A master painter shares tips and techniques from 30 years of residential painting work, covering everything from roller selection to taping to caulking and filling.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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Meet the pro
Jay Gorton got his first painting lessons more than 30 years ago when he worked for his father-in-law painting houses in the Minneapolis area. Since then he’s perfected his trade and grown a business from a one-man operation to a team of more than 30 painters at times. Most of his work is in high-end new construction where he specializes in glass-smooth enamel finishes, faux-finished walls, and antiqued and distressed woodwork. It’s from his background in this high-quality production painting that Jay gathered the tips he’s showing us here.
An 18-in.-wide roller setup like this may not be for everybody. Painters use them for the obvious reason that they can paint twice as fast as they can with a standard 9-in. roller.
If you have a lot of large, unbroken walls and ceilings, the investment in a large paint pail, 18-in. roller cage and 18-in. cover makes sense for you, too. You’ll definitely save a bunch of time. Plus, because the roller is supported on both edges instead of just one, it’s easier to apply consistent pressure and avoid roller marks left by paint buildup at the edge of the roller.
You’ll find 18-in. roller equipment at most home centers and paint stores.
Prep varnished wood carefully
Try liquid sander/deglosser
Every surface should be cleaned before it’s painted, but painting over clear finishes like varnish or polyurethane requires extra care to ensure that the new paint bonds well. Thorough sanding is one way to prepare the surface. But a liquid sander/deglosser is easier and faster. Jay uses Klean-Strip Easy Liquid Sander Deglosser, but other types are available.
Read the instructions on the container and follow them carefully. Some types of “liquid sandpaper” require you to paint over them before they dry. Others, like the one Jay is using, should dry first. Follow the sander/deglosser with a coat of bonding primer. Ask for it at the paint department. Most major paint manufacturers sell it. Valspar Bonding Primer is one example.
Caulk every crack
Hide movement cracks
Rather than trying to decide which cracks are large enough to require caulk, just caulk everything. It’s actually faster because you don’t have to waste time deciding what to caulk and because you’re not constantly starting and stopping. Caulk every intersection between moldings and between moldings and walls or ceilings. You’ll be amazed at how much better the final paint job looks when there are no dark cracks showing.
Look for a shed/resistant, woven roller
If you’re picky about how your walls look when you’re done rolling on the paint, then you’ll want a way to avoid leaving a trail of roller fuzzies behind. Look for rollers that are labeled “shed resistant woven.” They cost a little more than some covers, but the smooth, lint-free finish is worth it.
Video: How to Clean Paintbrushes
Replace your roller with a pail
Photo 1: Line the pail to simplify cleanup
Use thin painter’s plastic to line the pail. Cut a piece of plastic and drape it into the pail. Add your paint and then run a band of masking tape around the perimeter to hold the plastic in place.
Photo 2: Drain the leftover paint back into the can
When you’re done painting, just bundle up the plastic and pull it out. If there’s leftover paint, hold the plastic over your paint can and slit the bottom with a utility knife to drain the paint back into your paint can.
If you’re like most homeowners, you have a paint tray that you use to roll walls. And if you’ve done much painting, you’ve probably stepped in or spilled the tray at least once. Plus, as you know, trays are awkward to move around, especially when they’re fully loaded with paint. A paint pail solves these problems and more. Pails hold more paint than trays, and you’ll find them easy to move around and tough to step in! As an added bonus, if you use the plastic lining tip we show here, you can practically eliminate cleanup. You’ll find paint pails at home centers and paint stores. Don’t panic over a little spilled paint. Learn how to remove paint from wood floors.
Patch with glazing putty
Fast scratch and chip filler
If you’ve done much auto body repair, you’re probably familiar with glazing putty. On cars, glazing putty is used to fill small scratches and imperfections before painting because it spreads easily and dries quickly and is easy to sand. These same properties also make glazing putty ideal for filling shallow damage in trim. A 4.5-oz. tube of 3M Bondo Glazing and Spot putty only costs a few dollars. You’ll find glazing putty in auto parts stores, hardware stores and some well-stocked paint stores.
Tape both sides of the glass, letting the ends run wild. Push the tape tightly into the corners with a flexible putty knife.
Photo 2: Trim
Slice off the excess with a utility knife.
Photo 3: Top and bottom
Finish by taping the top and bottom.
Unless you’re a really good painter, it’s quicker to mask window glass than to try to neatly cut in with a brush, especially if you use the masking method we show here. The three photos show the technique. If you’re going to spray-paint the window trim, cover the glass entirely by attaching a piece of paper under the first strip of masking tape. Precut the paper so it’s about 1-1/2 in. narrower and shorter than the glass size.
Keep a mini-roller and screen handy
A mini roller is great for all kinds of painting tasks. If you fit it with a woven sleeve to match the nap on your large roller, you can use it to touch up and to paint areas where your big roller won’t fit.
Buy a small screen and just drop it in your gallon paint can so it’ll be handy when you need it. If you use a plastic screen like the one shown, you can push it down into the can and still get the paint can cover on. Then when you need to do a little touch-up, just take off the lid and start rolling. Put a foam cover on your mini roller for painting doors and woodwork.
You’ll find a large selection of mini rollers at hardware stores, paint stores and home centers.
Don’t start in corners
Keep corners smooth
It’s natural to load your brush with paint and stick it into the corner to start painting. But you’ll end up with too much paint in the corner, where it’s difficult to spread out. Instead, start laying on the paint about 4 to 6 in. from inside corners, and then spread the paint back into the corner with the brush. You’ll get a nice, smooth paint job without excess paint buildup at inside corners.
Speedy, accurate masking
The key to perfect masking is to keep the tape straight and tight to the wall. Here’s a tip to simplify the job. Stick about 6 in. of tape to the molding. Then, with the tape roll held tight against the wall, unroll about 6 more inches of tape. Rotate the roll down until this section of tape is stuck and repeat the process. The trick is to keep the roll of tape against the wall. It takes a little practice to master this technique, so don’t give up. Once you learn to tape this way, your speed and accuracy will increase dramatically.
Better floor protection
Drop cloths can be a hassle. They slip on hard floors, get bunched up under ladders and are difficult to fit tight to baseboards. Eliminate the hassle and save time by using rosin paper instead. For about $12, you can buy a 160-ft.-long roll of 3-ft.-wide heavy masking paper. Roll it out, leaving about a 1/2-in. space along the wall for the tape. Then cover the edges with tape to keep it in place. You’ll find rolls of masking or rosin paper at home centers and paint stores.
Small hole is better
A common mistake is to cut off too much of the caulk tube tip, leaving a hole that’s way too big for most interior caulking work. When you’re filling small cracks to prepare for painting, cut the tip carefully to keep the hole tiny—about 1/16 in. in diameter. The tiny hole lets out just enough caulk to fill typical small- to medium-size cracks.
For larger cracks, make a second pass or keep a second caulk gun on hand, loaded with a tube that has a slightly bigger hole. Keep the caulk gun moving quickly along the crack as you squeeze the trigger. This, combined with the small opening in the tip, will give you a nice caulk joint that needs very little cleanup. A quick swipe with a dampened fingertip will leave a paint-ready joint.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You’ll also need an extendable roller pole, a paint pail, an 18-in. roller and cover, a mini-roller and screen, and rubber gloves.
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.