I'm stripping some paint from a very old door in my house - it's probably about 120 years old. Given the age, it's picked up several layers of paint over the years. I've already stripped the skirting boards that are of a similar age with no problems: the paint just peeled right off.

On the door, however, the paint is coming off in a rather inconsistent way. The top two layers seem relatively thin, and are coming off without too much hassle, though the paint is turning into what seems more like glue than paint as it's coming off. The lower layers (pictured) are much harder to get off (in other words, it's not coming off in one go).

For the lower layers, even leaving the heat gun on an area for a little while, the paint doesn't 'bubble' and just softens (or comes off unevenly, as in the picture). As a result, I'm having to be quite rough with it to remove it, essentially using the heat to soften it up and then scrape it off manually with force.

I was wondering, is there anything I can do to make this easier? Or is it just the case that the many layers and years on this door will mean I just need to keep going? I'd just like to get rid of the paint enough to make it sufficiently smooth to fix some of the knocks and dents in it, and then re-paint.

here's an image of the door

2 Answers 2


Perhaps you should consider using a chemical help to supplement your heat gun approach. Obviously the very old paint has lost most of the oils and resins that can help it bubble for heat removal. You are probably dealing with mostly pigments (many metal based, including lead) and very dry resins.

There are newer less caustic strippers, such as citrus based products, that take several hours to cut through the old paint and may need a subsequent application. But they may allow more complete removal without gouging the old wood.

citrus stripper

Once you stop making satisfactory progress with the heat gun, let the wood cool than then test the stripper in a small area. NOTE - Do not, under any circumstances, use the heat gun when there is a chemical stripper on the wood. Serious chemical reaction or fire could result!

You also could try cabinet scrapers. these are much less likely to gouge than the heavy duty paint scrapers. Some have sharp corners or curves that allow you to scrape out moldings and insets. Again, these could be used once you have removed a good bit of the old paint with the heat gun.

cabinet scrapers

NOTE 2 - Given the age of the paint, there is almost certainly lead (and maybe other unpleasant metals) present in the finish. Use a mask to avoid breathing the dust and chips with all these techniques.


You'll want to look up the EPA RRP (Repair Renovation and Painting) rules, for techniques for safely removing such paint. Heat over a certain temperature is a banned practice.

Since you're repainting, eventually you just give up. If it's that well attached it's a fine surface to paint over.

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