Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Top Down, Inside Out

Ah, painting. According to the teevee, anyone can do it.

Well, anyone can do it, with a little care and respect for the process. But then again, anyone can wire an outlet, or lay a floor, or build a deck, or plumb a sink, or any other of a million other home building operations I could name. But the average Joe or Josie thinks everything but painting is hard and dangerous, so they avoid doing much of anything for themselves that doesn’t involve color charts.

A long time ago, my wife managed a business. The owner of the business hired a crew of female painters to repaint their shop. My wife said they came in and milled around for a while, put down a dropcloth or two, and then went outside for a conference among themselves. Their leader came back in and asked my wife, “Do you know how to open the cans?” You can guess how it went from there. In their defense, they did have nice business cards.

Well, I know how to open the cans (my wife does, too, by the way), and several other details about painting most kinds of structures, whether for yourself or for money. So I’ll share some inside baseball for anyone who wants to paint a house, especially an occupied house. The first thing mentioned on any painting contract is:

1.Protection of surfaces not to be painted.

No, really, I’ve written hundreds of contracts like this. It’s the first thing. It’s important. So we went to the hardware store and got a roll of cheap rosin paper and some painter’s tape. We covered the new floor completely before we began doing anything. It’s obvious that we don’t want to get paint on the floor. However, protection of surfaces yadda yadda is more all-encompassing than that. I’m an old hand at this sort of thing and I can work very neatly if I have a mind to. But I put down the paper because simply walking all over the floor while working can mark it up. I’ve got beaucoup dropcloths, but even though they’re fairly clean, the fine dust in them can get ground into the floor if you’re not careful. Easier to just cover it all with paper and forget it.

We’re painting the ceiling and walls and some of the wood trim. We’re not done yet protecting yadda yadda. We got thin plastic film and draped it over the cabinets and shelves and appliances to keep out dust. A paint contractor would probably just tell you to completely empty the room instead. We’re our own customer, so we avoid unnecessary disruptions in the day to day life in the house. Lord knows there were plenty of necessary disruptions, so why add to the problem?

Because we’re painting everything, we cover everything. A dab of tape on the knobs, hinges, plugs, and windowsills keeps the sprinkles from rollers under control. About the only thing I don’t use painter’s tape for is painting a straight line. I can do that without it. You know, right after I open the cans.

We work neat and happy. The spare heir is rinsing a sponge he’s using to caulk the seams. The difference between an amateur job and a professional looking one is generally in the preparation. We caulk all the seams where the wood trim meets plaster, or other wood trim. We fill all the nail holes with glazing compound while we’re at it. There’s a little art to getting it flush, with the flick of a thumb.

I primed all the raw wood trim with a pot of Kilz alkyd primer I keep hanging around. I use a cheap throwaway brush for this work. This stuff dries very fast, so you have to get used to working quickly or it gets all ropey and lumpy while you’re applying it.

With some exceptions, here’s the order of painting things:

  • Paint the ceiling. You can get some on the walls
  • Paint the standing trim. That means door and window frames and suchlike. You can get a little on the walls
  • Paint the walls. You cut in (carefully paint a stripe about 2-1/2″ wide) at the ceiling line, and along the edges of all the standing trim. You can get a little on the baseboard. Then you roll the paint on the field of the walls inside the cutting in lines
  • Paint the running trim (like the baseboards)

Another rule of thumb that helps you decide how to paint things is simpler. Just chant, top down, inside out while you’re working, and you’ll do fine.

Painters used to have a motto: Prepare four days a week and paint on Friday. It’s an apt ratio for good work. Painting seems easy because you see people working on Friday. It’s the work that happened beforehand that makes it turn out well — or not.

OK, so tomorrow, we’ll enliven the internet with its favorite home renovation format: before and after shots. Remember, there’s no pressure. Don’t get nervous. If you can’t tell which is the before, and which is the after, I’ve failed, not you.

[To read the whole kitchen renovation saga in the order it was written, click right here, ese.]

2 Responses

  1. A question: Did your house have “popcorn” ceilings? Mine did, but doesn’t now. Removing the “popcorn” and resurfacing the ceilings is the nastiest job I’ve ever done…and that includes the time I sold cow***t to a nurseryman.

  2. Hi Emil- Our house is basically too old to have any popcorn ceilings (120+ years), although the denizens tried every other kind of thing on the ceilings. Homasote, cardboard tiles, hardboard and battens, and thin sheets of OSB painted white. They attempted to cover one ceiling with a skim-coat of swirly mud, which was almost as bad as popcorn. Interestingly, a few rooms still had their original coat of calsomine paint. Calsomine is a form of whitewash. They tinted it wild colors back in the day. Some ceilings were bright yellow, others sky blue. Calsomine is always water soluble, so if you try to paint over it, it peels like crazy. We were able to wash the calsomine off right down to the old plaster and repaint in those rooms. Everywhere else was a horror.

    By the way, people should be aware that many popcorn ceilings have asbestos in them, and be careful when they remove them.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

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