Careful sanding is the key to a perfect job
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Sand all moldings
Smooth all rough spots with sandpaper.
If your woodwork is smooth, just
give it a once-over with 120-grit
sandpaper. But if your trim is in
rough shape like ours, start with
80-grit sandpaper. Switch to 100-grit for smoothing and blending in
the areas with layered paint.
Finally, go over all the wood with
120-grit. Buy sandpaper labeled
"no-load." No-load sandpaper
won't clog as easily and is better for
sanding painted surfaces.
If your home was built before 1979,
check the paint for lead. Call your public
health department for instructions on
how to test for lead and on what
to do if you have lead paint.
Fill holes and dents
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Fill all holes
Fill holes with spackling compound using a flexible putty knife. Deep holes will require a second fill after the first dries.
To repair large dents or gouges on
edges that are vulnerable to abuse, use
hardening-type two-part wood filler
(Minwax High Performance Wood
Filler is one brand). Fill smaller dents
and holes with spackling compound.
Since spackling compound shrinks as
it dries, you’ll have to apply a second
(and possibly a third) coat after the previous
Shine a strong light across the woodwork
to highlight depressions and
ensure that you don’t miss any spots as
you’re applying the filler. Let the filler
dry and sand it smooth.
Caulk for a seamless look
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Caulk all cracks
Squeeze caulk into every gap and crack.
Here’s a step that many beginners don’t know about but
pros swear by. Caulk every crack or gap, no matter how
small. Use latex caulk or a paintable latex/silicone blend.
The key is to cut the caulk tube tip very carefully to create
a tiny, 1/16-in.-diameter hole. Fill all the small cracks
first. Then, if you have wider cracks to fill, recut the caulk
tube tip to make a larger hole. Move the caulk gun swiftly
along the cracks to avoid an excess buildup of caulk. If
necessary, smooth the caulk with your fingertip. Keep a
damp rag in your pocket to clean caulk from your finger
and to keep the tip of the caulk tube clean. If caulk piles
up in the corners, remove the excess with a flexible putty
Spot-prime to avoid blotches
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Prime bare wood and filled areas
Brush a stain-blocking primer over bare wood and filled areas to prevent spotting when you paint later.
Brush a stain-sealing primer (B-I-N is one brand of shellac-based
primer) over the areas that you've patched or filled,
and over areas where you’ve sanded down to bare wood. If
you have a lot of patches and bare spots, it'll be faster and
easier to just prime the entire surface. Also seal discolored
areas or marks left by crayons, pens or markers to prevent
them from bleeding through the finish coat of paint.
Add an extender to latex paint
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Add a conditioner
A conditioner usually helps reduce unsightly brush marks.
Most pros prefer to use oil-based paint on trim for two
reasons: Oil-based paint doesn’t dry as fast as water-based
paint, leaving more time to brush. And oil-based paint
levels out better than most water-based paints, leaving a
smoother surface with few visible brush marks. But
because water-based paint is more environmentally
friendly, less stinky and easier to clean up, it’s a better
choice for DIYers.
You can make water-based paint perform more like oil
paint by adding latex paint conditioner. Floetrol is one
brand. Conditioners make the paint flow better and slow
down the drying time, allowing you more time to spread
the paint without leaving brush marks. Check with the
manufacturer of the paint you’re using to see if it recommends
a particular brand of conditioner.
Paint from a separate pail
Pour paint about 1-1/2 in. deep into a separate pail. A
metal painter's pail (shown); a specialty pail (at paint
stores and home centers); or even an empty 5-quart ice
cream pail all work great. Placing a small amount of paint
in a pail allows you to easily load the bristles of the brush
by dipping them about 1 in. into the paint.
Slap, don't wipe
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Slap the brush
Slap the loaded brush against the sides of the can to avoid drips when brushing.
Slap the brush gently against each side of the bucket to
remove the excess paint. This method of brush loading is
best for laying on paint because it keeps the bristles fully
loaded with paint. To use the brush for cutting-in, follow
up by wiping each side of the brush gently on the rim to
remove a little more paint.
Cut in edges before you fill the center
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Cutting in technique
Brush close to the edge first, then right along the edge with a second smooth stroke.
Cutting-in is a skill that takes practice to master,
but it's worth the effort. To cut in, first load the
brush. Then wipe most of the excess paint off
by gently scraping the bristles on the edge of the
can. Start by pulling the brush along the edge,
but keep the bristles about 1/4 in. away from
the wall or ceiling to deposit some paint on the
wood. Now return with another brushstroke,
this time a little closer. Sneaking up to the line
like this is easier than trying to get it perfect on
the first try. At the end of the stroke, arc the
brush away from the cut-in line. Cut in a few
feet and then fill the middle using the lay-on,
lay-off technique we show in the next section.
Lay on, lay off
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Unload your brush quickly
Lay on your paint in a few strokes. Smooth it with a single stroke. Avoid overworking the surface.
The biggest mistake beginners make is to work the paint too
long after it’s applied. Remember, the paint starts to dry as
soon as you put it on, and you have to smooth it out before
this happens or you’ll end up with brushstrokes or worse.
So here’s the tip. Load your brush. Then quickly unload on
the surface with a few back-and-forth brushstrokes. This is
called “laying on” the paint. Repeat this until you’ve covered
a few feet of trim with paint. Don’t worry about how it
Now, without reloading the brush, drag the tips of the
bristles over the wet paint in one long stroke to “lay off” the
paint. Start in the unpainted area and drag into the previously
painted trim. Sweep your brush up off the surface at
the end of each stroke. Areas wider than your brush will
require several parallel laying-off strokes to finish. When
you’re done laying off a section, move on and repeat the
process, always working quickly to avoid brushing over partially
dried paint. Try to complete shorter pieces of trim
with a continuous laying-off brushstroke.
Don't start a brushstroke on already-smoothed paint
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Start your brush stroke in an unpainted area
Lay on paint from your loaded brush in an unpainted area and brush toward the already coated zone.
Setting the paintbrush on an area that's already been
smoothed out with laying-off strokes will leave an
unsightly mark. Try to start laying-off strokes at the end of
a trim piece or board, or in an unpainted area. Brush
toward the finished area. Then sweep the brush up and
off, like an airplane taking off from a runway, to avoid
leaving a mark.
Don't brush across an edge
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Avoid brushing across an edge
Brush toward edges or along them. If you get a paint build-up or drip, wipe it away immediately.
Brushing across an edge wipes paint
from the bristles and creates a heavy
buildup of paint that will run or drip.
Avoid this by brushing toward edges
whenever possible. If you must start a
brushstroke at an edge, align the bristles
carefully as if you're cutting-in,
instead of wiping them against the
edge. If you accidentally get a buildup
of paint that could cause a run, spread
it out right away with a dry paintbrush
or wipe it off with a damp rag or