How To Do Your Own Painting Projects

By: Glenn Whitehead

If only it were that simple. Painting projects are, without a doubt, the most common "do-it-yourself" project there is. Almost everyone believes they can do it. But, while it's not brain surgery, there are tools and tricks of the trade that can help push the chances for success your way. This is the home improvement project that completes the appearance of your house. I've spent most of my adult life in the residential construction industry in one capacity or another and I'm still amazed at the difference a coat makes. Keep in mind though, the difference can be for good or bad. While a well done paint job can turn a plain Jane, rent property into a warm family home, a poorly done job can make it a nightmare. As is the case with most projects, having some knowledge of the different products, tools and techniques will increase your chances of success. Our goal here is to provide you with those basics. The good thing about painting projects is; they are probably the least expensive of home improvement projects and it's easy to fix if you aren't happy with the result. Just do it again.

Which Product Should I Use?

Choosing the right product for the job is the first step to successful painting projects. For residential work, you've got 2 choices: latex and Alkyd (oil base).


Latex is most commonly used by "do-it-yourselfers" for home painting projects. It is water based, which makes for easy clean up, it dries quickly, and the odor is not as strong as that of oil based products. Latex is what you would use for walls and ceilings and, while it is sometimes used on trim and woodwork, the appearance and durability are inferior to oil base in these applications. Latex is also commonly used on the exterior siding and trim and there are products made specifically for this use, which contain chemicals to fight the effects of weather. If you're doing outdoor work, it's critical that you use an outdoor product. Latex paints are generally available in 3 or 4 different finishes, depending on the brand you use: flat,satin or eggshell, and semi-gloss. Flat has no shine after it has dried. This most commonly used on walls and ceilings. Semi-gloss has a definite shine and is smoother to touch. It is most commonly used on trim woodwork, or cabinets. Satin or eggshell is somewhere between flat and semi-gloss and has a slight sheen. Satin finishes are often used on wall for the appearance as well as the fact that mild stains and hand prints can be easily wiped away. Semi-gloss paints are sometimes used on walls as well. But, be prepared for a big shine. One thing to keep in mind when selecting a finish is; if there are defects in the surface, the more it shines, the more these defects will standout. I mentioned earlier that latex is sometimes used on trim and woodwork. The reason that I advise against this is; they're not as durable and will peel easily if bumped or scratched. The appearance is also inferior to that of oil based paints and brush marks are more noticeable.

Alkyd or Oil Based

Many homeowners don't like to work with oil based products due to the mess and clean up. Unlike latex products, which are easily wiped away with water, you will need paint thinner or mineral spirits to remove alkyd paints from your skin and to clean tools and brushes. The drying time is much longer (usually 24 hours) and the odor is much stronger. Having said that, oil based products provide a much more durable finish and, if properly applied, a more attractive appearance for your painting projects. It is critical, when using oil based materials, that you cover furniture and floors because if you get it on fabrics or carpets, it's probably not coming out. The finishes are basically the same as latex except some brands may also offer gloss or high gloss which have an almost mirrored finish.

Painting Projects Preparation

Preparation is as much a part of painting projects as the actual brushing. Spending the extra time and money to do it right will save you both later on. Always start with covering or masking off anything that is not supposed to be painted. Just planning to be careful is probably a bad idea. While this can be time consuming, it's not nearly as bad as trying to clean it up after it's dried, which, in many cases, you won't be able to do anyway. The most commonly used material the days is plastic sheeting. It is inexpensive, which is a plus since you will, more than likely throw it away when you're finished and it can be held in place with masking tape. Plastic can be used to cover floors, but I prefer canvas drop cloths because they will absorb splatters but prevent them from penetrating to the floor. When using plastic to cover a floor, be careful about stepping in the wet splatters and tracking it to other areas.
After you've properly covered up, the next step is to prepare the surfaces. This includes cleaning, repairing defects, and sealing stains or unfinished surfaces. When we talk about cleaning, we're focusing on removing foreign substances such as grease or built up dirt that will prevent bonding. Things like smudges and hand prints on walls can usually be painted over. When preparing smooth surfaces such as wood trim or metals it's important to remove greasy or oily substances with a degreasing cleaner or mineral spirits. Always read the instructions on products to be sure they are safe for the surface you're cleaning. When working with very smooth surfaces it may be necessary to lightly sand the surface because paint bonds better to a rougher surface. Some stains are so strong they will bleed through even multiple coats of paint. This is especially true of water stains on drywall. If you encounter this problem you will need to use a stain blocking sealer such as Kilz or Zinser. If you are repairing water damage on a ceiling or wall, just go ahead and seal the stain. It will save you having to come back later and do it. Unfinished surfaces, whether drywall, wood, or metal, will require the use of a primer or sealer before applying the finish coats. There are many choices for different applications. Refer to the product data or consult a professional about which one to use.
The next step of preparation is to repair any defects in the surfaces to be painted. Good, smooth surfaces lead to attractive painting projects. This would include filling holes and cracks, scraping away loose or pealing paint, and sanding out rough spots. Filling holes and cracks is the most common repair and the process depends on the surface. For drywall you would use spackle or joint compound. For details on this process
Click Here . When working with wood, the repair materials include: putty, caulk, wood filler, and spackle. Cracks should be filled with latex caulk. It is applied with a caulking gun, then use a finger to smooth and remove the excess. Keep plenty on old rags available to clean you hands. There are different grades of caulk, just check the label for uses and make sure it is paintable. Small holes such as nail holes should be filled with painters putty, which should be pressed into the hole by hand and then cut off flush with the surface using a putty knife. Many times people will fill these holes with caulk because it's convenient. The problem is the caulk will shrink when it dries, leaving a visible indentation. For rough or pitted areas, a spackle or wood filler should be used. There are several different products available. Some are pre-mixed and ready to use, while others come in a powder and have to be mixed with water. Which type to use is really just a matter of preference. These products are applied using a putty or broad knife and will usually need to be sanded after they dry.
Sanding is probably the most unattractive part of painting projects. However, it is critical to the finished product. Rough areas, built up materials, and loose or pealing materials must be sanded out to insure a smooth finished surface. Sandpaper comes in different grits beginning with 80 and going as high as 600. The higher the number, the finer the grit. So an 80 grit is very rough and would be used for possibly removing or stripping old materials, while higher grits are used for preparing the finished product. Electric sanders are popular and will save lots of time and hard work. However, you need to experiment with the tool and the grit of paper to avoid damaging the surface. For sanding detailed surfaces such as trim and moldings, steel wool can be used to get into areas that sandpaper can't.

Brushes and Rollers for Painting Projects

Using the right tools is the key to any successful project. This is especially true with painting projects. Different materials and surfaces require different types of brushes and rollers. The most common type of brushes available are polyester, nylon, or a combination of both. These are suitable for latex, but you will often see polyester brushes that say "suitable for all paints" and that is just not the case. For oil based products you need to use "China bristle". I prefer black for paints and white for stains and varnishes, though both types can be used for all oil based products. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. A good paint brush is going to cost you between 12 and 25 dollars. If you plan to continue with painting projects in the future, invest the extra money. If properly cleaned and stored, a good brush will last for years. Rollers are extremely popular because they allow you to cover a large area in a short amount of time. The down side is they are much messier than brushes. Be sure to cover everything in the vicinity. Like brushes, rollers come in a variety of types to fit different needs. They basically consist of a wire frame covered with a sleeve. The sleeves are usually interchangeable and come with different textures and lengths of nap for different surfaces. Refer to the labels or consult a paint professional about selecting the right one for your job.

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