How To Strip a Mantel & Hearth

Apartment Therapy Tutorials

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You are looking at a room in our house called "The Ann Cave." This is where my partner (her name is Ann if you didn't get that) retreats to watch golf and play her ukelele. That mantel and hearth looked a lot different when we bought the house. In fact, here it is as we first found it:

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Yummy.

While our contractor worked on other parts of the house, our job was to tackle the fireplace. The mantel was covered with many layers of white and aqua(!) paint. Fortunately, underneath the carpet and plywood, all the original tile was still in place.

What You Need

Materials

  • Paint Stripper

Tools

  • Rubber gloves
  • Metal Scraper
  • Paintbrush
  • Wire brush
  • Heat gun
  • Rags
  • Receptacle for removed paint

Instructions


Part 1: The Mantel

I'm going to say this first: I don't recommend the paint stripper we used. It was 100% toxic, and burned my nostrils and skin. Really miserable stuff. I've since used the citrus based stuff on other projects and it is SOOOO much better. Not only is the smell less horrifying, but I got to keep all my skin layers this time around. 

No matter what, wear heavy duty rubber gloves (the long dishwashing variety works nicely) and work in a well ventilated area, or outside if possible. This project is nothing short of messy, so pick a place you don't care about. We propped the mantel in our garage, on sawhorses,so it could lay flat, and opened all the doors.

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1. Since a mantel like this is big, you might want to work in sections so the remover doesn't have a chance to evaporate or dry before you get to it. Get started by covering a section of the wood liberally with the gel. Don't be shy with the stuff, or brush it on thinly as you would with paint. When you have a good thick layer on, walk away for a while.

Tip: Let the gel do the work for you. I was overly eager the first time and wanted to dive right in. I wound up scraping a lot more than I needed to. If I recall, it took at least 20 minutes, if not more. After the first application, you'll know the optimal waiting time.

You want it to look like this before you start scraping:

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2. After a number of minutes, start slowly and tediously scraping off the paint that's been loosened by the stripper. Don't scrape so hard that it gouges the wood; just enough to get through the paint. It will be disgusting and you'll have to clean off your scraper often. 

Tip: Before you start scraping, go ahead and apply gel to the next section of wood. That way, while you scrape, the gel can work its magic at the same time.

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3. If there were multiple coats of paint, not everything will come up right away, but don't worry. You can always go back later and reapply. Repeat until you've removed most of the paint from the wood.

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4. Once the majority of the paint is off, then go back and fine tune. If your project has lots of detail, you might have to experiment to find the right tool to get in the crevices. This is where the wire brush came in handy for me. Whatever you choose, don't go at it too hard; you don't want to damage the wood in these special spots.

5. Once all the paint is off, wipe off with a wet sponge or cloth until it's clean.

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Part 2: The Hearth

Next, turn your attention to the hearth. Hopefully yours is as clean as a shiny penny, so you won't have to do this. As I mentioned earlier, ours was intact under the carpet, but it was also covered in what looked suspiciously like stick-on parquet tile. If you don't know what the material is, experiment with a couple of things. After trying a few options, I found heat worked best in this situation:

1. Hold the heat gun near the tile for a couple of minutes, until the rubber? adhesive? starts to soften and you can scrape it off.

2. After that it's pretty much elbow grease. Scrape and scrape (again, somewhat gently so as to not crack the tile) until all the yucky stuff is gone.
Unfortunately, once everything was off, I discovered that some of the tiles were cracked. Boo. But that's a project for another day. In the meantime, it looks fifty times better.

(Images: Dabney Frake)

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