A longer pry bar offers more leverage. Protect plaster, as here with a shim (shingle).
Length of Board Continue prying in this manner down the length of the board, working at the nailed spots only, until the trim is free of the wall. Once the whole board has been pried out and is suspended by a few nails, you can usually tug it away from the wall by hand.
Very soft trim woods may show marks from the pry bar even if you’re careful. Use two wide putty knives, one to protect the wall and the other to protect the trim. Insert them at the edge of a board and tap them in until a gap is opened. Then slide the pry bar between them and continue prying as before.
In most cases, the nails holding the woodwork will be small-head finishing nails. They’ll either pull through the trim and remain in the wall, or come away with the trim. To remove any finishing nails still in the wood, take a nail puller or pliers and pull them out from the back—never hammer them through the front of the board. The nail heads were originally set below the surface and filled with putty; knocking them through the front can dislodge the putty and splinter the surrounding wood.
Pull Nails from Back Occasionally, trim was secured with large-head common nails. Pry the
moulding about ¼” away from the wall, as described above. Then, with a wood block, tap the moulding back against the wall. The offending nail heads will protrude enough for you to either (a) remove the nails with your pry bar, using a wood shingle or putty knife under the pry bar to protect the moulding, or (b) cut the heads off the nails with your wire cutters. If nails are thin enough, use the second method and avoid further prying.
You might just find a manufacturer’s or dealer’s marking on the back side of trim. Maybe yours will be identified as a “kit house” from Sears, Aladdin, or similar!
Common nails can’t be pulled through from the back of the board, so if any remain in the wood after its removal, cut them with heavy wire cutters close to the back of the board. Then file down any protrusions of the nails, so they don’t scratch other pieces when you’re bundling the trim pieces.
The best way to remove nails is by pulling them out from the back of the board or trim piece, using a nail puller
Prep for Transit
After you remove all the trim, prepare the pieces for temporary storage. Number each piece on the back side, and note its location on your detailed sketch (map) of the room. With a set of numeral dies, stamp identifying numbers into the wood. Anything in chalk or pencil, even ink, will disappear during stripping or sanding.
Once a complete set of trim and mouldings for, say, a window has been removed and numbered, it can be tied in a bundle and labeled according the map: “living room, north wall, left window.”
Deliver any small, miscellaneous pieces in a labeled shoebox. Tie together long pieces so they don’t flap (while carried in a pickup bed). Pad everything before tying.
After stripping or fumigation or cleaning, woodwork must dry out for several weeks, preferably in the environment where it will be re-installed. Steam or chemical paint removal will have raised the grain, especially on pieces that had been exposed to a lot of sunlight. Use wood filler and steel wool to polish. Sanding will take care of any splintered edges.
(Thanks to Gordon Bock, Larry Jones, and Bruce Berney for developing the methods described.)
Opposing prybar method.
Sometimes you have to separate two mouldings from each other—for example, when you’re removing the stop moulding from a window. Use two prybars next to each other and work them in opposite directions. (The handles can face the same way or opposite—whichever works better.) Opposing prybars exert a lot of force, so work carefully. The inside windowsill, or stool, is the first board the carpenter installed. Therefore it can’t be removed until you’ve pried off the casings around it and the apron below it.
Saw through method.
Another method works well for wood that tends to split, like redwood. Once the trim piece has been parted using the techniques above, by as little as the thickness of a hacksaw blade, then you may insert a blade to cut off the nails behind the trim. This saves strain on the wood. A thick sheet of tin or a wood shingle may be used to protect walls or nearby woodwork.
Stanley and others make a handy handle-gadget for use with hacksaw blades, but in a pinch you can make a handle by wrapping friction tape around the hacksaw. In this situation, a hacksaw blade works best if inserted so that cutting takes place on the pull stroke.
Note: Be aware that, prior to 1978, the paint used may have contained lead. Take due precautions.