A word on wood

When you buy an older house, what gives it character?

It’s not just the exterior of a property that’s important. Older properties come with heaps of character inside, whether that’s old cornicing, ceiling roses, wooden window frames or ornate staircases.

But it’s also worth being aware that anything that’s old and needs restoring or repainting, will mean spending a lot of time on it.

I remember being so impatient to start stripping the paint off our staircase. I ripped up the old carpet, removed the staples, and began stripping the paint off the banister and several of the spindles.

Then I realised quite how long it was going to take to do all 52 spindles…

Over the years, it seems that previous owners decided against putting the work in, and on one spindle we counted over ten layers of paint!!

Then, after the paint stripping, it’s time to get sanding. After reaching the landing, and realising I was only halfway despite having put in almost a month of work, I felt quite disheartened until a friend of ours, who works as a full time painter decorator, told us that he’d charge a customer for over an hour of work – per spindle.

Jobs like this take time but I’m so convinced that it will be worth it. A smooth finish on what is ultimately the centre piece of the house will be so much better than a quick fix, with yet another layer of paint. Before long, you lose the little details that contain all the charm, so it’s worth putting the hours in.

But, having lost almost two months of my life (on and off) to this project, I thought it was worth sharing a few tips on what to expect, and how to keep the motivation up!

  • Buy a decent heat gun. We actually went through several heat guns doing our staircase. Two just stopped working after # a few hours so in the end, we decided that it was worth spending a bit of extra money and having something reliable.
    If you don’t want to use a heat gun, you could use Nitromore instead. We did try this but I got impatient waiting for it to take effect, then having to wash it all off, and reapply. Personally, I also didn’t think it took the paint off any neater than the heat gun did. Sadly, with a heat gun and scraper you do risk damaging bits of the wood that are particularly fragile so Nitromore is more delicate on that front. .
  • Have a stash of decorators gloves. These will be handy when you’re paint stripping to protect your fingers but they’ll also be a life saver when you’re sanding. No one likes finishing sanding and realising that you can pick up a microfibre cloth by your fingertips because the skin is so rough, it starts to work like velcro!!
  • Count the spindles and see every one like a victory. After ten spindles, I really didn’t want to know how many I had left. But Luke thought I needed to – and he was right. Knowing how many spindles I had in total, allowed me to set mini targets. By the end of the week, I wanted to have stripped and sanded ten. Then to get to the top of the stairs – and so on. When a project is this time consuming and exhausting, it’s all about those baby steps.
  • Remember why you’re doing it. At times, I didn’t want to go home after work because all I’d face was another night sanding. At that point, you need a break. Start doing something else (for us it was painting the lounge) and focus your energy elsewhere until you have that drive back. If possible, also find an image of what you’re aiming for. The image below is what we’re working towards in our hall and having this image in mind when I’m covered in dust from sanding the 40th spindle keeps me going as I’m seeing the bigger picture.

Right now, we just have 5 spindles left to sand and then we’re onto the final stage – painting.

Wish us luck!

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