Home Renovation 101
June 4, 2021 2:00 PM   Subscribe

We just bought a house with a high wood ceiling that's been painted white - we want to remove the paint and bring it back to a natural wood look. Who does this kind of work (painters?) and would the wood need to be sealed once exposed?

This is not our specific house but it's the exact same type (one of the benefits of an Eichler house) and the ceiling looks like ours currently does. This is what I want the ceiling to look like. The beams part I get, that's just black paint, but in terms of getting the wood in between back to its natural state I'm just not sure who does that kind of work. And, once exposed does that wood need to be sealed or is it ok as-is because it's interior? If it does need to be sealed, is it a painter who would also do that? And how do we figure out what kind of sealant is needed. We're first-time home owners and know nothing about how any of this works. Thank you!
posted by wuzandfuzz to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Whoops, in case it's relevant to the sealing part, I forgot to say that our understanding is that the wood underneath all that paint is a light redwood (similar to the ceiling in the "we want it to look like this" picture).
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:02 PM on June 4, 2021

Best answer: kudos for wanting to do this! It is hard and expensive work, but IMO the work of the design gods.
Originally, your panels were probably untreated and the oils in the timber worked as a sealant. But I can't think of any stripping treatment that will not need to be repaired by an oil-treatment. My mentors would have insisted on several layers of linseed oil on dry wood, and with the wood drying between each layer, and it is probably still the best solution. Maybe you could use a treatment that works in one go, but then you will need to repair again after ten years, so it depends on your economy and prospects.

If you strip off the paint using mechanical methods, you will need fewer layers of oil than if you use chemical stripping.
posted by mumimor at 2:19 PM on June 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would try to find someone who specializes in restoration work. My guess is that most painters would say that yes, they can do this. But for this kind of detail work, I'd rather have someone who specializes in restoring wood finishes. We found the person who does this stuff for us via recommendation from a GC we know. Maybe if you are in a neighborhood of similar houses, one of your neighbors will have a name for you. This will be more expensive and take longer than what a run of the mill painter would do, but the result will almost surely be better.
posted by primethyme at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Check for lead?
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:55 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

linseed oil spontaneously combusts, just FYI. I don't know anything about woodworking, just that my friend's house burned down as a result of an improperly handled rag that had been used to apply it. hopefully there's some other option.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:31 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Much of the work required depends on whether or not the wood had some sort of clear finish on it before it was painted. If it did, it is not going to be bad. If it did not, the paint may have gotten into the pores of the wood, which would require a lot of sanding and/or living with some amount of paint speckles. I'd have an inconspicuous area as a test zone for someone that can tell.

Linseed oil is an oxidizing oil. If there is a good bit on say a wadded up rag, it can oxidize generating enough heat to cause spontaneous combustion. Lots and lots of surface area in a small space. Castor oil is also an oxidizing oil, but linseed is the champ-peen for rate of oxidizing. I've used linseed oil as a finish, yeah, don't throw the rag in the trash. Lay it out flat on the driveway is a good way of dealing with it.

I used a product some years ago on some floors that was tung+citrus oils+icantremember. It worked really well, the floors still look good 15 years on.
posted by rudd135 at 4:21 PM on June 4, 2021

Best answer: It can be done for a price... but I'd also consider layering a veneer.
posted by ovvl at 4:55 PM on June 4, 2021

Best answer: I agree, ideally an Eichler-owning neighbor has a personal rec. If not, the Eichler Network site has advice forums [example: Home Maintenance Hotline, "Issues, talk and all the fixings to keep your Eichler in shape"] and a service directory.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:16 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

linseed oil spontaneously combusts, just FYI.

This only a problem when you have lots of surface area scrunched into a small area. The classic example is an oily rag tossed in an open container. It is not a problem when applied to a flat wood surface. It is way less dangerous than say the gas in your car.
posted by Mitheral at 6:04 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That will be terrific when you complete this project! You might consider an ebony stain—maybe even a concoction using India Ink if YouTube is to be believed—instead of black paint for the beams.
posted by carmicha at 6:35 PM on June 4, 2021

Best answer: Working on a ceiling is miserable. Stripping paint from wood is a lot of work. Check to see what it would cost to replace it. Do a test to see what's actually underneath the white. I'd find out if the wood can be removed, stripped, replaced. White reflects a lot of light; even medium wood will be a good bit darker. Beautiful, but darker, something to consider.

Unfinished wood will stain if there's any water intrusion at all, like a small leak in a radiator above(this happened at my house). I was taught to finish varnished wood with 1:1 Boiled Linseed Oil and Turpentine*, but this is really a job for a coat of polyurethane.

* store rags in a sealed container like a pickle jar; oily rags are indeed dangerous if they have oxygen.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 PM on June 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Note that some Eichler houses (at least, around me) had bleach-stained ceilings, in which case you may not get your desired result without replacing the ceiling (or staining it a new color) as the underlying wood will already be bleached.

...do you have any original light fixtures? If so, you can sometimes determine the color of existing wood by pulling off the light fixture (lots of folks just paint with fixtures-in-place so the underlying wood stays original).
posted by aramaic at 7:56 PM on June 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As for what type of professional might be able to do this, it might be a project for a finish carpenter
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 8:12 PM on June 4, 2021

Best answer: You definitely want some kind of finish on it after the paint is stripped. Raw wood doesn't look nice. (Example of the difference here.)

I agree with the suggestion to start with someone who does restoration work. This is beyond the wheelhouse of an average painter, but there might be skilled paint & finish companies who would do work like this.
posted by mekily at 8:56 PM on June 4, 2021

Best answer: You will absolutely need to finish the ceiling after the paint is stripped. If it is anywhere near a kitchen there will be at least some grease and steam assailing it, and over period of months that will make for a very dirty ceiling indeed. You will need a finish that can be scrubbed. Your best bet is polyurethane.

Much depends on the paint that was used. I know of one situation where latex paint was used in a bathroom that had the correct type of water resistant paneling used in bathrooms and kitchens, and simply exposing the walls to hot steam made it possible to pull the latex paint off in sheets. If you are the favoured child of fate, the previous owners will have done latex on polyurethane and you can do the job yourself with a steamer and plastic scrapers. It's not likely you could be that lucky.

If the previous owners of the house painted the ceiling that adds to the strong possibility that the air currents and normal usage of the rooms cause the ceiling to look nasty. The paint may be covering stains that have soaked in deeply enough to need the surface wood sanded deeply. When you strip wood you never know what you will find.

It is of course possible that the previous inhabitants only painted to try and lighten the rooms, so give some consideration to the possibility that at times of the year in certain natural light conditions the room will end up as dim as a crypt. You may wish to install additional lighting at the same time as you get the ceiling refinished, so that you are happy with the amount of diffuse light in the room afterwards.

I know several people who have completely refinished all the woodwork in their homes, one weekend at a time using Saniflush toilet cleaner. While I do not recommend this I mention it as something you could use on an inconspicuous part of the ceiling to so you can get a look at the condition of the wood beneath, if hardware store wood stripping products don't cooperate. You'll need to cover floors, fixtures and furniture - everything below - as whatever is used will drip. Full protection must be worn, with goggles, gloves and water proof head coverings, regardless of what you do, because dripping caustic solutions that dissolve paint do unspeakable things to hair, skin and eyes. If you get it done plan on possibly not having access to the room for the duration.

Stripping wood overhead is a pig of a job.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:54 AM on June 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I shudder at the labor cost to do this, but agree it looks magnificent.
Know that after the job is “done” to some worker’s standards, there will be scores of small dents, nail holes, cracks etc. that will still have white. It will be exacting work to complete properly.
The timber must be sealed after, as others have said.
posted by bystander at 3:23 AM on June 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do work like this and cringed when I saw what you wanted.

Very labor intensive especially now that methylene chloride has been essentially banned from retail outlets.

Probably cheaper to just put new wood over (or under since it's a ceiling) the existing painted wood.

Finish with a nice poly clear coat if you want it to have a sheen oil finishes take work to build a finish.
posted by Max Power at 9:07 AM on June 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

* store rags in a sealed container like a pickle jar; oily rags are indeed dangerous if they have oxygen.

Put them in an old paint can of water, leave outside.
posted by Max Power at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the insight! We've discovered that the white is original to the house (though I'm sure there have been many coats added) so we don't have high hopes for the refinish-the-actual-wood approach but are going to look under some light fixtures/try a little test patch to make sure. We're also looking into the "just put wood over the top of it" approach and getting some quotes for that (thanks for the tip to look for finish carpenters!) The tentative price for the over-the-top-of-it approach makes me want to cry a little so we may end up waiting until the price of wood goes down (we're hearing $30k or so for a 1400 sq ft house, labor included).
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:21 PM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

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