Looks like a Rauschenberg, doesn’t it?
I’ve lived in this apartment 56% of my life. When I first moved in, I gave this door a tug to see if it would come out of its pocket. It didn’t budge. Over the years I would occasionally give it a pull to show someone how it didn’t come out, unlike its twin which slides smoothly along its tracks.
When we bought our new air conditioner, Shari figured out that if we were able to block off the doorways to the living room, the new one was powerful enough to cool both that room and our bedroom, a distinct advantage for someone who works at home.
“Ah, but that door doesn’t open,” I said. She gave it a tug. Nothing. Another tug. Slight movement—it moved about the inch I was once able to get. Determined, she gave a mighty pull and the door screeched out of its slot, raining down dust and paint chips. With a shoulder shove we could get it back into the pocket and with slightly less effort get it out again. Great news, now we could live in air conditioned comfort.
But we weren’t going to live in air conditioned comfort looking at a door that hadn’t been exposed in at least 33 years, probably more like 50 or 60 or 70 years. The door was ochre, with underlying layers of dull white, cream, perhaps a salmon shade, with little spots of varnished wood where the paint had chipped off altogether.
Shari said she’d paint the doors. She even went out a bought the paint. However, I pointed out to her that one more coat of paint would probably make the door so thick that we’d never get it to slide back, especially if it swelled from the summer humidity.
So I decided to strip it.
I’ve stripped pocket doors before. I used to have another apartment in this building that I used for an office (oh the days of really cheap rent!) and when things weren’t going well down here with my former wife, I’d go up there and strip the pocket doors and the surrounding frame. I used Zip Strip as I recall and it was a mess and took forever, but I didn’t care because for one, I didn’t actually live up there and secondly, the more time it took, the less time I had to spend dealing with my marriage.
In the 25 years or so since then, the technology for paint removal has somewhat improved. With Peel Away, which looks like gray cake icing, you slap on a thick coat, press the paper over it, smooth it down, and wait around 24 hours. Then, in theory, 75 years of paint peels off onto the paper, you wash the door with water and vinegar and you’re all set.
Theory is great, but it doesn’t quite work like that. The stuff works great, but 75 years of paint is apparently too much for it, despite the company’s claims, and while some of the gook sticks to the paper, most of it does not, so a liquefied hill of paint and varnish builds up on the drop cloth as it sloughs off the wood.
It was also a big mistake to try to strip the entire door at once. You're overwhelmed with gooey crud and you can’t possibly scrape off all the residue before it starts to dry. I’m doing it in sections now and it that seems to work better. I’ll probably be finished by September, just in time to slide them back into the walls for the winter