Often to repaint wood, one has to remove previous layers so the new paint can take better hold. Sanding is one of the most used methods for doing this. However, it is important to opt for the right grit sandpaper to remove the paint effectively and promptly.

You should use 40 to 60 grit sandpaper to remove paint from wood. However, to get the paint off from edges and details, you must use finer, 80 to 120 grit sandpaper. It is advisable to test with lighter sandpaper before moving up in grit to avoid sanding more than necessary.

The rest of this article will cover all you need to know about removing paint from wood, including the difference between paint-stripping and sanding paint, the best tools for sanding paint off wood, and the alternative methods to remove paint without sanding.

What Is the Difference Between Sanding and Stripping?

Since both methods result in paint removal, they are used interchangeably in some spaces. However, paint-stripping is very different from sanding.

The term sanding refers to rubbing sandpaper across a surface to file the unevenness or remove a layer of dried coating on it. On the other hand, stripping in the context of furniture refers to using a chemical stripper that dissolves the paint and forms a sludge that is washed and dried off the wood.

Best Tools for Sanding Paint off Wood

Aside from sandpaper, you can use a sander to get the paint off the interior or exterior you are working on. These sanders come in a wide range. Below is a list of tools you can use to sand the wood with your sandpaper.

Orbit Sander

An orbit sander uses a sanding disk that spins due to a motorized system. Consequently, an orbit sander can sand in a matter of minutes what can take days to sand by hand. It is important to note that electric sanders can damage the wood if the sanding disc’s grit is too high for a surface. That is why it is crucial to try with lower grit paper first and then switch to a higher grit for faster results.

Detail Sander

These sanders use a different motion than disc sanders but are also electrically operated. They are smaller and take a long time but give you more control over how much of the surface you want to sand and what depth you would like to stop. A detail sander doesn’t use spinning sanding disks but relies on a back-and-forth motion.

Sanding Block

A sanding block is used to give sanding paper a manual grip. This is the best way to sand wood if it is your first time removing paint by sanding. This is because you don’t want to use tools that can damage the wood. By manually sanding, you have more control and can adjust the pressure to remove the paint while preserving the wood.

Orbital sander - the best tools for sanding paint off wood.

What Is the Best Sander for Removing Paint?

As mentioned above, sanding wood with a sanding block is the best way to remove paint without damaging the wood underneath. However, this is not feasible for larger areas. That is why, if you are sanding a surface larger than a small cabinet or a chair, you should get one of the following sanders:

Black+DECKER Random Orbit Sander

This sander islands a five-inch surface in a matter of minutes, reducing the sanding time from days to hours. It is backed by a trustworthy brand and has over 4000 reviews on Amazon, of which more than 70% are five-star. It rates high in ease of holding and maneuverability, both of which are traits to be conscious of when sanding for the first time.

Dewalt 20V MAX Orbital Sander

A powerhouse sander with a capacity of up to 12,000 orbits per minute. Dewalt’s Orbital Sander allows you to adjust the speed of disk rotation to match the purpose. So if you are sanding a single coat of paint off a cabinet or removing thick layers of paint off a garage door, you can rely on this single tool. It also comes with a replaceable sanding pad that allows you to change the sandpaper easily.

And as sanding can be time-consuming, the comfort of handling is essential. 20V MAX has a very comfortable textured rubber grip that allows you to handle your sanding operation more smoothly.

Makita’s Random Orbit Sander

Makita’s Orbit Sander has three-speed settings, with the lowest being 7,000 rotations per minute. It can be charged and used for up to forty minutes on a low setting, giving you ample time to sand paint off wooden furniture. However, it is not recommended for exteriors because the other options are better suited for higher-demand projects.

Do You Need a Sander to Remove Paint off Wood?

While sanders are often used to remove paint off wooden surfaces, it can be unnecessary to use an electric sander to sand off paint from wood. It is recommended first to try sanding by hand. Chances are you can remove the paint off the wood with just a sanding block and a coarse sanding paper.

How Much Time Does It Take to Remove Paint From Wood?

You can remove paint from a given surface in less than an hour. However, because most sanding disks are only a few inches wide, the area that requires sanding dictates the final time required by a project.

With a chemical stripper, the time required is mostly in waiting. Therefore the application, which is much easier than sanding, is highly scalable. In some instances, one can strip paint off a wall in the same amount of time it takes to sand one side of a cabinet.

The Best Chemical Stripper for Paint Removal

If you were initially interested in sanding wood to remove the paint but have decided to use wood-stripping as the way to get rid of the paint, you should purchase SmartStrip by Dumond Chemicals. It is powerful enough to remove up to fifteen layers of paint. If the furniture, interior, or exterior you wish to strip has been coated with two or more layers of paint, this is one of the quickest ways of making the base wood visible.

Dumond 027691033322 Smart Strip by Peel Away One Sample Size’ Paint Remover, 1...

The formula is biodegradable, making the product environment-friendly, and the solvent is odor-free. One of the biggest drawbacks of chemical stripping is the odor, but SmartStrip does not present the same inconvenience as a water-based formula. Moreover, it does not require pH-neutralizing like some acidic strippers.

TIP: You don’t have to use a store-bought product. You can make a DIY paint stripper as long as you have some basic ingredients.

Alternative Methods to Remove Paint From Wood

Some people may be allergic to dust and may not want to use sanders or sanding blocks to remove wood paint. And while stripping is a popular alternative, there are many more ways to get paint off a wooden surface.

Scraping Paint

Instead of directly resorting to high-grit sandpaper for thick coats of paint, use a scraper to chip off the paint with ease. It would be best to sharpen the scraper before using it on the surface to ensure the paint comes off without using too much force.

Using a Paint Thinner

This works well with a thin coating of paint, which can be dissolved by lacquer thinner. Beware to check the type of wood you use this method with as the wood might erode with thinner use. Apply gently using a soaked cotton pad and wait for the paint to dissolve. Use precautions to avoid poisoning and ingestion of chemicals.

Chemical Stripping

Earlier in the article, stripping furniture was mentioned as an option for removing paint. The stripper method works similarly to the thinner method, but it can dissolve a thicker layer of paint because of different chemical makeup. Unlike lacquer thinner, a chemical stripper can remove most types of paint from almost all surfaces. It is ideal for old wood and is time-consuming, but most of the time involved is waiting time.

Attaching a Paint-Stripping Drill-Head

By attaching a paint-stripping brush to a household drill, you can get the same effect as sanding for paint-removal except without actually using sandpaper. This industry-standard is 3M Paint Stripper Brush, which is manufactured by Scotch-Brite and is a much cheaper option than buying a sander.

3M 7771 Stripper Brush, 4" Diameter
  • Cleans rusty surfaces and has a double-thick edge to...
  • Features Scotch-Brite abrasive web that will not rust...
  • Conforms to contours and leaves a smooth paintable...
  • Fits all standard household drills

If you want better results than manual sanding and avoid investing in electric sanding tools, this option is ideal for you. Unlike sanding disks, the paint-stripping brush is geared towards targeting thinner layers like paint and rust. It is unlikely to affect the wood underneath as the pressure will make the relatively softer brush to only exert friction against the top layer. It is worth noting that this is not the most efficient way to remove thicker layers of paint.

Final Thoughts

While you can use up to 120 grit sanding paper to remove the color from wood, it is advisable to use lower grit first and test whether a low-impact method can work for your paint removal project. Remember that there are alternatives like paint-removing drill-heads and chemical strippers that can help you get better results depending on the project.

You should only apply as much pressure as required to remove the paint. Multiple thick coats will require more pressure than a single thin coat. Using more force than necessary can damage the wood, so you should gradually increase the pressure until the paint starts coming off. Therefore, you should not just use the right grit but also the right technique and sander.

As long as you start with low-impact and experimenting with what works best as you gradually increase the impact, the wooden surface you’re working with shall be fine.

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