apply a generous layer of PeelAway6. I have tried all the other non-toxic products and PeelAway6 seems to work the best. It’s a bit hard to find these days, as Home Depot doesn’t seem to carry it anymore.  As the chemicals react with the paint, you’ll see some bubbling. The shutter on the left is almost ready to peel, while the one on the right still has some time to go.



Once the surface is nice and blistered, use a scraping tool to peel off the paint. In this case, there is an almost intact layer of paint below, which will require a second application.



Using the scraping tool and a hard bristle brush with mineral spirits, you’ll eventually get to something like this: the first few layers of paint cleared up, ready for a second application of paint stripper.



Cue the PeelAway6 again:



After three applications of paint stripper, the shutters look like this – it’s one of those “it will get worse before it gets better.” At this stage I find it’s actually more effective to use denatured alcohol to remove the last stubborn bits of paint. For bigger clumps, however, another application of paint stripper may be needed.



The back sides of the shutters (the side that is visible only when the shutters are open, was covered in old varnish. The finish has deteriorated over the years, becoming sticky and splotchy. Luckily, varnish is super easy to remove. Apply a bit of denatured alcohol with an old brush and wipe clean with a rag.


Here is my disclaimer: If you tackle any projects that involve old paint,you have to be aware of lead paint. When in doubt, assume it’s lead paint and don’t anger it –  meaning if the paint is in good condition, it’s safe as is and you can just paint over it. You can have paint chips professionally tested to determine whether it’s lead or not. I find that the do-it-yourself kits available at the hardware store are hard to use and the results seem to be inconclusive (at least the ones I tried). You should never ever (ever!) sand anything that contains lead paint, as it’s super bad if it gets airborne. Little bits and flakes of lead paint are also dangerous, particularly to kids.

Gooped up skylight

Our house has two skylights (in various states of disrepair). The main one, above the stairs to the top floor is made of simple stained glass (which is cracked and needs to be fixed at some point). The second one is in the middle room. When we bought the house, the skylight looked like this:

Yes, not only is the skylight painted over, it is also covered with popcorn. Whomever did this is  an over-achiever of doing dumb thing to functional architectural features. Pay no attention to the ugly lighting fixture. We’ll deal with it later. First, let’s let some sunlight into this room, since it’s a center room without windows.

We took down the skylight window. Once in broad daylight, it was even filthier than we thought.

Step 1: Clean the years of accumulated dirt from the roof-facing side of the window

Cue the Peel Away 6. While it works pretty well, particularly for a product that is no-toxic, be prepared to do more than one application, particularly if you have many layers of paint. I have lost count as to how many buckets of this stuff we’ve used thus far.

In the process of removing the glass, the frame kinda sorta came apart…

It was fixed with hardware on the roof facing side. While not perfect, it’s a vast improvement: the semi-finished project probably needs one more round of cleaning to eliminate the smudging. After that, we shall tackle that horrendous popcorn….

Better than a Virgin Mary on toast

There has been an awful lot of paint stripping here at the Pink Lady. It’s a slow process, more or less like picking at a giant never ending scab. Good thing that I am a closeted scab picker.

Anyway, sometimes after staring at paint in its various stages of un-painting, shapes begin to appear. This is by far my favorite one:

Charlie Chaplin with rabbit ears

It’s on the window of the bathroom air shaft. We’re working on peeling back the years of paint to let in some light in. I almost feel bad for making Charlie go away.

Honorable mention goes to this one, which appeared on the mantel of the top floor fireplace:

Dog sniffing another dog’s butt

(the paint is basically just flaking off. The dark brown spots are  the remains of the old varnish. Seems like it reacted with the paint and became very wrinkly. A bit of elbow grease with some steel wool makes it all go away. For the more intricate parts I’ve been using Peel Away 7, mineral spirits and extra doses of patience. A more detailed post on the stripping of the fire place mantel coming soon).