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2 posts from April 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Advice from the Pros:

How to Choose the Right Brush


It's surprising to see how often people buy top-quality paint (and spend countless hours on careful prep) then jeopardize the end result by trying to save a few pennies on brushes. There's almost no better example of 'penny wise and pound foolish,' especially since the right brush will also save time and be less hassle because it holds more paint and will give you better control. In the end, you'll get a smoother finish with fewer visible brush strokes and you're far less likely to find pesky brush hairs dried into the finish. Of course, quality costs a little more--you can expect to pay at least $12 or so for a decent 2 1/2-inch trim brush--but a good brush will last for years, if it's properly cared for.

After skimping on brushes, the second most common mistake is using the wrong type of brush. The best brush for today's water-based paints is one made with synthetic bristles--nylon or polyester. Natural China bristle brushes, made with hog, ox, or badger hair (they're called China bristle because that's where most of the hair comes from) should only be used with oil-based paints. Use them with water-based latex and the natural fibers will absorb water, swell up and quickly lose their shape.

Of the synthetic bristles, nylon bristles are soft while polyester are generally stiff. Softer bristles offer a smoother application, while stiffer bristles offer better control, so the best synthetic bristle brushes for all-around use are usually made with nylon/poly blends and have a medium flex. If you're painting with a high-build product like Aura, which is a little thicker than conventional paints, choose a brush with an extra-firm flex. This will give you excellent control, even in hot or humid conditions. For thinner-bodied semi-gloss or high-gloss trim paints, many pros use 100% polyester brushes with chemically tipped filaments, which help eliminate brush marks and leave behind an extra-smooth finish.

There's a number of other subtle features to look for when choosing a brush. A good indicator of quality is flagging, or the split ends that you can see at the tips of the bristles. Synthetic bristles need flagging to leave behind a smooth finish so avoid brushes that don't have it. Compare bristle density too; paint is held in place by the space between the bristles, so the more bristles a brush has, the more paint it will hold. Quite simply, you'll spend less time loading the brush, and more time actually painting with a good brush. Good brushes are tapered too, while cheaper brushes have bristles that are all the same length. Tapering the bristles so that the brush is thicker toward the ferrule--the metal ring that holds the bristles against the handle--gives the brush more stiffness and you more control over the application.


Handle shape and balance is a matter of personal preference, though most users like a beaver-tail rather than a straight profile. What you're looking for is a brush that feels comfortable in your hand and that's easy to control. Wider 3- and 4-inch brushes are fine for walls and other broad, flat surfaces, but for trimming around a window sash you'll probably want a 1 1/2-inch to 2 1/2-inch brush. In fact, 2 1/2-inch angled sash brushes are the most popular brush because they're comfortable to use and can trim around most areas.

Finally, give the brush a shedding test--slap the brush against the heel of your hands and then give a few bristles a tug. If some pull out of the ferrule easily, look for another; there's nothing more aggravating than a brush that leaves bristles behind in the paint film.  You may not pick out the perfect brush immediately, and you certainly won't find one in those bargain-priced packs, but, remember, this is a tool you'll be working with closely that controls the final look of your job. Taking a little extra time and spending a few extra pennies will repay in a far superior finish.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Advice from the Pros:

Spring Repairs & Touch-ups

In our last post, we talked about what causes blisters, peeling, and other common paint problems; in this post, we'll tell you how to repair them and, as important, avoid these problems in the future. Proper preparation is the key, whether you're fixing a few blisters or repainting an entire house. Cleaning, sanding, and scraping aren't much fun, but think of it this way: the more time and attention you give to preparing the substrate, the longer the coating will last. In the end, you'll actually spend less time on a ladder, because your paint job will last much longer.

Over time, exterior paint will begin to oxidize from the sun's UV rays and will attract contaminants that interfere with the ability of new paint to adhere to the surface. That's why a thorough cleaning prior to any painting is so important, regardless of the size of the job.


For cleaning large areas, power washers are a popular cleaning option, but they aren't absolutely necessary for smaller repairs. To be effective, the power washer should operate at 2,500 PSI or more, but try to aim the spray wand so that it's angled down so you don't drive water up underneath the siding and into your walls. If held too close to some types of siding, like cedar shingles and clapboards, power washers can also damage wood fibers. But if used properly, power washers can help remove loose paint or stain as well as dirt as well as save you time and elbow grease. 

Don't just depend on the force of the water, though. With or without a power washer, use a detergent such as Benjamin Moore's "Clean" 318. This is a pre-mixed multi-purpose cleaner that can be used on wood, vinyl, cement, and stucco to remove dirt, and chalk. Use a bristle brush to scrub the surface clean, and then rinse with clear water. Mildew is a common problem on the exteriors and most common on the north side of the home or in areas that get little to no sun light. Mildew should be removed using a commercial mildew remover like 318 Clean or a solution of 1 part Bleach and 3 parts water. Using a garden pump spray, spray the contaminated area and allow to sit for a few minutes then power wash or rinse thoroughly.

Scraping & Sanding
Once the substrate is clean, look closely for remaining blisters and for loose or peeling paint that scrubbing or power washing hasn't removed and use a paint scraper so that only sound paint remains, followed up with sanding with 120-grit paper to feather the edges smooth. Smaller areas of flaking paint can often just be wire-brushed and then sanded smooth, again with a 120 grit paper. When you're done, be sure to rinse thoroughly again to remove debris left behind. If you discover any rot, repair or replace the affected area.

Keep in mind that if you're working on a home built prior to 1978, there's a chance that the old paint may contain lead, which presents a number of health hazards to both children and adults. Cleaning isn't a problem, but sanding or scraping lead-based paint without wearing a NIOSH-approved respirator and careful containment and clean-up of debris can lead to exposure to lead dust. Before you start, find out how to protect yourself and your family by contacting the National Lead Information Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or log on to www.epa.gov/lead.

Whenever you add moisture to a porous substrate like wood or concrete, you have to give it plenty of time to dry out before you paint or prime it. If you've used a power washer, it might take as long as 2 or 3 days even in ideal drying conditions--warm temperatures and low humidity--before the surface is ready for a finish. Some paint stores have moisture meters available for rent that will allow you to check the substrate's moisture content, which should be between 12% and 15%.

Priming isn't always required, but even self-priming paints like Aura Exterior may benefit from a primer when used over some surfaces. For example, bleeding woods such as cedar or redwood should first be primed with an alkyd-based primer to ensure the tannins in the wood don't leach through your finish coat. Bare ferrous metal surfaces also need to be primed to prevent the surface from rusting. For the best advice about whether or not you need to prime, check with the manufacturer or the instructions posted on the label on the can.

If you plan to paint, watch the temperatures this time of year. Temperatures should be above 40 degrees (50 degrees for primers) when the paint is applied and stay that way for at least 2-3 hours. See our post on cool weather painting for more details.