Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Painting
Everything you need to know about repair and painting materials, equipment, techniques, etc. etc. etc. and why you made the mistakes you did.
The following is not intended to completely replace the ‘Do-it-yourself’ books sold at most hardware stores, but to clarify many of the confusing points. Also, most self-help books are actually misleading as they are written by large-scale contractors, who build 50 to 100 new homes a year, (and have subsequently lost the ability to think like the average homeowner and who further cannot determine the component parts of simple declarative English sentence). These books are then edited by legions of attorneys whose only goals in life are CYA and the destruction of effective communication.
For the most part, paints are divided into two categories: latex or water based and oil or solvent based. These are further divided into interior and exterior paints. The primary difference being that exterior paints have UV inhibitors (much like sunscreen) and a bit more base pigment (TiO2) than interior paints.
Beyond that, paints are composed of three basic ingredients:
- Pigment: white titanium dioxide (TiO2) plus tinting pigments for color when desired,
- Vehicles or solvents, which flow the pigment onto the surface to be painted, and
- Binders, which attach the pigment to that surface.
The pigment, binders and in the case of exterior paints, the UV inhibitors, are the most expensive elements of the paint. The vehicle, be it water or solvent, is pretty cheap. Another frequent additive is ‘gloss’. You’ll notice that gloss paints are always more expensive than flat paints.
Most stores carry at least three grades of paint, following the old Sears model of good, better and best. At any one store you pretty much get what you pay for. However, stores, brands and prices differ wildly.
If customers insist on buying their own paint, we discourage them from buying from the ‘Big Box’ stores and urge them to seek a discount from a name brand specialty paint store. Whatever the price they finally pay, they will always get more of the good stuff in their paint from the specialty stores.
Latex (Acrylic) Paint
OK, which is it, latex or acrylic? It is latex paint with an acrylic content. (Latex is emulsified synthetic rubber. Acrylic refers to ammonia or nitrogen – as opposed to carbon - based chemistry.)
Latex paint is technically not paint at all, but a coating. A coating forms a semi-permeable (slightly porous) film, much like a sheet of plastic wrap. Except for the woodwork, trim and doors, most of the paint homeowners use in and outside of the house is water washable acrylic latex paint. Not all paint is full acrylic, however, which is another reason to buy from the better stores. Full acrylic means for you, a paint yielding a harder, more washable and durable finish.
For the most part, ceilings should be painted with a flat paint or a tinted ‘ceiling white’. Walls are usually painted with an eggshell or satin finish (synonymous terms) for wash-ability.
Latex, full and semi-gloss paints are only used for woodwork and cabinetry*. There are those homeowners who use full and semi-gloss paints on their walls ceilings. I fear these folks have a history of institutionalization.
*OK, now it’s time to discuss latex paints on cabinets and woodwork. Most interior wood in your house is painted oil or was originally painted oil. We often have to work on houses where some nincompoop has painted latex paint directly over oil. Remember, latex paints are actually coatings? Well, latex over oil peels off like SeranWrap® from a countertop. It’s a mess. It’s often impossible to fix, or at least to fix well.
If you insist on using latex paint on your interior wood, you have to prep it first. Prepping means preparing the oil surface to accept water based paint. This is what you do.
- Clean the surface extremely well, using Simple Green® or one of the citrus based cleaners.
- Sand the bejeebers out of the surface with 150 –200 grit sandpaper.
- Wipe it down well with Kleen-Strip® Liquid Sander™, and
- Prime it with preferably an oil based primer.
- Lightly sand it again with maybe a 300 grit paper,
- And then, and only then, can you expect latex paint to adhere well to your wood surfaces and look good and perform well.
If you do this, use a slightly tinted white, because high gloss acrylic whites, right out of the can, are brilliant whites to the blue side - this makes for glaring surfaces, not at all suited for the warm sophisticated look in the rest of your house. Again, high-gloss latex, right out of the can, finds its widest application in institutional settings (“They’re coming to take me away, ha, ha…”).
The process for painting latex over oil is also necessary when painting over stained trim, cabinetry or paneling, finishing with either water or oil. And, if you’re going to paint latex over oil, you better buy the best paint you can for the job. Not all latex enamels are equal. They’re not even in the same ballpark.
Without entering into a philosophical discussion on the intrinsic aspect of quality, what’s the best paint out there? First of all, there being good, better, and best lines in all brands, we think Benjamin Moore ranks a solid 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 with Sherwin Williams coming in at a 9. Porter paints rate an 8 and Kelly Moore maybe a 7. On this scale we rate the ‘Big Box’ stores’ paint products at 4 to 5 (even though they often charge much more than we routinely pay for superior paints).
Dick’s Quick has recently switched to buying almost all of its paint needs from Sherwin Williams and have determined to use only Sherwin Williams SuperPaint™ for our customer’s exterior needs. (This is an arm’s length decision. Sherwin Williams doesn’t know about this. In fact, except that we have an account with them, they don’t even know we exist!) Is there a better paint on the market for outdoor use? Ah, now the concept of value comes into play… and the 80/20 rule is engaged: For 80% more money you can get a 20% better paint.
Most oil paint is either semi or high gloss interior paint meant for a home’s woodwork, trim, cabinetry and doors. Just as latex eventually replaced oil for house exteriors, latex will probably replace oil for interior work. This is the situation:
Solvents tread with a heavier foot on the environment than water based paints and will eventually be forced out of the home improvement arena. The ‘Big Box’ stores also want to minimize their stock of flammable materials in order to lower their insurance costs. So, what’s a homeowner to do?
First, latex paints can’t compare to oil based paints for use on the painted wood in a home. Oil paints are harder, more scratch resistant, more washable, and last for dozens of years if treated well.
Secondly, successfully converting from oil to water based paints on the wood portions of your home is far and away more arduous, and expensive, than simply repainting with oil. We, and other painting professionals, prefer oil to latex on wood. It’s a lot easier to prep for. A little clean up and light sanding and a wipe down with Kleen-Strip® Liquid Sander™ and it’s ready to go. It paints and sprays better, easier, looks good and we’re accustomed to the fumes and the clean-up afterwards.
Good prep is critical because any paint will have a tough time sticking to old oil painted wood. We talked about latex peeling off oil like a sheet of plastic. Oil paint, not being a film former like latex, won’t peel It just won’t stick to the old oil without a little prep. It is necessary to provide what is called ‘tooth’ to the old paint. Tooth is the result of softening and roughing up the surface to enable the old paint layer to ‘bite’ and hold onto the new paint. Hence, the need for both sandpaper and the easy liquid sander. There are other surface prep liquids sold but most are solvent based and are tough to work with.
Other than spray paints, there is little use of exterior oils for residential purposes any more. Most applications are for commercial use or have been replaced by epoxies and urethanes.
Stains differ from paints in that they are specifically intended for wood (forget the concrete stuff for the moment) and are designed to be partially absorbed into the fibers of the wood substrate as opposed to being fixed to the surface. Wood stains are formulated for both interior and exterior use. Interior stains are semitransparent. Exterior stains are either semitransparent or opaque.
The most common use of interior stains are for woodwork, cabinetry, paneling and doors. The most common use of exterior stains is for cedar shakes (gable siding), decks and fences. Semitransparent stains are far and away more common than opaque stains.
The neat thing about (exterior) stains, including the natural staining of decks and fences from leaves & such, is that they can be stripped, bleached or brightened, ‘renewed’ and re-stained to a nearly ‘like new’ finish.
You’ll need a high pressure power washer, a rain suit and goggles, and a lot of chemicals to do this, but the results can be rewarding.
Polyurethanes are a relatively new form of organic chemistry, which, in the form of coatings, are rapidly replacing varnish and shellac as a clear top coat for stained wood. Varnish is a little like oil paint without any pigment and shellac is, ugh, the resinous secretion of an insect, yada, yada, yada. Don’t you ever wonder how they ever discovered this stuff sometimes?
Some polyurethanes come tinted so they stain and seal with one application. This is a low quality tradeoff to staining and finishing in multiple steps but it’s quick, dirty and suitable for simple projects.
Flooring calls for a ‘floor-grade’ polyurethane. Anything else will wear out quickly. Also if you’re planning to actually re-do your whole floor, read all you can on the subject first – it’s more difficult than you think, and super easy to botch the job.
True epoxies are solvent based two part systems. We’ve used water based two part systems with some success. If you’re thinking of using epoxy for your garage floor, there are two things to consider.
First, the floor will have to be ‘chemically’ clean. That means that it will have to be fully cured (more than three months since it’s been poured) and oil free – from any car leaks. Good luck.
Also, many products warn that they are not suitable for ‘hot tire’ application. That is, your car tires roll in from the freeway at 150° or so, and then sit patiently trying to permanently merge with your cute new floor.
Epoxies find their best application where there is a lot of foot traffic, such as work areas, porches and stairs. Porch & deck paint (specialized oil or latex enamels) often work better than epoxies even though they aren’t as sexy. Read the directions.
Question, aren’t painted steps and floors slickery and dangerous? It depends on how finished (smooth) the underlying concrete is. Paint stores sell a special sand additive for paint to provide traction to the finished surface. Warning: the sand constantly wants to settle out of the paint – you must stir constantly and before every brush stroke or roller roll in order not to create Rorschach patterns on your floor.
Applying the Paint
Putting aside the ‘foo-foo’ finishes currently hyped by Martha, the decorator mags and ‘Big Box’ stores, there are three commonly acceptable ways to apply paint: with brushes, rollers and sprayers.
Many people think that one method is preferable or more effective than another. One customer insisted that we brush his house and threatened not to pay us if he even glimpsed a sprayer on his lawn. Another agreed that we could spray but insisted that we give the house two ‘coats’ of paint. Both of these people were living in the past and no one was going to drag them into the 21st century.
The truth is, each method of applying paint has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the specifics of the project at hand. Since almost all roller and spray applied paint (except for cabinetry) is latex and since latex does what? Form a film? That’s right; latex paints are film forming. Therefore, it’s seldom a matter of how one applies the paint but rather how thick the resultant film is and any method works as long as one has prepped well, is using gooood paint to begin with and ‘cuts in’ (trims and edges) with a quality brush.
Assuming you’ve prepped your work well, and bought the best paint for the job, you’ll want a really good brush to assure professional results. There are three kinds of brushes:
- Natural Bristle (usually from China), is used specifically for oil based paints. This is because natural bristle, like your hair, has split ends. It’s the naturally occurring split ends which first, attracts and holds oil paint, and the releases it precisely on cue.
- Natural bristle brushes comes either black or white. The white bristle is softer than the black and is used when finer paint finishes are desired.
- Polyester (From Dow or Dupont)is used primarily for water based paints. This is because latex unlike oil doesn’t require split ends to do its work. However, in competition with China, manufacturers are producing polyester with natural like qualities, allowing it to apply oil as well as latex paints. Pros, however will continue to chose China bristle for their work.
- Everything else Among the rest of the lot – and there’s a lot out there, one of the most useful tools we have is the 2” ‘throw-away’ brush. These are called ‘chip’ brushes. Everybody sells them. They’ come in all sizes, have natural white China bristle and can be used for either oil or latex touch-ups and tossed away without great pangs of guilt. If used for latex, they can be washed out and reused several times before the bristles fall out. If using them for oil touch-ups, stick them in a plastic freezer bag for the next day. But – don’t try to use them for the whole project – you’ll regret it.
Rollers & Roll Covers
- There are two common kinds of rollers, 9” x 2” diameter and 6” x 1” diameter. The 9” is the more common. Although there is a great deal of difference between manufacturers, they all have two things alike. Besides universally accepting all 9” roll covers they also have their handles adapted to accept paint poles to save all that back breaking bending and reaching. Don’t have a painter’s pole? Use a broom or mop stick. The threads are the same.
- Like brushes, there is a difference in ‘roll covers’ (the furry thingys that apply the paint and are so hard to clean afterwards). Good roll covers have much more fiber than the cheap ones. They hold more paint, paint better, don’t drip paint as much and clean up and re-use is better than with the cheap ones. The biggest point however, is that you get a much better paint job with a good roll cover than with a cheapie, especially if you’re painting over a fairly rough texture.
- Remember when the only Coke you could buy was in a 6 oz. (actually 5 1/2 oz.) bottle? And now Coke has more varieties than Heinz? That’s the way it is with roll covers. We however only use 1/2“ contractor grade covers (in the 9’ size) from Sherwin Williams and we buy them in case lots. You, however, can buy them just one at a time! Rarely does the need arise when we have to use 1” or 1 1/4” nap rollers for really rough work, or 1/4 inch nap roll covers for porch and floor enamel.
- 6” x 1” rollers & roll covers are recent and brilliant innovations. They are small, handy for odd jobs, easy to clean and versatile. We use the 1/2” nap roll covers for fancy fences and deck work and old-fashioned corbels (exterior roof supports). We use the 1/4 mohair nap (sometimes hard to find) for applying oil paint to large surfaces, like doors and cabinets. Then we use a good bristle brush to smooth out the paint according to the grain direction.
- There are three kinds of paint sprayers used most often in house painting. The quality of the sprayer has more to do with operator ease than the quality of the resulting job. It’s the spray ‘tip’ in all cases, which determines the quality of the job.
- Airless Sprayers – Far and away the most common is the ‘airless’ sprayer. Airless sprayers work by pumping the paint from, usually, a 5 gallon bucket, through a hose to a spray gun, which propels the paint through a small orifice projecting it on the surface to be painted. Airless sprayers are mostly used for exterior painting or for interior painting when working in an unoccupied house where there’s no furniture or living situation to deal with.
- We have three airless sprayers at the moment: a large sprayer for exterior (latex) work, a small sprayer for interior (latex) work and another small sprayer for (oil) painting woodwork and cabinetry.
- Turbine Sprayers – Turbine sprayers are very finely tuned cup sprayers for spraying oil or varnishes on fine cabinetry.
- Venturi (compressed air) Sprayers – These are the inexpensive sprayers, which attach to compressor hoses and are used for small and undemanding oil painting jobs.
- Far and away the most common is the ‘airless’ sprayer. Airless sprayers work by pumping the paint from a bucket, through a hose to a spray gun, which propels the paint through a small orifice projecting it on the surface to be painted.
Why oh why do you folks pay enormous sums of money for that pretty blue tape when plain old 3M-20/20 performs as well at a fraction of the price? Because it’s pretty blue, that’s why. And although its adhesive admittedly has different characteristics than plain old 20/20, it will never make any difference to you or your project. Be firm. Be brave. Be professional. Use the far less expensive 20/20 and spend the money on better brushes and paint.
OK, on to masking. I see otherwise reasonable people masking off every line they intend to paint. (Ask yourself, do you really need to mask if you’re painting with a roller?) There are several things wrong with this. First, If you mask, and load the line with paint, the paint will ‘wick’ under the under the tape creating irritating little fingers of paint, if not outright blobs, at right angles to your line.
The second problem is that masking prevents one of the major reasons for painting in the first place, to seal the edge or junction of materials in question. Think of the paint as caulk. You need to caulk this internal edge to seal it off from air and water penetration. Also, even my great granny could paint a reasonably straight line with a little practice.
Rather than masking, say along the junction between a wall and a door casing, first, take sand paper or a tool of some kind and smooth out the line of the crack. Then, when painting the wall, over-paint the crack line by a 1/4”, sealing it and giving yourself a smooth transition surface to later lay in your enamel paint line for the casing. No, it won’t be perfect, but it will be a clean line, which is more visually pleasing than fuzz. If the crack is really bad, clean it out and run a line of caulk (see the discussion on caulk below) using a moist finger to smooth the line and wet rag to keep your finger moist and clean. Then paint as described above for that professional look.
P.S. We only use 1” tape and we buy it by the case. If we need a wider mask, we use paper – see below.
Painters use a tool called a masking gun. It’s a gizmo that combines a 1” roll of tape with various widths of paper – we use 9” paper exclusively and buy it by the case. Normally, narrower paper doesn’t do the job and wider paper is cumbersome. If we’re masking long narrow elements, like crown molding, we simply cut a roll in half for 4 1/2” paper.
The gizmo applies half an inch of tape to the paper leaving the other half-inch available for masking. It’s a neat tool but inexplicably costs about $50.00 a pop. Manufacturers must still be paying royalties to the inventor, I guess. We have four of them.
Masking guns make short work of masking off a house for spray painting. The average Dallas ranch can be masked and sprayed in half a day. Of course that doesn’t include all the prep work that would have gone before, or all the trim work and clean-up left to do. But the fact is, masking and spraying in itself, is pretty efficient.
We only use one kind of plastic and we use lots of it. It is 100 gauge (1mm), clear, unfolds to 12 ‘ wide and comes in 400 foot rolls. We use it for everything. We cover the entire floor with it, corner to corner, for interior work, We use it to protect furniture. We cover customer cars and bushes with it when spray painting their houses. We cut smaller pieces and combining it with taped masking paper, cover windows and doors when spraying. We use it for walkways over new carpet or refinished floors. We hang walls with it when spraying texture on ceilings. It’s great stuff.
Patching (repair) Materials
Water putty is sold under the brand names Durhams® and Custom®. I think they’re either both made by the Durham folks or they are chemically identical. We use water putty for many interior repairs. Or, at least for the first step of a repair.
Water putty mixes fast and dries hard in 15 to 30 minutes depending on how much mass there is to the patch. Think of a hole in a wall where a doorknob has punctured it. Once the Durham’s dries it can be overlaid with a thin coat of mud (dry wall compound), dried with a hairdryer and textured. Then it’s just a matter of drying that, priming and painting. This will take at least a day with the drying and all but, heck, it ain’t hard work.
Or, your significant other has unintentionally opened a hole in the wall or ceiling. Reshape the hole until it’s rectangular. If the hole doesn’t line up with a stud or joist, take a pieces of 1” x 4” and using coarse threaded drywall screws (which come in the orange boxes) fasten half their widths along each unsupported inside of the hole. Cut a piece of drywall to fit and fasten it to the exposed longitudinal halves of the 1” x 4”s. Apply the sticky side of fiberglass tape to seams and apply a nice, but not too thick, coat of water putty. Within minutes it will be dry and you can either apply another thin coat or a coat of mud. After a third coat, you can texture and prime and paint. Oh, no matter how you cut it, this is going to take a minimum of full two days to complete. Water putty’s fast but mud tales time to dry.
Yes, Bondo®. Pretty much the same stuff used to repair fenders. Bondo® is polyester resin mixed with a bit of hardener to form solid repairs which can be successfully primed and painted. This works wonders for exterior repairs and inside the house as well. Water putty, as good as it is won’t weather, but Bondo® will. We use it for repairing holes in fascia, window sills and thresholds. If the damage doesn’t warrant replacing the whole piece of wood, Bondo® does the job! It also, shapes well, sands easily, primes and paints.
iii. Mud There are several kinds of pre-mixed mud, or dry wall compound. If you study the variety of pre-mixed available at the ‘Big Box’ stores you will get very confused. So, here’s the poop:
We have tried them all and I can find no difference at all between them, so we buy the light-weight stuff in the green boxes for most of our work. There is a special ‘texture’ mud sold here and there in brown printed boxes and the guys prefer that as a texturing mud over the stuff in the blue or green boxes, but for the life of me, I don’t know why.
Because we add water and thin out the mud in a separate bucket to the required consistency for a particular application, I don’t think there’s a nickel’s bit of difference between the bunch – so save your money and buy the less expensive light weight stuff.
Now, unmixed, dry compound is available, not only in standard form, but also as a quick set material. It is sold in formulas which can set almost as fast as Durham’s®, or in increments of 20 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes and 90 minute drying times. The drawback, is that, once set, it doesn’t ‘work’, or at least ‘work’ very well. For instance, regular mud can be reconstituted by simply adding water and re-mixing. Quick setting muds are pretty much, like Durham’s®, permanently set. So, the lesson here is, know what you’re doing before trying to hasten your job with quick set mud.
(Drywall) Tape & Bed
Not all drywall is the same. The stuff #2 ‘Big Box’ store seems crisp and bright. It snaps well when cutting pieces from it and it cleanly accepts the fiberglass tape we use, and it seems to take the mud much better. The stuff ‘Big Box’ #1 sells seems moist by comparison, it doesn’t snap as well, it tends to crumble, etc, etc, etc. What difference does this make in the final analysis? Not much, except for this. The crisper the dry wall, the straighter the cut lines, the less crumbling, the easier it is to handle overall. On a large drywall project, price will be the determining factor.
There are two kinds of tape, paper and fiberglass. We only use the fiberglass. Why do we use it, since it costs so much more? Well, time is also money. With paper tape, you have to apply an even strip of mud to the joint prior to embedding it. This is labor intensive, Also if you don’t get it right the first time, the paper gets wet, tears, and you have to do everything all over again.
How do cut drywall? Drawn a line. With a razor knife, and using a straight edge, score the paper along it. Then, while stressing the line from the reverse side, pop it once sharply and the sheet will snap open. Simply cut the opposite facing and you should have a smooth, straight, accurate cut. If you’re cutting out a hole, say, for a outlet box, take your measurements accurately, draw the hole and use a pointy drywall saw to cut the opening. Drywall saws are pointy so you can penetrate the sheet with a quick punch through. Never jab or stab at the sheet unless you’re fixin’ to do surgery on yourself.
Fiberglass tape has a sticky side, which adheres to the drywall joint without mud, so there’s no equivalent pre-bedding step. Of course both methods require two to three applications of mud, to ensure a uniform surface, prior to texturing.
We don’t sand our mudded drywall anymore. I bought my last drywall sandpaper 5 years ago, and we have the smoothest walls in town prior to texturing. The secret? Well, first, we thin out our mud a bid before applying it so it goes down much more smoothly than it would were it straight out of the box. But before each new coat and just before texturing, we ‘scrape the wall smooth with a twelve inch blade (mud trowel). This actually gets the walls smoother than sanding will and doesn’t create a white powder storm throughout the house.
There are several standard textures and therefore several ways to apply them. The simplest is the ubiquitous crows-foot found in older homes on both the walls and ceilings.
More to come…