A.John Leeke, a preservation consultant from Portland, Me., responds: First, do some tests to determine what paint removal methods will work best on the particular paint buildup you face. Heat methods are quite efficient, but because of the risk of fire, they should not be used unless the casings can be removed to a workshop. In that case, a hot-air gun or radiant lamp is used to soften the paint, which is then removed with special scrapers.

If the casings must stay in place, most chemical strippers eliminate the fire hazard but introduce a new hazard: noxious fumes. Both heat and chemical methods can generate lead-containing chips and dust, which must be controlled to prevent health problems for workers and building occupants. With chemical methods, you must work slowly to prevent...

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