The Tools You Need To Scrape and Sand Exterior Wood Siding

Scraping, sanding and painting your wooden house (especially if it’s in rather bad shape) is not a job for the faint of heart.  It’s hot, sweaty, dusty work that requires at least SOME ladder work.  If you like pinching pennies and feeling a sense of accomplishment, by all means take it on.  If you are looking for easy, fun DIY that people will admire … maybe choose another project.

For me, painting a beat up wall in an ugly color into a new smooth color of my choosing is about the most fun I can think of, and is well worth the labor.  Stay tuned for my discussion of how high on ladders you have to climb to paint a single story ranch in an upcoming post!

Paint Scraper: With an unloved flaky old paint job like my house exterior (I think it got its second coat of paint ever circa around 1960) the most important task before painting is to knock off all the loose paint.  If I were to paint over flaky paint, my nice natty grey would flake off in a year or two.  That’s where the scraper comes in.  Anywhere there’s flaky paint, or bubbles, or cracks, I really go to town, pulling the scraper blade across back and forth in several directions.

A scraper needs to be pretty sharp – you can try sharpening them or simply turn and then replace the blade. A tool like mine comes with the square blades shown above that can be rotated 180 degrees to reveal another blade or turned 90 and flipped over to access two more.  The blades need to stay sharp to slice away loose paint successfully.  I don’t worry about gouging up the surface too much – that’s what the sanding is for.

Orbital or Palm Sander: This is essential for a flaking paint job like mine.  I’m not willing to work hard enough to achieve perfect smoothness on each board but I can use the orbital sander to smooth the edges between areas of paint and raw wood so they don’t catch the sun and make dramatic shadow lines.  I also just quickly run over the face of every board to scuff up the surface and make the primer grab well.  Its loud and tiring but very worth it.  “Mine” is actually my dad’s and is probably older than I am.  Newer models come with a dust catching bag that helps keep the aerosolized lead paint to a minimum.  I recommend one of those!

Note: my house is in poor shape because it wasn’t repainted often enough – the two thin coats of paint from its whole lifespan have started to peel and crack and a lot of scraping is necessary.  HOWEVER, I’m grateful for this problem rather than the one my neighbor across the street is dealing with.  Her house has layer on layer of paint, sloppily applied over peeling layers below.  She had no luck smoothing the wood with an orbital sander or getting the paint off with a chemical stripper and had to resort to renting a Paint Shaver.  I’m lucky that I don’t have to pull out the big guns that way!

Sanding Sponge: The orbital sander is round so it can’t really hit all the corners.  There are flat sand paper and sanding blocks available but I really love to splurge on these sanding sponges which have just enough squish to really press up against all the odd shapes of a lapped wood siding wall.

Since there are two sides to each of its four corners you can make the sandy bit go quite a long way and if you feel like being economical you can actually wrap flat paper sand paper around the sponge to keep it going.  Take it from me, though the sanding sponge is WORTH IT.

Tacky Cloth, Spray Bottle, Mask and Respirator: Since I know there’s lead in the under layer of paint on my house, I don’t want the paint dust to to anywhere unauthorized – not into my lungs or on my clothes or in the soil of the yard.

Following professional lead paint mitigation protocols, I keep the wall area I’m scraping and sanding spritzed down with water to keep the dust heavy and falling toward the sheet of 4ml thick plastic sheeting that I duct tape to the base of the house and spread 10′ out into the yard.  At the end of the project I fold that up and carefully dispose of it in the trash.

To keep it out of myself I cover up with a full Tyvek suit, booties (so I don’t track lead paint chips off the plastic sheeting), a mask and HEPA filter respirator, AND a kerchief over my hair … plus gloves, whenever I’m working with the sander.

Then to properly setup for the primer, I swipe everything down with tacky cloth and/or a rag and the spray bottle to make sure that the surface has nothing that the primer won’t stick to.  Now I’m ready to peel out of the hated Tyvek space suit and get to the fun of changing wall color!

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