Brush up on the methods for completely covering old paint—and all the safety bases—with veteran housepainter Mark Ellis.
This was previously published on Oregon Live, The Oregonian online.
With the days of nice weather slipping away, inspired do-it-yourselfers may find that overdue painting project flitting around the periphery of consciousness. For the completely inexperienced painter, there are plenty of how-to books available. But if you think you know a thing or two about applying coatings to surfaces, and are eager to get started, here are a few important reminders about some commonly encountered painting challenges.
Getting the Lead/Oil Out
Actually, it’s about burying these vestiges of paint products past. If your interior surfaces (most specifically woodwork, moldings, doors and cabinetry) have been previously painted with impervious oil-based enamel—possibly containing lead—you’d probably like to convert to a contemporary enamel containing low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). You can, but there’s an old-school step in between. I operate from the premise that no amount of sanding and de-glossing will sufficiently prepare hard-shelled enameled surfaces for the application of a modern acrylic product.
Apply a transitional coat of a quick-to-moderate-dry-time oil-base primer. The material doesn’t flow like paint, and unless you’re swift it can be difficult to apply smoothly. On the plus side, the dried film responds very positively to a light pad sanding.
Open the windows, wear gloves, and if you’re sensitive, wear a respirator. When it’s necessary to apply such primer to walls or ceilings—such as in the case of extreme tobacco or water staining—tape or paint around the trimwork and ceiling throughout the room first, then do a quick roll-out and leave the area.
This prime coat also works to encapsulate the potential lead in an old coating, and sets the surface up for the application of the chemically benign acrylic enamel of your choice.
Choosing the Right Paint
Like a hamburger, a coating product is only as good as its qualitative and quantitative ingredients. I have my favorites, but in my opinion most major paint manufacturers and smaller boutique paint-makers have a great selection of products, especially at the top end if you’re willing to pay the price. Your choice of where to buy can simply come down to which manufacturer’s retail outlet is nearest your home. After that it’s very much about customer service.
When I started as a brush boy in 1978 you could buy a decent gallon of paint for $10. That price point is part of a distant past, so start with a bit less material than you think you’ll need. You can always buy more, but if you walk out the door with four extraneous gallons of a nonreturnable custom tint, you’ll likely be storing a $175 to $200 investment in a garage cabinet.
Most people understand the value of quality tools, but that doesn’t stop manufacturers from producing millions of dollars worth of substandard brushes, roller covers, rollers, trays, extension poles etc. Trust me, that bag-o-brushes is no bargain. Go ahead and treat yourself to the upper-tier products. But remember, with the brushes and rollers, if you don’t intend to clean them thoroughly after each use, don’t bother cleaning them at all. The slightest acrylic or oil residue will render them ham-handed, clunky and useless.
As I make clear in the story “Downer,” from my book “Ladder Memory,” with falls, “all there is is retrospect.” Suffice it to say that but for the intervention of a deity or just plain luck I would not be writing this, or at least might be writing it from a wheelchair.
Every time you go up, no matter if it’s three or 30 steps, make sure the ladder feet are properly set. For exteriors, if you’re on dirt or lawn, know when to cleat the feet. On concrete, get the angle-to-building ratio right. It is never advisable to set an extension ladder on dropcloths or other protective draping. For tricky sets, have your painting partner stabilize the bottom while you go up, or tie it off.
Most fall injuries, and yes, fatalities, occur at heights under 20 feet. The reason is two-fold: Legions of ambitious homeowners are willing to climb that high but wisely balk at going higher. For professional tradesmen who deal with heights every day, a false sense of security may develop at lower elevations.
With harmful chemicals rapidly disappearing from all but the most specific industrial and maintenance coatings, falls are clearly the most potentially harmful aspect of the painting trade. There’s little room for error. As the saying goes, “one minute you’re up, the next minute you’re down.”
As a painting contractor, I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but a motivated weekend warrior with a good brush, roller, or airless sprayer can save some pretty respectable bucks. Just make sure your painting project doesn’t turn into something you’ll regret getting involved with.
Image credit: Jamiesrabbits/Flickr