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Modern Sandblasting Wood Techniques.

Cleaning beams and timber - To clean timber frames our blasting system utilises a controlled stream of compressed air carrying fine angular particles that scour the surface of the beam to remove the old coatings, dirt and grime.
Fine particles have less kinetic energy therefore do less physical work to the surface and are therefore more controllable. Fine particles leave a finer finish to the timber so details are not eroded.  Carpenters marks etc. are not at risk from blasting with these fine materials.
We have cleaned hundreds of oak frame buildings over the years. The Listed Buildings Officers for the local authorities often generally discourage blast cleaning of beams - having a preference for chemical cleaning or similar methods, long, slow, unpleasant and personally dangerous.
In the world of ancient building restoration there have long been differing views on the suitability of blast cleaning as a way of removing soil, paint and varnish from the fabric of the property.   Some feel that blasting is too aggressive and prefer solvent or caustic stripping, and hand finishing.   Our view is that as long as the surface is not friable, the benefits in time, cost and end result far outweigh any other method for removing dirt and finishes. You just cannot clean rough textured beams properly by chemical means, with all the nooks and crannies.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings produces an information sheet, “Removing Paint from Old Buildings” which advises, “Blast cleaning should be in the hands of an experienced contractor and careful supervision is necessary; most damage is caused by the technique used rather than the system”.

 Unskilled operators who lack the knowledge and skill to do the work with the care needed can damage the beams, and worse, the surroundings. (There was a £200,000 lawsuit a few years ago relating to another company blasting beams in a house, and wrecking it). We overcome this resistance by inviting the Listed Buildings Officer to attend site on the first day to see our work, that we can clean without removing the patina where it is an important feature of the building, that it doesn’t have to leave a rough texture on the beams, that we don’t remove carpenters marks and can leave candle burn marks and the like on the beams, etc. etc. In all the years we have been blasting we have never been stopped from blasting a building.

We have built an enviable reputation through extensive staff training and maintaining the highest standards in Health & Safety.  This reputation enables us to hold £10m public liability insurance protection (that needless to say we have never had cause to call upon), but some of these buildings are priceless and require high levels of cover. The ever-growing list of notable buildings on which we have worked is surely testament to the fact that, with us, the method is indeed in safe hands.  

There are a number of products that can be used for cleaning oak structures successfully. Operators who are poorly informed or choose to ignore the Health and Safety legislation, which has banned the use of sand in any pressure vessel, often still use Sand.  Sand does actually do an excellent job and that is why this type of cleaning is generally still referred to as sand blasting - but the fact that minute particles of free silica are released when the sand breaks down under impact, led to sand being prohibited. Minute particles of free silica are extremely dangerous to your respiratory system.  It is also about half the price of the Health and Safety approved materials, which is why some unscrupulous operators are still using it.
 Our preferred product is a particular blast grit.  The main reason we use this product is that this it comes in several different grades, the finest is our preferred grade having a grain size of 0.09 -- 0.25 mm, this is finer than salt. It is more difficult to use technically because compressed air has a lot of moisture in it and we need expensive equipment to overcome this or the product becomes lumpy and will not flow fast, like salt, but it does a better, finer job.  More commonly used by most contractors is grade 2 with a grain size 0.10 -- 0.80 mm, easier to use but it doesn’t do the same delicate job and is much more likely to damage the surrounding areas of the room being cleaned. Particles larger than this are more suited to demolition than cleaning historically interesting timber.

The manufacturers state on the specification sheet that this blast media is chemically inert and is a fused material.  It is produced at extremely high temperatures and is, theoretically, not dissimilar to glass. It is not harmful to the environment or to aquatic organisms.

What does all this mean to you?  It means we can come into your home - whether a building site of a fully functional home – and clean beams and remove paint from timber or walls, often with the carpets still in place, carefully masking them and masking everything else too.

And best of all, we clean up after the work and can often leave the site cleaner than we found it. There will always be a bit of dust and grit somewhere and you will find it turning up for a while, but the result is worth it and it transforms those dark, harsh old black beams into mellow, soft, warm beams (depending on their history of course), just have a look at the pictures bellow on this page.

Blasting can give traditionally designed homes that were built more recently an ‘aged’ appearance, like one we cleaned in Brighton (see bellow).  We believe it was built around the 1920s but by blasting the timbers to remove dark stain, the house now has a warmer ‘period’ look.  

It’s not only old buildings that benefit from blasting.  Cleaning new timbers is something we are doing more and more as traditional building styles have become increasingly popular for new builds.  Many developers use exposed green oak frames, cross beams, staircases, porches and conservatories as architectural features and during the construction process the timbers can become soiled with black tooling marks from site handling: we are a recognised contractor for several local green oak frame manufacturers.   Gentle blast cleaning removes the metal contact marks and general site soiling to restore the oak’s new look.  Where ‘aging’ is required, either to match replaced timbers with existing in old properties, or to give new timber a more mellow appearance, our process can be used to raise the grain slightly, giving the required effect. However blasting will not remove saw cut or gouge marks from the surface of the beam.