Ripping Plywood for Wide Baseboard – Good Idea / Bad Idea?

Questions, answers and advice for people who own or work on houses built during the 20th century.

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Joined: Tue Aug 17, 2004 10:16 am
Location: Sciotoville, Ohio

Post by jeepnstein »

The paranoia is from two places. One source is from a sellers point-of-view, fear that the house will be worthless if it has any trace of the dreaded toxic compound in it. The other source is a parent's desire to protect their small children. It only get worse when a well-intentioned State Government starts spending your money for you with policies designed to protect us from ourselves. It's up to the property owner to decide how they want to react, bless our great nation for that.

To answer your question. Yes, ripping down hardwood plywood for the base portion of your baseboards would work. You'd only get eight foot lengths, which would be a problem for me. Trimming it off with a cap molding would look fine. You could fix a rip fence on a handheld circular saw and make short work of it. Of course, removing the trim is going to create more lead dust than just sealing it over in place. I applaud you for attempting to replace the old with like materials if it comes to that.

I'd tend to go for the dip-n-strip myself if I were inclined to remove the troublesome material at all. Encapsulation is always a good option unless the trim is just hideous in addition to having some lead.


Posts: 4
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 11:27 am

Lead paint, renovations, trim, etc (Was Ripping Plywood)

Post by bluebuddha »

Thanks for all the posts. Instead of replying to each, I will post the whole story to clear up confusion and to hopefully help anyone else who may end up searching this forum for the broader lead paint issue…

The situation:

We have a 1950 ranch home in Charlotte, NC which we purchased last May. The house had been sold to us as “renovated.”

The house was beautiful and especially important to us (after an extensive remodel we had just undergone on our house in another state) would not require any renovations that we did not _want_ to do.

Sadly, these were famous last words.

As Spring turned into Summer, and the humidity edged ever higher, we noticed a few little “bubbles”. At first, we were not concerned. However, when a small tug at a “bubble” turned into a 3” wide by 4’ long strip of paint, we began to have our doubts.

As it turned out, our “renovated” house was a ticking time bomb, wanting only sufficient humidity for the topcoat of paint to begin sloughing off in sheets. After frantic investigation, this is what we learned:

The trim and kitchen cabinets had been originally painted with an extremely hard and slick oil-based paint. Seriously, this stuff rivals Corian…

The previous owner, and self-styled “renovator”, chose to apply a latex topcoat over this oil basecoat. This is never a good idea without at least a primer, and was compounded by his utter lack of any surface preparation.

At first we were not overly concerned. The latex topcoat was peeling off so cleanly, that while annoying; we felt it was a manageable job. As we started to strip the latex topcoat from the areas which had not spontaneously striped themselves, we found that the latex paint had compromised the integrity of the basecoat and was causing it to fail as well. We now saw this for the much more involved job that it was…

Months passed as we looked for solutions, tried the easy ones, found they did not work, and in general avoided dealing with the problem…

Finally, we decided on a solution. We decided to simply scrape the trim to bare wood and repaint. With high quality pull scrapers, the job was still large, but manageable.

At this point, I should mention that we have quite a bit of trim and other painted surfaces that are affected. It’s ~2300sqft & has 9”+ baseboard; picture rail; 18, 5-7” door casings, 18 doors, 14 large windows, FP mantel, 2 large built-in bookcases and the kitchen cabinets are all having to be replaced or stripped down to the wood.

After scraping one door casing, and seeing the huge pile of avocado green (the oil-based) and white (the latex) paint shavings which had managed to pile up around my feet and track itself into every corner of the house despite my best attempts at containment, I decided to spend the $ to have a lead assessment – just for my piece of mind. The house did, indeed, have lead paint….everywhere that had been improperly painted….all trim, the kitchen cabinets & ceiling, and a couple walls. My scraping has contaminated the house, myself, my wife, and especially my daughter, with dangerous levels of lead…

“Editorial” Comments about Lead

We knew when we bought the house that it likely contained lead paint. Every house build prior to 1978 has this possibility. When we sold my mother’s house, we had to give the buyers a Lead Paint notice, despite the fact that the house had _no_paint_... it was all paneling! So, we were not taken aback by the Lead Paint notice when we purchased our house. We had inspected the house closely and found the paint in good repair – not peeling, flaking, chalking, etc. Under those circumstances, the risk from lead paint is virtually nill. No exposure = no risk. But because of the previous owner’s actions, and our own, we now had exposure, and lots of it.

Neither my wife nor I understood exactly how dangerous lead can be. I had a very cavalier attitude from the start:

“We had lead paint in our houses when we were kids,” I said, and, “These guys used to strip off paint with no respirators and they are fine.”

Surely, I thought, it could not be that bad…

I have become convinced that I was wrong. There is a great deal of research out there, and it appears that the dangers of lead are far worse than I had imagined. Please, do not take my word for it. Look it up for yourself. The information is out there.

Yes, an adult can tolerate a fair amount of lead before showing symptoms. The key word here is “showing”. Lead damages long before symptoms become visible.

Children are most vulnerable. A single “high blood lead level” incident can result in a loss of 10 IQ points. This high lead level would have few to no visible symptoms and the damage is irreversible.

Women are also particularly vulnerable in that lead is stored in their bones. During pregnancy, this lead can be released as a woman’s body mobilizes Calcium reserves to build the bones of her maturing fetus. This results in damage to the fetus that may never even be detected… After all, you would never know what “normal” would have been for them…

Men are not immune… Levels of lead which cause no visible symptoms can cause chromosomal damage in the reproductive organs which increase the risk of birth defects.

It was frustrating to find so little in the way of “hard data” for the hazards of lead. There is no recipe: one microgram per day gives this risk, five micrograms causes this damage. The data is maddeningly qualitative: bad, not as bad, worse, etc.

The fact does remain that dangerous levels of lead are measured in _MILLIONTHS_ of a gram. There is more than sufficient lead in paint to meet this dangerous level. Therefore, we have made the family decision to be conservative in our allowable exposure. Others may make different choices. We all choose the levels of risk we are willing to tolerate.

…Back to the house.

After the initial shock, we set out to make our plan of action. Our options boiled down to removal or encasement. Encasement was our first choice.

After a long search, we found a contractor who made a good case of using a “bonding primer” which would penetrate through the various layers of paint locking them together and forming a durable and safe surface. Remember that we have lead-containing, oil-based paint on wooden trim with a topcoat of unknown quality latex paint applied with poor surface preparation.

To make a long story slightly shorter, the encasement did not work. The new topcoat began bubbling and pealing with 24 hours of application. In hindsight, and after consulting with numerous other painters and contacting the paint manufacturer, it is clear that any paint will have a difficult time sticking to a surface when it is applied on top of a layer with poor adhesion…

This left us with _two_ coats of peeling latex on top of the oil…

Our only viable option now is removal. This can be stripping the paint in place, removal of trim, then stripping, then reinstallation, or removal of trim and replacement.

There are specific paint strippers which are approved for use on lead paint. Peelaway is the only one we could find. Sanding, mechanical scrapping, heat guns, and most other strippers are not allowed due to the release of airborne lead.

I should also note that when we had the house tested for lead (which I cannot recommend highly enough), we committed ourselves to a course of action. The lead test report is a legal document, regulated by the Federal government, and must remain with the house for the life of the structure. Should we _ever_ wish to sell the house, we must have documentation that all lead hazards have been removed or encased. We have some small angst in having this regulatory requirement hanging over our heads, but my wife and I both are the types of people that we would _never_ knowingly pass on a problem for another family to deal with…

Also, we have a 6 year old daughter, and will soon have another child on the way. So this is not something that can “just wait”. Our daughter is highly intelligent. We want to keep her that way. We have to tell her this every time she goes galloping down the hallway on hands and feet and we drag her to the bathroom to wash the tiny paint flecks off her hands…

We have several bids for fixing the trim. Stripping is $8k, estimate only, time and materials. Removal and replace is around $10-$15k. Our budget is tight, so we will probably have to do this work ourselves also (related to the trim, we are having to gut our kitchen, which we love, and which was a big part of why we bought the house to begin with).

We had initially planned on stripping, as this would preserve the original woodwork. We have been hearing some cautionary tales, though, about having to refinish our floors afterwards and how much of a P.I.A. stripping, even with a relatively user friendly one like PeelAway, can be.

I noticed someone here mentioned removing the trim, stripping, and reinstalling. I had jokingly suggested this to my wife previously as I came across the idea quite by accident. I had taken two pieces of door-stop out in preparation for our Encasement experiment. These two pieces of trim sat in the bed of my truck for a week, got rained on at least once, and then baked in the sun. Whataya know, the lead paint came right off in big hunks leaving _no_visible_residue_, and the trim boards themselves appear to have suffered no damage at all from the rain/sun treatment.

I had suggested the idea of removing the trim one room at a time, laying it upon a tarp to contain the contamination, hosing them down thoroughly, then allowing to bake in the sun for a few days. We may try this experiment, the key feature being if we can remove the trim without destroying it…

Thanks for so many ideas. I know I have written a lot here, my only hope is that one day someone, who like us turned to online forums in our first frantic research, may find this useful.

One of the reasons we fell in love with this house was the original kitchen and the odd-for-a-50s-ranch 1940s touches in the house.... Sadly, next week we start the demo on the kitchen. All of the other trim & such will be next on the agenda. We’re just trying to find the best solution with the trim to keep the house’s original integrity intact…while not putting our family & others at risk.

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Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 11:27 am

Funny, kinda

Post by bluebuddha »

I thought I should share a few of the funny moments we have had…

I think my favorite involves us trying to work through HUD and find a qualified abating firm (lead paint is not on the residential radar here in the Carolina’s).

After bouncing back and froth between State and Federal offices, abaters who refused to do anything which was not commercial, then back to the State, then back to HUD… We finally managed to have a “Lead Hazard Management” kit sent to our house.

When it arrived at our house, we found that it contained:
1. A list of abatement contractors, all of whom we had already contacted, and all of whom had already told us “…we don’t do residential. You should call HUD…”; and
2. Several HUD pamphlets talking about lead paint, _in_Spanish_! Keep in mind we had clearly spoken English when ordering the information… My wife pressed here years of HS Spanish into service and we managed to decode enough of the pamphlets to get the gist of the massage – “Lead paint is bad; Don’t let your kids eat it.”… Thanks… We’ll keep that in mind. :}

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Location: Sciotoville, Ohio

Post by jeepnstein »

There you go. That is the best and most reasoned explanation of why sometimes it's better to replace the offending materials with like material. If you do good work then nobody will be the worse for it.

Oh, and thanks for the plywood tip. I'm going to use it myself on my sister's "bathroom".

Do your removal carefully and work just a little wet to cut down the dust. You already know all that, judging by your post.

You'll be better off ripping that much plywood with a handheld circular saw unless you have access to a table saw with a sliding table. A good saw with a good blade will rip it clean and straight. Fix up a fence for the saw so it will cut repeatable and straight strips. The cap molding will take care of any slight tearout anyway.

One thing I've found as well is if you buy a sheet of thick stryofoam insulation, blue usually, and just plop the plywood down on that the ripping goes much better. That way the wood is fully supported and your saw blade just harmlessly nicks the foam board instead of wrassling on sawhorses.

If you don't have one already, go ahead and buy a finish nail gun. You'll have enough work ahead of you to make it worth your time. I bought a generic one from and it's a fantastic value.

Priming before you install is also kind of a good idea. It cuts down on the mess just a wee bit. If you get really carried away you could scarf eight foot lengths together and nobody would ever know there was a glue joint in the trim on long sections. Hey, you're only going to have to do this once.

Good Luck!


Jack Willard
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Joined: Wed Dec 10, 2003 11:05 am
Location: Grass Valley, California

Post by Jack Willard »

Geez bluebuddha, now THAT was a very long and very well put diatribe!

Yep, lead is a bad thing. I had lead training here at the County awhile back and I'm real glad we don't have that to deal with.

We were fortunate in that our Victorian had never had the interior trim work done. Only a few interior doorways had been trimmed. So I got to put it all in from scatch, matching those few doorways in wood color and trim style. I used poplar everywhere, except for the birch veneer plywood at the kitchen cabinets. Cherry stained everything and sprayed clear laquer.

While the MDF or plywood idea is sure cost saving for reproduction of painted baseboards, eight foot lengths will leave alot of ugly cracks and it's difficult to cut those mitered ends to mate the lengths. Might I suggest looking at the price of say pine since your going to paint the baseboards? At least with real wood boards, you can buy long pieces and rip them to the right height (width) that you're looking for. Then there are no eight foot cracks.

Ripping long boards is real easy with a tablesaw. Just fit it with a runoff table behind to support the long boards. I just use a folding banquet table, with one end attached to mate with the tablesaw and the other end lifted on a made block to get the height right. And, prefinishing baseboards is WAY easier than doing them in place. If you get a tablesaw, making the kitchen cabinets is so easy. That will save you a ton of money. Making cabinets is WAY easier than I had thought before. Our PO was a retired cabinetmaker and he showed me how to do them. Piece of cake! :o

I totally agree with jeepnstein. Get a finish nail gun. You will use it alot on the baseboards, trim and cabinets. Now locating all the wall studs to shoot the nails into is a whole different story. :oops:
Jack Willard
ImageOn the way to California in 1972

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Post by buildsomething »

I would get a quote from a millwork shop also for poplar, maybe even finger jointed material since you will be painting. They may be competitive for a large order such as yours.

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Joined: Thu Jun 01, 2006 8:51 pm

Replacing versus refacing?

Post by kat8 »

Hi--The situation in this post seems similar to my own. I'm living in a house built in 1954, and we are about to do some kitchen remodeling. I'm sure our house has lead paint, and I don't want to expose our 16-mo-old daughter. Which method do you think would generate the least amount of dangerous lead dust:

-refacing the cabinets and asking the company to "wet sand;" my only concern with that is they might not be as careful as I'd like when sanding
-replace the kitchen cabinets entirely (are any precautions taken when replacing kitchen cabinets with lead paint? do I need to worry about dust generated when the cabinets are pulled out?)

I really appreciate anyone's advice on this!


Don M
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Location: Boiling Springs, PA

Post by Don M »

I would request complete front refacing including styles and glue thin veneer on the sides, no sanding, as long as the cabinet carcasses are solid. If they are in poor condition then replace the cabinets. Don

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