(802) 839-6099 • 279 Websterville Road, Barre VT 05641 • jay@southgatesteeplejacks.com
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Painting Philosophy

WHY WE DO NOT LIKE TO DO SCRAPE'N'REPAINT WORK

Every one knows the key to a good re-paint job is good prep. But, it is challenging to define exactly what constitutes good prep. Whether it is the Secretaries of Interiors Historic Preservation guidelines or an Architects specs it is mighty hard to create a clear cut quibble proof spec. I have seen respected painters who use pull scrapers that they never sharpen. I have seen painters who make desultory pokes with a putty knife and whatever does not fall off is considered "well adhered". I have seen well respected painters paint over dirt so thick it is rises in clouds as they paint.
Specifications for paint prep for historic old buildings usually talk of “scraping to refusal”. Refusal of what? I ask myself. Scrape until no more old paint can be removed? A worker can remove any and all paint, no matter how sound, if they are willing to take forever and keep sharpening. Scrape until the workers are disgusted and refuse to scrape any more? Let’s face it. No matter how diligent and professional workers may be, human nature is such that “scraping to refusal” means one thing at 9 AM on the first day of scraping, and something else at 4 PM on the fifth day. I have never seen a job nor specifications in which the issue of sufficient preparation is quibble proof. I consider myself to be the most aggressive of scrapers, but can I declare with certainty that I have removed every piece of old paint that may be at risk of detaching from its substrate? Of course not. Nor can anyone else who does a standard scrape job. Usually, no one even has any idea what the accumulated layers of paint are. This is why when “scrape & paint” jobs begin to fail, the failure is usually the old paint falling away from the wood, taking the newer coatings with it. So then another “scrape & paint” is done, and some of the loosening material which the scraper should now remove is missed due to the fact that it is hidden behind the last coat of paint. These missed areas will then be the first to fail as before, thus perpetuating this frustrating cycle. Furthermore, as evermore layers of paint are applied over the decades, the thickness of the coating increases, meaning that an ugly and crooked ghost line will show through the finish paint where an area scraped bare meets old paint. We are all familiar with this horrid look on old buildings. The standard answer is of course to “feather” these transitions with sand paper. This is often as time consuming a process as the scraping itself, and is a bad practice from a lead safety standpoint. When all is said and done, no matter how good a job of preparation may have been performed, the final results still depend on the mysterious old layers of buried paint.
Furthermore, a scrape"n..paint job creates a big lead hazard and or creates the need to spend lots of money simply following the new EPA laws aimed at preventing the hazard. It also leaves large amounts of hazardous lead paint in place to be a costly hazard again the NEXT time you do a scrape'n'paint. Furthermore, scraping paint is excruciatingly boring and I have wonderful employees and keeping work fun helps me retain them. And finally, it is my goal that if you hire me to fix your steeple the steeple will not require my attention for 100 years. This business of returning every 5-10 years to "do it again" is for the birds.
So, we like to find solutions that do NOT invole scrape'n'repaint work. This might mean making the exterior wood all new, or to bring the old wood to the shop for a total rehabilitation. We do not like to strip paint onsite with chemicals or heat because it does not the solve the problem of failing fasteners and mold/fungus spores that are living in the old wood.
So, given all that, what to do.

We will always want to remove the old lead slathered wood from the steeple thereby eliminating the hazard for ever. It is far easier to contain the lead while removing the exterior wood than it is to contain it scraping, and the hazardous waste disposal laws are less burdensome for old wood than for lead scrapings
. We can then build the exterior of new wood, or we can rehabilitate the old wood in the shop. Often, we do a combination of the two. Please read our Shop Rebuilding and New Woodwork/Paint protocols to understand our techniques.

We are not totally unwilling to do a scrape'n'paint and we do it better than most, but please allow me to make the case to you.