We have always taken our interior roller-type painting pretty seriously. Neither of us can ever remember laying in a couple of six-packs and some pizza and inviting over 10 friends (randomly chosen for their willingness to participate) for a painting party.
By all means invite friends to help -- if you know they're good (or at least as good as you are). But you may not want to turn partying people loose on the walls you have just spent days (or weeks) carefully plastering smooth. No matter how meticulous your plaster or drywall finishing has been, a bad paint job will make the walls look awful.
First of all, you need to allow plenty of time for the paint to dry. The information on the paint may say you can recoat in a few hours.
Some people (one of us, for instance) wouldn't think of recoating a wall until after 12 to 24 hours. How fast the paint actually dries depends on the temperature and humidity, and it can vary from day to day.
Under ideal conditions -- temperature 77 degrees F, relative humidity 55 percent -- latex paint can be recoated in four hours, according to Rick Watson, technical adviser for Duron Paints in Beltsville. He adds, however, that in the mid-Atlantic region, that ideal is "difficult to achieve."
We've said this before, but when it comes to painting, which isn't all that expensive anyway, it's not a good idea to skimp on equipment. Roller covers make a big difference in the finished surface of a paint job.
Mr. Watson says the best roller covers for flat latex paint have 3/8 -inch nap. For satin, eggshell or gloss finish paint, he recommends mohair rollers, which give a smoother surface.
The rougher or more heavily textured the surface, Mr. Watson says, the thicker the nap should be. Depending on just how rough it is, the roller might have nap 3/4 - to 1 1/4 -inch thick.
The fact is, you don't need elaborate equipment to paint walls and ceilings, you just need a coherent system. Here are the steps we follow:
1. If you're painting the ceilings, do them first. (Paint will not hide ceiling cracks. They should be taped and spackled.) Let the ceilings dry before you try to paint walls.
2. Make sure walls are clean and dust-free. Tape off trim with wide masking tape or a specialty masking tape so it doesn't get splattered. If you apply the tape along the top edge of base trim and leave the edge sticking out straight, it acts as a sort of umbrella. You can make the umbrella bigger by adding a second layer of tape to the edge of the first.
3. "Cut in" the edges around trim and along ceiling and at joining walls with a slanted brush. Freehand edging is not a difficult skill, it just takes practice. It's especially important to get a good line where two colors meet, say where the wall joins the ceiling.
Taping trim makes cutting in walls easier because you can remove the tape afterward, leaving a nice clean edge. But don't tape the walls themselves, because the tape will stick to the paint. When you remove the tape you can pull off both paint and drywall surface.
There are two tricks to cutting in. One is getting just the right amount of paint on the brush -- too little and you will not be able to sustain a line; too much and it will blot and drip.
CThe second trick is finding just the right angle to hold the brush. Place the brush against the wall with the longest bristles farthest away. You may have to experiment to discover how the bristles and the paint behave. If you just can't get the knack, try not to get any paint on the ceiling and consider putting up a border or piece of trim along the top of the wall.
4. When it comes to rolling walls, avoid a lot of vertical or horizontal sweeps. Roll as close to the edges as you can (to even the texture) then roll in wide shapes about 3 or 4 feet wide at the top of the wall -- W or N shapes work well. Fill in the gaps, then repeat the pattern with the bottom of that patch of wall. Then move on to the next section. The roller strokes will show less if you keep the edges wet. If you need to take a break, wait until you've finished a wall.
To get the best finish, make sure paint is evenly distributed on the roller before touching the walls. (That's why paint pans have those grooves.)
5. When all the paint is dry, touch up overlaps and accidents. Tiny brushes, such as artist's oil brushes, may make this step easier. Don't get carried away touching up walls with a brush. Rollers leave an "orange peel" texture. The flat texture of a brush stroke will catch light differently and such touch-ups will show.
Finally, remember that good paint counters are great sources of information. Find a paint store or good supply house where the people will talk to you. You should be able to tell someone what you want to paint and get advice on what kind of paint to buy, how much you'll need, what kind of brushes and rollers you'll need, and how to clean up.
* Clarification: A couple of readers have pointed out that our advice last week about not using latex primer on plaster walls was only half the story. Fatty acids in oil paint can react with the alkali in new plaster and lead to peeling. Oil-based primer is recommended for old plaster, that is, plaster cured for six months or more. If the plaster is new, latex primer is recommended.
Next: On the road to the 18th century.
Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housin Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.
If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to shar about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.