Allen Norwood

February 27, 2014

Slow down and pay attention, painters

Don’t scrimp on important prep work before you start a project.

Every time we read anything about painting – anything at all, anywhere – we’re informed that prep work is crucial. Absolutely essential. We just can’t skip the cleaning, patching, sanding, priming.

So, how come we keep right on ignoring that rule?

Paint guru Frank Harrelson laughed when I asked that question.

“My wife gets on me,” he said. “She tells me, ‘If you will just take five more minutes to do it right ...’”

Harrelson, who owns Eastway Paint and Decorating, is a sort of paint Zen master to top contractors, interior designers and faux finish artists, along with legions of do-it-yourselfers. He has shared that advice about prep work thousands of times – and hears it at home. Still ...

I called him after I spotted an online list of the top 10 mistakes made by home do-it-yourselfers.

Two of the 10 involved painting: Improper preparation of walls, and using the wrong paint.

Why? Often it’s because we’re in a hurry, as Harrelson suggested. Painting can have dramatic impact, and we’re anxious to see the finished product.

Sometimes it’s because we don’t know enough about that all-important prep work. We didn’t ask enough questions to learn how to do it properly.

Harrelson said he sees a lot of that.

“It’s all the little tricks to getting good results that are so important. You have to learn the tricks.”

For instance, you carefully patch that ding in the wall. Then you sand diligently, getting the surface smooth as glass. Then you paint – and end up with a slick spot, or what painters call a “shiner.”

The patch is so much smoother than the surrounding wall that it spoils your paint job.

If you’ll sand with a wet sponge instead of sandpaper, Harrelson said, that’s less likely to happen. And don’t prime the spot with a brush before rolling. Prime with a roller, to add a bit of surface texture before rolling the entire wall.

Speaking of rollers, choose the right one.

A fellow came into Eastway Paint and said he was struggling to paint a room. Harrelson learned that the fellow was using a roller with a short 1/4-inch nap. He couldn’t apply the paint fast enough to ensure smooth, even coverage.

Harrelson sent him away with a high-quality microfiber roller cover with 3/8-inch nap. Problem solved.

Painting looks easy. I think that’s another reason that some homeowners skip steps.

I asked Harrelson if he agreed.

“You don’t need a degree to paint,” he said.

You don’t need a degree, but you have to learn some lessons. One more time: Prep work is essential to a good job.

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