Paint projects like a pro

Finishing expert Jeff Jewitt shows how to hide bargain woods behind a painted and antiqued surface.

  • Painted finishes give you a rainbow of options

    When it comes to finishing oak, cherry, or maple projects, "paint" sounds like a dirty word. But for inexpensive, less attractive woods, such as pine, poplar, and aspen, a little cover-up can do wonders. Painted finishes give you a rainbow of options to complement your home's decor. Easy to maintain and repair, they stand up to direct sunlight far better than clear finishes, too.

    For an attractive look, though, you'll need to paint with more finesse than what's required for walls, ceilings, or siding. For expert help on the subject, we sought out Jeff Jewitt of Cleveland, Ohio, who has authored four books and several videos on painting and finishing. Here, he demonstrates a surefire painting procedure that includes a coat of glaze for an aged look.

  • Surface preparation is everything

    Paint telegraphs wood's surface imperfections, so plan to spend the bulk of your finishing time patching problem areas.

    To prepare the wood for paint, sand to 150 grit using separate blocks for flat and contoured areas, as shown. The primer you'll apply in the next step fills the sanding scratches. After you sand the flat surfaces, use 150-grit abrasive to lightly round over the sharp edges. (Paint won't stick to sharp edges, leading to premature wear.) Fill defects with vinyl putty, sand them smooth when dry, and then remove all surface dust using a vacuum or tack rag.

  • Prime for painting

    Jeff matches his choice of primer to the surface he'll paint. (See chart.) For our pine cupboard, he's using pigmented shellac primer because it excels at sealing pine's resinous knots.

  • Finish all the surfaces at once with this support

    With a synthetic- or natural-bristle brush, apply one coat on the surfaces and edges. Apply two coats, spaced 5-10 minutes apart, on the end grain. To save time while painting the doors, Jeff uses a board with exposed nail points, as shown, to support the wet side while applying primer to the opposite side and edges.

  • Small shadows can spell big problems

    After the primer dries overnight, sand the large, flat faces using 220-grit abrasive on a random-orbit sander or a hand block. Hand-sand the smaller areas, and use a sanding sponge or profile block on routed profiles. Use a light, as shown, to spot any flaws in the primed surface. Shining a light parallel with a primed surface creates shadows that signal finish flaws. Sand and reprime these areas as needed.

  • Too much sanding can be good

    Unlike the sealer coat of a clear finish, it's okay if you accidentally sand through the primer to bare wood. Just reprime, let it dry, and sand until smooth. Then wipe the surface clean with a tack cloth.

    Apply vinyl putty to fill any cavities that need it, as shown, and then sand the patches flat. Apply one more coat of primer, and sand it with 220-grit abrasive. Sanding the primer and putty creates a lot of dust, so vacuum the surface before wiping it with a damp rag (for latex paint) or a tack cloth (for oil based paint).

  • Put on the putty

    Rough surfaces and knots telegraph through the primer, making them easy to spot and fix with latex putty, shown in the photo.

  • Filling the edges

    On molded edges like those in the photo, Jeff applied putty using an easy-to-find tool: his finger.

  • Sand the filled areas smooth

    Recreate crisp profiles in the patched details using a block with sandpaper on two sides, as shown in the photo.

  • Jeff's 6 success tips for handling a paintbrush

    1. Never start the newly loaded brush in a corner or it will pool there. When working on a flat surface, start 3" from an edge and pull the brush toward the edge to avoid drips. Then come back to where you started, and complete the stroke.
    2. If paint pools in corners or crevices, use a brush emptied of paint to collect the surplus.
    3. Brush in long, even strokes. Then lightly drag the tip of your brush over the still-wet surface to level it out.
    4. Limit your work to manageable sections where you can maintain a wet edge on your finish before the latex dries enough to form a skin.
    5. Keep your worksurface horizontal, even if that means tipping the piece on its sides to apply finish.
    6. Two thin coats are better than a single heavy coat, which can run or sag.

  • Dip, don't drip

    A common kitchen ladle makes a handy tool for transferring paint from a can to a paper cone filter that removes lumps or debris. Ladling the paint instead of pouring it keeps it from collecting in the can rim and preventing a good seal. Transferring paint to a smaller container prevents contaminating the unused finish in the can with brush debris and makes paint easier to carry about.

  • Pick the right paint

    Painting furniture with a typical latex wall paint can produce "block." That happens when objects stick to painted surfaces, such as shelves, because the paint remains soft even after it dries. Instead, use acrylic latex trim enamel for added durability.

    For a smooth finish and easier brushing, include an additive such as Floetrol to slow drying time and allow brush marks, like those shown, to level off.

    Jeff usually adds one part Floetrol to 10 parts of paint, equal to about 3 oz. Floetrol per quart of paint. Mix it with the paint in a separate container rather than adding it directly to the original can.

  • Paint like a pro

    Latex paint (See "Pick the right paint" on slide 12) requires two types of synthetic-bristle brushes: a 212 " square chisel brush for flat areas and a 112 " angled sash brush for the details, as shown.

    Practice your brushstroke on scrap or an unseen area to get a feel for how paint flows out of the bristles. First condition the bristles by dunking them in tap water and wringing out the brush. This helps smooth the finish and makes the brush easier to clean afterward. Next, dip the brush halfway up the bristle length, and tap it against the side of the cup if necessary to remove excess paint.

    Jeff holds the brush at a 75° angle to flow the paint onto the surface. Before it can dry, he lightly brushes back and forth to further spread the paint and reduce brush marks.

    Sand with 320- or 400-grit sandpaper between the first and second coats. Then remove the dust using your vacuum and a wet rag. Let the second coat dry overnight. Stop here if you want the look of a newly painted surface.

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