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This Old Crack House

From log house to farmhouse. Farmhouse to townhouse. Townhouse to apartment house. Apartment house to crack house. Crack house to our house. Our house to our home.

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Lead Paint Anyone?

Have you ever wondered how much lead is in old lead based paint? I know that some of you folks out there in "houseblogland" are concerned about lead paint. There's a couple in Paw Paw, Illinois that have expressed their concerns for the stuff as it falls from their ceiling into their Wheaties AND there is a couple in Eutaw, Alabama that are snorting the fumes and wallowing in the aroma as they embark on a long, tedious journey to remove some of the stuff from their woodwork.

As for me, I have been around lead since I was a small boy. I've painted lead soldiers for 30 years, shot .75 calibre lead balls from a matchlock musket and stripped so much lead paint from woodwork I can't remember how much... I can't remember how.... I can't remember.... (hold on, isn't memory loss a sign of lead poisoning?)

Well, we are often reminded about the hazards of lead paint. Especially when there are children in a house where old paint is chipping or flaking off. Lead paint that is intact is not a real hazard. It becomes a problem when it is removed, sanded or flakes off a surface because it can be ingested in dust form. While flipping through the pages of my book called "Household Discoveries" published in 1909, I found some recipes for paint.....

The basic recipe is this;

One hundred pounds of pure white lead; 4 to 5 gallons of pure raw linseed oil; half a gallon of pure turpentine; 1 pint of pure turpentine japan.

Primer coats have more linseed oil, flat paint finishes have more turpentine and turpentine japan is a drying agent that speeds up the evaporation of linseed oil.
However "white lead" is actually a mixture of lead oxide and charcoal. Other recipes include using zinc oxide, chalk, whiting, lime or road dust as fillers. Color tints may also contain white lead, red lead and lead chromate. As a rule, the book states divide the number of square feet of the surface to be painted by 18. The resulting number is the number of pounds of pure ground white lead needed to give three coats.
So if your walls have had three different color layers of paint applied in the past then you could have 100 lbs. of lead oxide in one room! That is a lot of lead! If you do strip it and put the flakes in a garbage bag at least you will now know why the bag is so heavy.

For more information about the hazards of lead in the home, go to:


Wait until I tell what else gasoline was used for in 1909. I'll save that for a later post.


At 5/06/2005 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! I really enjoyed this post today! I'm new to the community and have been having a great time updating my site and chewing on bits and pieces from others' sites as well. We've always been concerned about lead paint in our newly acquired house, and some of those government articles can really scare your pants off...we're just not sure where it is and how much we might have, as there is evidence of many renovations over the years. Guess we'll see!

Thanks again for the great post!

Joy in the journey...

At 5/06/2005 10:18 AM, Blogger Jocelyn said...

Me and my sig other have ourselves tested each year at our annual exam for lead levels- so far "normal" levels and we have stripped/sanded quite a bit of paint. But we are not toddlers and we are not eating it.
Thanks for the info-

At 5/06/2005 11:21 AM, Blogger merideth said...

mmmmm....leaadd and gasolineee history...love it

At 5/06/2005 4:05 PM, Blogger Greg said...

I've wonder a lot about the actual dangers of lead exposure in the home. I have never met anyone in my life who has suffered from lead poisoning. In all my travels through cyber-space going to old house related sites I've talked with only one person who has said they were affected by lead poisoning. I have stripped acres of wood work drenched with lead paint and have never suffered the ill effects of lead poisoning. You have to be a chemist to understand the EPA web site on lead levels in the blood stream. If this is so bad and so dangerous why aren't more people effected by it? I will always take reasonable precautions but I think there is more hype than actual threat. I could say the same about asbestos.

At 5/06/2005 6:46 PM, Blogger Derek said...

When I was younger and took less precautions, I sanded down an old car with lead paint on it. I used to have a nose full of paint every time. I guess I didn't get enough for lead poisoning. With 2 little kids, I'm very cautious with lead paint now. Although using chemical stripper could be worse than the paint itself.

At 5/07/2005 5:12 AM, Blogger christine said...

Our house is full of lead paint. We had to sign a waiver stating that yes we were aware that the house was loaded to the gills with toxic and deadly 'crap' including an unusual amount of lead. We're cautious not to sand paint and whatnot from the walls or woodwork and we are trying to drywall over most of the misery away.

The real estate agent who sold us the house, and watched anxiously as we paused before signing the waiver, described an incident where a friend of theirs had a 3 year old who licked a lead painted wall. Apparently he became giddy enough to be taken to the ER for monitering. I guess it made him 'high,' or at least that's what I understood. The agent pointed out that as long as we didn't lick the walls we'd be fine.

At 5/09/2005 10:51 AM, Blogger Gary said...

Apparently children eat lead paint flakes because they are sweet tasting. My dad once told me how he used to peel paint from the shed and eat it because it tasted good. He never suffered from lead poisoning but later in life alcohol became his drug of choice. The cure for lead poisoning is a good diet and time for it to pass out of the system. I think I will go strip some more wood now....

At 5/17/2005 1:06 PM, Blogger K said...

A couple from Alabama wallowing in lead paint ecstacy? You couldn't be talking about ME, could you? Hee hee. Ah well, we just make sure to sweep up so the cats don't turn into little Leadlets.

At 7/29/2017 12:34 PM, Blogger P.j. said...

Gary---I read your entire blog a few years ago, & remembered you've developed a few methods for recreating original finishes. In using the search engine, I didn't find anything about mimicing a Japanned finish on metal (light fixtures, hardware, etc.). Do you have any experience with that?

At 7/29/2017 3:06 PM, Blogger Gary said...

Wikipedia describes the ingredients for Japan black. I have never used it. I did find this though which is the same thing by a different name. https://www.britannica.com/technology/Brunswick-black

At 11/21/2019 7:27 AM, Blogger Metta said...

The book "Household Discoveries" from 1909 is available from Google Books:


One of the ways lead paint causes harm that you did not mention is that lead paint on windows and doors will turn to invisible dust from the friction when the windows or doors are open and shut.

At 11/21/2019 7:29 PM, Blogger Metta said...

The EPA published this document:

It includes this statement:

Although a large majority of pre-1980 homes have lead-based paint, most of them have relatively small areas of it. The average privately-owned housing unit with lead-based paint has an estimated 601 square feet of it on interior surfaces and 869 square feet on exterior surfaces. Over half of the leaded paint is on walls, ceilings, and floors. (For comparison, the walls in a room 10' by 12', with an 8' ceiling, have an area of 352 square feet.) The amounts of lead-based paint per housing unit vary with the age of the dwelling unit. Pre-1940 units have, on average, about three times as much lead-based paint as units built between 1960 and 1979.

I think there are multiple reasons that pre-1940 houses have more lead including a phase-down of the amount of lead in lead paint and having more coats of paint over time.


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