Door painting: the right way or the fun way


THE TROUBLE with ad-libbing your way through a home repair usually comes later, when you learn about the correct way, the way it should have been done.

Take, for example, my attempts at painting the basement door. Over the past 20 years I have slapped a coat of paint on this door maybe three or four times. Each time I did it, I felt a sense of accomplishment. But it turns out, each time I did it, I was using improper painting techniques.

I was a free-range painter. I would simply hold the open door by putting a wedge between the bottom edge and the floor. Then i would begin applying paint. I meandered from side to side, dabbing here, stroking there, working my way from top to bottom. It was feel-good painting. And recently I learned, it was wrong.

According to the how-to-paint-a-door section in "The Big Book of Small Household Repairs" by Charlie Wing (Rodale Press, 1995), I committed two fundamental style errors. First, I was not using the proper brush strokes. Second, I was not painting the parts of the four-panel, hollow-core wood door in the proper sequence.

My brush stroke, a simple back-and-forth horizontal movement, did not measure up to the elaborate, three-part technique outlined in the book.

The first brush movement, according to the book, should be bold vertical strokes. These, it said, are called "applying strokes." Besides being "bold," these strokes also seemed to me to be standoffish. They didn't touch each other. There was unpainted space between them.

Next, according to the book, should come the "covering strokes." These looked like the horizontal, back-and-forth numbers that most weekend painters are familiar with.

The covering strokes not only touch each other, they overlap, slightly.

Finally, according to the book, you bring out your "finishing strokes." These strokes move in the same direction, up and down, as the applying strokes, but they are much more social. They pile on top of each other.

This three-part technique -- applying strokes, covering strokes, finishing strokes -- made some sense to me. The scheme seemed to guarantee that the door would be evenly covered with paint -- no missed spots -- and that the painter would not waste any movement. There also would be little chance for unsightly brush marks.

I vaguely recalled watching a professional -- someone who, at a glance, could tell gloss from semigloss -- paint this way. But this approach seemed so regimented, so formulated, it made me uneasy. What would happen, I wondered, if one day a rebel started off with horizontal brush strokes, not vertical ones. Would the enamel still glow?

An even more rigorous, paint-by-the-numbers regimen showed up in another part of the book. Instead of approving of my way of painting the door -- a magical, mystical journey from top to bottom -- this section of the book advocated painting sections of the door in a specific order. A four-panel door should be divided into 10 sections, the book said, and painted in numerical order.

I stared at the book's diagram of a door and tried to memorize the proper painting sequence. First, paint the top left panel, then the top right, then the bottom left, followed by the bottom right. Next, paint the horizontal strip at the top of door, then the strip between the panels, then the strip at the bottom of the door. Finally, paint the three vertical strips, the one near the door knob, the one in the middle of door, and the one next to the hinges.

Memorizing these 10 steps to painting bliss was work, especially when coupled with the task of remembering the three proper brush strokes -- applying, covering and finishing.

In the old days, before I knew about the proper way to paint a door, I could finish the job in an afternoon. Now I would quiz myself on whether the bottom left panel should be painted before or after the top right panel. Now I would find myself stuck at my workbench, chanting the proper direction the brush strokes should follow: "vertical, horizontal, then vertical again."

Maybe after a few more weeks of study, I will feel confident enough to pick up a paint brush. But right now, I've got painter's block.

Pub Date: 10/02/99

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