Okay, I get it. We all know the first thing that popped into your mind when you saw the name SpeedStripper 400… No, it’s not actually a NASCAR race. Wait, that is what you were thinking, right?
The SpeedStripper 400 IR heater and paint stripper is actually a heat gun replacement. I spent some time working with Parker Street Ministries to prepare a couple of houses from the early 1900s for a fresh look with new paint as part of their restoration. Simply putting a new coat over the old stuff wasn’t going to cut it. We needed to strip the entire house of paint down to the wood. Both houses. Initially, I thought this would be a good way to expand my horizons and spend some time getting to know some people working to do some good in the world.
Little did I know how much time I would be spending in that endeavor.
The Case for Needing Something Different
With the speed the three or four of us could work at once, it still took enough time for me to get to know these folks really well. The point is, heat guns are slow. Really slow. It took months to get the two houses stripped as we only had a couple of hours a day to work on them and the weather in Florida is simply unpredictable. The lead-based paint meant that we couldn’t use an abrasive technique that would send particles flying and into our lungs. Perhaps if we had the SpeedStripper 400 instead of heat guns, we could have moved along at a better pace.
We’re back in the Parker Street neighborhood helping one of the residents get ready to paint his house. We’ll see if the SpeedStripper 400 can leave us a little less frustrated than a traditional heat gun.
The SpeedStripper 400 is an infrared heating system. This is a relatively safe heating method. IR heat is generated by producing waves (commonly known as heat waves) that are beyond the visible spectrum and warm an object when it is struck. This method that is similar to how the sun provides heat tends to leave some people wondering about ultraviolet or other harmful radiation, but there’s none of that here. In fact, IR heat therapy is common for pain relief.
On the other hand, traditional heating methods, like the convection used in heat guns, physically heats the air molecules around it. These are dispersed more quickly and cooled by the surrounding air. The heater must heat the air, then the air must heat the material. Since IR heat increases the temperature of the material it is striking, it is a much more efficient transfer of energy.
IR heat is what is used as an alternative for convection based heating on horse farms in order to greatly reduce the risk of fire when no one is around. It can also be found in industrial buildings and even warming customers coming into retail stores during the colder months. IR heat can still burn you, it’s just less likely to ignite the material.
It wasn’t designed to win any beauty contests. In fact, the SpeedStripper name isn’t even on the unit. The housing is 10-1/2″ long by 3-1/4″ wide plastic material that surrounds an aluminum inner housing. That inner housing supports the actual heating surface that’s 9-3/4″ long by 2-1/2″ wide. In short, the heating area is significantly larger than a traditional heat gun. That should make for more efficient use of time.
A foam grip that won’t conduct heat covers the handle that leads down to the 8-1/2 foot long cord. The cord length will mean that you’ll need extension cords to reach everywhere that you’d like. That’s not really a surprise or negative considering we need the same thing for heat guns.
Build Quality and Internals
There is some intentionally designed space between the inner and outer housings that allow for heat dissipation. That’s a good thing for the plastic outer housing. It should be able to easily keep from melting it. The IR waves are directed out away from the unit, but the plastic still gets hot. It’s also a good thing from a safety standpoint. The fact that the aluminum inner housing isn’t exposed keeps the burn potential down. The heating unit is secured using 4 pop rivets.
The unit uses what appears to be a ceramic IR heating element. This is surprisingly loose in the aluminum housing. It can be moved easily with a rotating motion or a seesaw motion, though it doesn’t feel like it’s ready to just pop off. It does seem that there is a single connection point, possibly a bolt holding it in place.
The handle is made of plastic and covered by a rubber foam. It’s the same kind of rubber foam that you find on your kids’ foam baseball bats. This has a tendency to degrade with it is exposed to the sun a lot. Here in Florida, it doesn’t take long to start breaking that down.
Stripping Down to Bare… Wood
The SpeedStripper 400 takes about 5 minutes to heat up. For outdoor painting conditions, you’ll need to give the unit 20 – 40 seconds to heat the paint thoroughly before attacking it with a scraper. Weather conditions like the temperature and wind will affect how long you need to give it.
It does indeed heat a larger area than a heat gun. The most effective method that we found was to slowly move the scraper behind the SpeedStripper 400 at a rate that would give each part of the paint about 30 seconds in the hot seat. This was easiest with two people, but it’s possible with one.
One issue that limited our speed was the material we were working on. The wood strips were only about 2 inches tall and overlapping. This meant that our only real possibility was to work horizontally and use the SpeedStripper 400 longways. On a completely flat surface, we might have been able to use the entire width of the unit with a larger scraper and work more efficiently.
One nice surprise is that the SpeedStripper seemed to heat the paint to a deeper level than the heat guns I’ve used. This made for an easier scrape and left cleaner results.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions
You can order the SpeedStripper 400 online for 60 British Pounds (about $92.50). It is an additional 25 Pounds (~$38.50) for shipping to the US, bringing the total investment to $131. The US version runs on 110 volt AC power so you can plug into any three-prong outlet. Both the US and European models put out 400 watts. They don’t currently have a choice between the US and European models, but if you order, they will look at the shipping destination and send the correct one.
One feature that I’d like to see added to the unit is a power switch. Currently, it’s just a “plug it in and it’s on” kind of product. I realize that it takes several minutes to heat up, but I’d rather not have to unplug it every time that I want to take a break. Even though the risk of fire is reduced, it’s not eliminated. The folks that make and market the SpeedStripper 400 tell us that are looking at options for US retail distribution.
It IS Faster
The SpeedStripper 400 did improve the speed at which we could scrape paint from the exterior of the house. However, you’re still going to hate paint scraping. It’s still a slow, methodical process and your arms still get tired. The unit isn’t going to turn a 2-month job into a weekend project. You’ll be going a little fast, but don’t expect a miracle.
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