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The Pros and Cons of a Speedheater

We’re sharing the pros and cons that we discovered after using the Speedheater 1100, an infrared paint stripping tool. Is it right for you? Let’s talk about it!

A speedheater tool sits on a makeshift table, ready to heat a board covered in old paint // via Yellow Brick Home

Even though we’ve decided to hire out the installation of all new millwork and trim at our ongoing Two Flat Project, we still plan on restoring the original wood doors and built-in hutch! We first purchased the Speedheater 1100, an infrared paint stripping tool designed to safely remove paint from wood surfaces, to revive the millwork, but we think it will come in handy for doors and various projects down the road. When Kim shared the Speedheater in Stories, her DMs quickly filled with questions! We had a hard time finding personal reviews of the tool online, so we wanted to throw our experience into the ring, in the hopes it could help you if the time comes.

The Speedheater 1100

The 1100 (pictured throughout this post) is the bigger of the two available sizes and is designed to remove paint from large surface areas like trim, doors, and siding. The 1100’s little brother, the Speedheater Cobra, works similarly, but in a smaller handheld package that’s designed to remove paint from windows and furniture. We’ll focus on the Speedheater 1100 here, as the units are functionally identical, but each likely has its own benefits.

The Pros

The Speedheater is a very specific tool for a very specific job. If there is a large quantity of paint to be stripped from a large surface area, it’s rated to be among the best, which is what attracted us to it. Here’s why:

1| Safety

The Speedheater uses infrared technology to gently heat and soften paint so that it can be easily scraped away using standard paint scraping tools. The benefit of using infrared heat as opposed to a heat gun is the lower temperature at which infrared heating is effective. If you’re dealing with lead based paint, this is extraordinarily important! Lead paint vaporizes at 752 degrees Fahrenheit and produces poisonous fumes. The Speedheater works at much lower operating temperatures than lead’s vaporizing point, so is a significantly safer option than a heat gun or similar tool. That said, we still took lots of precautions during use and placed disposable drop cloths around our work surface. We also kept windows open for ventilation and wore gloves, masks and glasses while we worked.

A plugged in speedheater tool glows in a man's hand // via Yellow Brick Home

Lead paint vaporizes at 752 degrees Fahrenheit and produces poisonous fumes. The Speedheater works at much lower operating temperatures than lead’s vaporizing point, so is a significantly safer option than a heat gun or similar tool. That said, we still took lots of precautions during use and placed disposable drop cloths around our work surface. We also kept windows open for ventilation and wore gloves, masks and glasses while we worked.

2| Speed

The Speedheater 1100 heats an area of 3″ x 11″ in 20-40 seconds depending largely on the age, quantity and type of paint being removed. The nice thing about using the larger unit for trim and millwork is that one area can be scraped while the next area is being heated, and so on. That was a huge selling point for us! This ‘leapfrogging’ techniqe nearly eliminated down time between patches and makes for quick work. We were able to remove the vast majority of paint from a roughly 5 foot trim board in 2-3 minutes. Our trim will eventually be painted, so we weren’t concerned with total perfection. If wood will be restored to stain-grade, we’d estimate the time would double.

A speedheater tool sits on a makeshift table, and heats board covered in old paint // via Yellow Brick Home

3| (Relative) Cleanliness

We have used and loved gel strippers like Citristrip in the past but, man, are they messy! Where gel strippers liquify paint into a sticky slurry of gloop, the Speedheater allows paint to be scraped off cleanly with virtually no dust. The paint from our millwork shaved off and gathered on the floor, where we had previously laid a drop cloth. Tip: This scraper was our best friend.

The Cons

While the Speedheater certainly has its benefits, stripping paint is rarely a perfect science. Below are our thoughts on the drawbacks to using this clever tool on your next project.

1| Expense

The Speedheater 1100 kit costs $599 from their only US distributor, Eco-Strip. We absolutely understand why the tool costs what it does, but we felt that we simply wouldn’t use it enough to justify the cost. Instead, we went on a hunt in which we scoured Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace to find a secondhand Speedheater to minimize the initial investment. We couldn’t find a unit locally, so we widened our search and found a perfectly functioning unit in Louisville, KY, in which the seller agreed to have it shipped to Chicago with insurance.

We’re hopeful that we can use it while restoring the Two Flat and break even by reselling it when we’re done. From what we can tell, the current going rate for the 1100 unit in good condition is around $250 – $350 before shipping. Speedheaters do pop up on eBay from time to time, so make sure to keep an eye out. Happy hunting!

2| There’s a learning curve

This is the case with anything, right? We read a lot of articles before starting, and truthfully, we’re still a little unsure of how to use The Classic Arm that came with ours! At one point, the Speedheater was left on a few seconds too long, and a small section of board caught flame. (It was blown out easily and quickly, but it gave us a scare!) It took us several passes to learn how long to leave the Speedheater on each section of board, and once we figured that out, the next challenge was getting down our scraping technique.

A pile of scraped paint rests on the board from which it was removed // via Yellow Brick Home

3| It’s a one-trick pony

The Speedheater is a bit of a one-trick pony. It performs its one intended function incredibly well – removing paint from wood. What it (supposedly) doesn’t do as well is… anything else. Per the manufacturer, Speedheaters ‘quickly heat varnish, oil-based, latex, acrylic, or plastic paint. They do not work on shellac, milk paint, or stain.’ Apparently, there are methods for utilizing the tool for removing paint from brick, marble, concrete and fiberglass, but with significantly more time and effort involved. To us, $600 seems like a lot of money to spend on a tool with such limited uses.

A freshly scraped vintage board is held in a gloved hand // via Yellow Brick Home

So, Should I Buy One?

This is the question we asked ourselves for weeks before taking the plune. Here’s our take: If you have a large scale wood restoration project in your near future (or restore wood frequently or professionally), the time that the Speedheater 1100 or Cobra could save might make for an incredibly worthwhile investment.

The Speedheater allows for nearly instant paint removal when compared to a gel stripper like Citristrip, which requires wait times of up to 24 hours, depending on the type of paint you’re stripping. That said, the 24 hour wait times don’t mean 24 hours of work. It’s inactive waiting, while the Speedheater requires constant repetitive work.

All that said, the Speedheater might be the perfect addition to your tool arsenal if there is a lot of paint removal in your future, but not if you only have one project in your queue, or don’t see continued use in the future. If you fall in the latter, the expense might not make sense. The great news is that Speedheaters can be tough to find on the secondhand market (perhaps a testament to how much Speedheater owners love theirs?), so fingers crossed you likely wouldn’t have a hard time reselling it when you’re through!

Have you used a Speedheater, and if so, what was your experience?

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  • Alicia3.24.20 - 7:23 AM

    I bought the Cobra for restoring my home’s original windows and it’s life changing. It allows me to easily scrape off 80 years of paint and softens the glazing putty so I’m less likely to crack the glass. The mess is far more contained and easier to clean up than strippers or scraping/sanding. It’s definitely worth the investment. ReplyCancel

    • Kate3.24.20 - 5:23 PM

      Alicia – same here! We were two windows in and had already gone through at least three large bottles of Citristrip when I decided to bite the bullet and get one. We originally got an estimate of $900 a window (x 14 windows) to have them restored – so it ended up being a big savings to diy with the Cobra. Restoring our old wood windows has been one of the most satisfying (and surprisingly doable) projects we’ve done!ReplyCancel

  • at home with Ashley3.24.20 - 10:17 AM

    It seems like it would be worth it for a big project…but only secondhand like you say! ReplyCancel

  • AnnMarie3.28.20 - 1:03 PM

    There probably won’t be a time I’ll ever use this, but my little nerd heart loves how thoroughly y’all have laid out the specs, pros, and cons. Thank you for creating such a valuable resource in YBH — I know I can trust y’all’s recommendations and tips because of that thoroughness.  <3 <3 <3 ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.28.20 - 10:15 PM

      Thank you! We are over researchers through and through.ReplyCancel

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