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Painting Tips & Tricks: Tools of the Trade

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  • Paint BrushesBrushes – Available in widths from 1 to 5 inches, and with bristles made of polyester or nylon, natural bristle, and combinations of both, a good brush is essential to good paint work. Expect to pay $15 - $20 for a good quality brush. Synthetic bristles work best in water-based or latex paints. Natural bristle brushes work best in oil paint, and will be damaged if used in latex, and while you can use synthetic bristles in oil paint, I’ve always found the results to be better if natural bristle is used. Natural bristle brushes must be cleaned with solvent, generally mineral spirits or paint thinner; do not use water.

  • Paint CombBrush Comb – Available at most stores that sell paint, the brush comb allows you to clean and straighten the bristles while removing paint hidden inside, and helps brushes retain their shape.

  • Roller CoverRoller Covers – Expect to pay at least $4 for a decent 9” roller cover, but I wouldn’t pay more than $6. You probably won’t use the roller more than a few times, and the expensive ones aren’t worth it.

  • Roller FrameRoller Frames – A decent one will cost about $5. Don’t try to make do with a cheap one.

  • Roller Pans – I prefer the heavy plastic roller pans to metal ones, and I don’t use the throw away liners. Washing out the pan is easy, and a good one will last several years.

  • Extension Handles – For most residential interior painting, a telescoping extension handle that extends from 4’ to 8’ works best.

  • Bucket and GridBucket Grid – When painting large areas or when using a single color to paint several rooms, I purchase paint in 5 gallon buckets and use a metal bucket grid for rolling. The grid is hung over the side of the bucket and provides a stable surface from which to remove excess paint from the roller. You’ll need an extra bucket, as you can’t use a grid in a full pail of paint.

  • Sanding SpongeSandpaper – I use the small sanding sponges for almost all my sanding work. They’re easy to use and will contour to uneven surfaces.

  • 5-in-1 Tool5-in-1 Tool – One of the handiest tools in the painter’s tool kit is the 5-in-1 tool. This tool can be used as a scraper, paint can opener, putty knife, roller cleaner, and hammer. There are 99¢ versions available, but a good one ($6 - $8) will last for years.

  • Coveralls – I sometimes use disposable coveralls, especially when painting ceilings. They’re lightweight yet the fabric keeps most paint from penetrating. The downside is, they don’t breathe well and can be pretty hot in the summer.

  • Putty Knives – For most interior painting, a couple of putty knives are sufficient. I’d recommend a 1” and a 3”.

  • Painter's TapeMasking Tape – Buy the blue, painters tape. It’s more expensive than regular masking tape, but is less likely to cause damage when removed, and is available in several widths. I prefer the 1-½” as a good, all around compromise. If you only need a small amount, discount and “dollar” stores carry rolls in smaller sizes.

  • Drop Cloths – I recommend the heavy, rubberized canvas. They protect from spills and are less likely to slip when walked on. The most practical size for wall painting is 4’ X 12’. They are easily moved and protect sufficient area for most wall painting. If you choose plastic, get the heaviest available. Thin plastic will tear and slips easily.

  • Caulk GunCaulk Guns – A medium quality caulk gun costs about $5. Don’t buy a cheaper one. They don’t work as well and make the job more difficult.

  • “Gadget” Tools – Late night TV often showcases “wonder tools” to simplify painting and caulking. Most of these are junk, not worth the shipping costs. A good roller and frame, caulk gun, and a couple of good paint brushes will do a better job.

  • Utility KnifeUtility Knives – Utility knives are handy for a multitude of uses around the house and workshop.

  • Window ScrapersWindow Scraper – A good quality razor scraper is a necessity for removing paint from window or door glass. Be careful when cleaning “tempered” glass in doors or windows. Tempered glass scratches easily. Look for the “Tempered” label which is usually found in one of the corners.

  • Step Ladder – Buy a good quality 6’ step ladder (suitable for working with 8’ or 9” ceiling heights) and it will last for years. The lightweight ones are less stable and can be dangerous.


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