You’ve Prepped, Now Paint!

By Julie Kerby

Paint Your Way Out of the Winter Doldrums, Part 2


Last month we had gotten as far as choosing our paint, gathering the appropriate tools, and removing the furnishings. Now it’s time to paint, right? Wrong.

A good paint job is only as good as the prep work. Let’s create a good “canvas” so your painting is as beautiful as it can be. Keeping gravity in mind, throughout the project you should work from top to bottom so that you don’t undo the work you did below with drips from above.


Your general plan should be:

Day One, clean, protect, prep the ceiling, prep the walls, sand, vacuum, spot-prime;

Day Two, paint the ceiling, paint the trim;

Day Three, paint the walls, remove protection, refurnish, done!

Day One

Clean and Protect: First, vacuum up any dust, cobwebs, and dead stink-bugs. Clean any dirt and fly spots from the walls and trim using a mild solution of water, vinegar, and a few drops of dish soap—or a solution of TSP Substitute for stubborn stains. Rinse off any solution with water and dry with a clean rag. Remove all outlet covers and switch plates and place a piece of painter’s tape over the switch or outlet (tape the screws to the plates to keep them together and put them all in a bag until you’re finished.)

Protect your floors and any furnishings that will be staying in the room. If you’re only painting the walls, you can just use brown paper rolls or narrow drop cloths to protect the perimeter of floors. Be sure to tape the paper down to hard floors to avoid tripping hazards. Carpets should be covered with drop cloths. If you’ll be painting trim adjacent to carpet, it is a good idea to use painter’s tape to protect the edges of the carpet. If you’ll also be painting the ceiling, use painter’s plastic or cloth drops to cover the middle of the room as well.

If leaving any large items in the room, I like to use the big rolls of 10-foot-wide, thin plastic that dispenses from a box—not unlike that which your household plastic wrap comes in, only larger. Have your painting buddy pull this plastic up and over the items you need to cover while you hold the box, then add about a foot and cut it off with your snap blade. Then unfold the 10-foot width of it. I recommend you tape the edges in place since any slight breeze will flutter this very thin plastic. And don’t use this to walk on since it is just too thin and will tear easily.

Prep the Ceiling: Those hideous popcorn or stippled ceilings are a cheap drywaller’s trick. By spraying or brooming drywall compound (or mud, as it is commonly known) in a pattern on the ceiling, they don’t have to put the effort into the multiple layers of careful mud coats that would be needed to create a consistent, smooth surface. I hate them (the ceilings, not the drywallers).

Often this finish has not even been painted, so it looks dull and dirty and tends to collect dirty cob-webs that don’t wipe off. Also, dry mud slop around the edges usually makes it difficult to paint a clean, straight line where the wall color meets the ceiling. And often, the points are so sharp that they pop balloons as well (boo-hoo). While you can wet them and scrape them off entirely, you will then need to apply multiple mud layers and sand them to make them look good, which is a big, messy job requiring special skills (and which would take much longer than our three-day project). Instead, I usually knock the texture down to a more subtle texture and then paint it ceiling white. To do this, use a 6” or larger taping blade and scrape the entire dry surface just enough to smooth any pointy bits down to a softer edge. Then be sure to sand off any dried compound around the edges, leaving a smooth corner between ceiling and walls. (Keep in mind that, if your ceiling is textured, you’ll need a thicker nap on your roller.)

Prep the Walls: Construction materials can continue to dry, shrink or settle well after installation. As a result, walls can develop small cracks, “nail pops” (little bumps about 1” in diameter over the heads of drywall nails), and gaps in the caulk between walls and trim. Also, there will be holes where you have removed the hanging hardware from decorative items that you don’t intend to re-hang.

Use a strong light, shined at an angle on the wall, to identify these imperfections and circle them with a pencil.

For nail pops, take the hammer end on the handle of  your multi-tool, and bang on the popped area until it is slightly recessed. Nail holes frequently have little paper “burrs” that stick out from the wall surface, so use the corner of the same handle end to “grind” the nail holes in slightly. Now come back and fill these holes by spreading compound firmly into each hole, scraping off the excess. You can use the flat edge of your multi-tool or a 6” taping blade and a drywall mud tray. The tray is easy to hold and gives you a clean, straight edge to scrape off your blade—you want to keep any compound from drying on the blade while you work.

You can use any wall spackle or drywall mud to patch holes if you have a full day or more for the compound to dry before sanding. Instead, I prefer EZ Sand by Sheetrock, a powder you mix with water. It sets up chemically with a working time of 5, 20, 45 or 90 minutes. I recommend the 45—enough time to work a room if you marked all your holes before, but not too long before you can sand and/or recoat if needed.

Be sure to mix up only as much as you can use in the specified set time and scrape out your drywall tray before it sets—once it starts to set, it will be rock hard in a few minutes. Your patches will be set and ready to sand within a few hours. And as the name implies, the sanding will be easy. Another benefit to EZ Sand: since it is a powder, you can store what remains in the bag after the job without concern for it drying out or freezing in winter.

Next check the trim and scrape and sand smooth any loose paint. Never paint over loose paint. You’ll just be wasting time and paint, and it will look terrible in no time.

While you’re waiting for the patches to set, check the caulk. You’ll need your snap blade, a dripless caulk gun, a tube of paintable, white, latex caulk (I like DAP Alex Plus), and a wet folded paper towel.

Caulk should be smooth and should uniformly fill the gap where the baseboard, door- and window-trim meets other trim pieces or the wall. Anywhere you find lumps or caulk that has separated from the surfaces, use your snap blade to cut out the old caulk.

With your snap blade, trim off only the very tip of your tube of caulk, cutting at an angle and creating only an eighth-inch hole in the tip. Put the tube into the caulk gun and re-caulk the joints that need it, moving quickly and smoothly to put a fine, small bead of caulk along the joints (it is better to have too little caulk than too much; you can always add more if needed.) Immediately, wet your finger on the damp paper towel and quickly and firmly run your finger over the caulk along the joint. If you’ve done this correctly, you will have little or no caulk on your finger when you’re done. Wipe excess caulk from your finger between the layers of the paper towel. You can also use caulk to fill any nail holes in the trim.

When the wall patches are dry, you can sand them smooth (but don’t do this until the caulk has set or the sanding dust will ruin your caulk job.) Use a fine sanding sponge for uniform pressure. Vacuum up all sanding dust (and any debris from scraping) and get ready to paint.

Before you finish for the day, you may want to do some spot priming. If you have any water or wood knot stains on ceilings, walls or trim, use a stain blocking primer to spot prime these areas as well as any drywall compound patches.


Day Two: Finally, it’s time to paint!

As a rule of thumb, you want to put the paint on evenly, without drips or lumps, keeping a “wet edge” as you move around the room. Tip: Have the paint store shake all the paints you buy whether they are being tinted or not. This will reduce the amount of stirring you’ll need to do if you use them within a few days of purchase.

Paint the Ceiling: To avoid splatters on your work, work from the top to the bottom. This means painting the ceiling first. To avoid getting paint on light fixtures, you can loosen the screws that hold it to the ceiling, or you can use painter’s tape to protect the fixture.

Pour well-stirred paint from the can into the roller tray and into the Handy Pail to about 3”, cleaning up the can edge with your brush. Replace the can lid and put it where it cannot be knocked over (cleaning up a large paint spill is no fun!)

Work the paint into the bottom half of the bristles of your brush. Tip: whenever you need to set the brush down for a bit, you want to have plenty of paint on the bristles instead of very little. This will keep paint from drying onto the bristles and gumming it up. So dip the bristles into the paint then stick it to the magnet on the bucket.

Start by “cutting in,” painting a six-inch margin around the edges and around fixtures. Since you will be painting the walls later, it is okay to “lap” the ceiling paint down onto the walls a little bit, but don’t let it drip. Then, using a the roller on an extension pole, roll the paint onto the ceiling. Start in a corner by making a big three-foot “W,” then roll over the square area spreading the paint evenly. Repeat until the ceiling is done. Since brushes don’t lay the paint on as thickly as the roller, you may want to cut in a second time if it looks thin.

Paint the trim: This is where I break my top-down rule. Because I find it easier to cut in the wall color next to the trim rather than cutting the trim color into the wall color, I choose to paint the trim first. Glossier paint will show brush marks in the paint surface more easily, so if you want, add a latex paint extender to the paint and stir it in well. This will slow the dry time so the paint will have a better chance of leveling out to a smooth finish. Using the semi-gloss, the Handy Pail and the brush, paint the trim, lapping over the caulk line onto the wall just a bit. Work quickly, laying the paint on as thickly as you can without drips, and finish each section by dragging the brush lightly over the paint to smooth out brush marks before moving on to the next section.

When you’re finished, let the ceiling and trim dry overnight.


Day Three: Wall Color

The day you thought would be first is last, but it’s finally here. It’s time to put some color on those walls. Keep in mind that even good quality paint will require two or more coats if you are painting a deep color or are painting over a deep color.

Use two-inch painter’s tape to protect your freshly painted trim, especially any upward facing surfaces of the trim. Dust off the trim and then lay the tape on in a smooth, straight line (since you will be using this as a guide), using the edge of the multi-tool to tear the ends cleanly. Swipe a clean finger over the edge to seal it firmly to the trim, but don’t wrap the tape onto the face of the trim. Instead leave it sticking out to protect the trim from roller spatters and to avoid pulling the paint from the trim when you remove the tape.

Work around the room cutting in the ceiling line, the corners, and around switches and outlets, but don’t cut in right next to the trim/tape yet. When cutting in next to taped trim, leave a half-inch from the taped trim but don’t wash your brush since we’ll be visiting this area later after rolling. Cutting-in Tip: after loading halfway up the brush bristles with paint, swipe most of the paint quickly onto the wall about a half-inch from the corner where the wall meets with the ceiling or trim, and then come back for a second swipe when the bristles are less laden with paint and carefully paint a clean line.

If the cutting-in looks thin, you can cut in a second time before or after rolling. Anywhere that you have used compound to patch will need two coats of paint or it will “flash,” or catch light differently from the rest of the wall. To avoid “flashing,” use the brush to swipe a coat of paint onto patches as you move around the room cutting in (unless you chose to prime them earlier).

Next roll the paint onto the walls using the same technique as you did on the ceiling and keeping a wet edge. If you have a painting buddy, one person can cut in while the other rolls, but the rolling goes very quickly, so let the “cutter” get a head start. When you’re done, examine the walls to see if they need a second coat, and recoat if needed after the recommended dry time.

Once you’re satisfied that they look good, it’s time to cut in that last bit next to the trim. Why did we wait? When using painter’s tape to get a good clean line, the longer you leave the paint on the tape, the more likely the paint will bleed under the tape, or the tape will pull the paint off if it dries onto the tape. So I like to cut in next to tape last, using a lightly loaded brush angled away from the tape edge to avoid bleeding, and then carefully pulling the tape off immediately while the paint is still wet. Once you pull the tape, let the paint dry and then touch up any places where needed.

Clean up: While the paint is drying, clean your tools. Use the semi-circular cut-out on the side of the multi-tool to scrape most of the paint out of the roller into the paint tray. If the paint is not full of debris or dried out, you can put it back into the can. If the can is less than two-thirds full, consider pouring it into a smaller container for storing it. Be sure to label any stored paint with the date and the room you used it for so you are sure to grab the right can if you need to touch up later.

A quality brush will last for years if well cared for. Clean your brush and roller cover using liquid fabric softener and rinsing well until the water runs clear. Use a wire brush while cleaning the brush to get all the paint off the bristles. Shake out the excess water, wrap the bristles back in their paper cover or another piece of paper taped around the bristles, and stand them bristle-side-up to dry. You can wash the liners to the Handi-pail and roller tray, or you can throw them out, but be sure to let the paint dry before you toss them.

If you have empty paint cans, leave the tops off and let the paint dry completely so they can be thrown out in the regular municipal trash as well. Consider donating cans that are at least two-thirds full to Habitat Restore if you don’t want to store them.

Now replace the switch and outlet covers, remove the protective drop covers, re-hang your décor, and put your furniture back. You’ll have a beautiful, quality paint job you can be proud of, one that will last for many years.


And now that spring has finally sprung, you can get outside and work on your garden instead of being trapped inside painting.