How To: Strip finish off wall paneling

December 7, 2011

Q. Years ago, I opened an in-home child-care program. I had to treat my old knotty pine paneling with fire retardant. It used to be a beautiful accent in my beach cottage home. Now the finish on the paneling is dried out, yellow and very, very ugly. My child-care program has closed, and I would like to clean up and save the paneling. Or is it just a drywall job now? We’re in the middle of a big remodeling, so the decision has to be made. I want to save the wood; my husband is ready to let it go. Any ideas?

Anne Arundel County

A. You can probably strip the finish off in the same ways you’d remove other finishes, such as using a chemical paint stripper or by sanding. However, especially since you are doing a lot of remodeling anyway, you might want to remove the paneling and any nails, and then run the boards through a planer, a piece of shop equipment that has a spinning cutter that skims a thin layer off the surface. In an afternoon, you could probably clean up all of the paneling, assuming you had previously removed and de-nailed it.

Tool-rental yards carry planers that handle boards up to about a foot across, which is all you should need. Machines this size operate on typical household current and are small enough to transport in the trunk of a car. Or you can buy a planer this size at a home center or tool company for as little as $400. Connect the tool to a shop vacuum to collect the dust, or wear a mask and work where the debris won’t be a problem. Wear eye and ear protection, because a planer makes a lot of noise.

If the paneling has beveled edges, as pine paneling typically does, you might need to do some touch-up sanding to get the finish off angled edges. But compared with having to sand the entire surface or deal with the mess of stripping the finish chemically, planing can be a real time-saver.

If you do decide to use this approach, be aware as you remove the boards that they probably have interlocking tongue-and-groove edges. So you will need to pry each board out slightly, remove the nails, then slide the board sideways to extract it without breaking off the thin edges.

I am converting a bedroom into a study and guest room. The floor is covered with carpet in a medium-blue shade. Can you suggest a warm shade of blue to paint the walls? It is a bright room with four windows and afternoon sun.

Washington

Blue, as you know, is considered a “cool” color, but there are still hues that are relatively warm and some that are icier. Blues that contain some red are warmest. So when you go to a paint store to select a color, look for chips that move from blue toward violet. Focus on colors that still register as blue but are a ways toward the violet range.

Because you want the color to work with an existing carpet and probably can’t take the carpet with you to the paint store, be sure to test the color in the room before you commit. Check when the room is full of sunshine as well as at night, with artificial lights. Sample-size paints cost only about $3. You might want to paint a piece of poster board, rather than a square on the wall, so you can see the color in various parts of the room, where the light might be different.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist

■Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in December at washingtonpost.com/home.

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