PREPARING THE SURFACES Find, then fix, cracks and dents
Even an old lamp with a bare bulb held close to a wall will make minor cracks, bumps or nail pops jump out. Carmen Toto, owner of C. Toto & Sons in Madison, New Jersey, uses painter's putty or a lightweight spackle for minor cracks and dents; he uses plaster of Paris for dents deeper than 1/8 inch. Instead of the standard tape-and-spackle method for bridging over recurring stress cracks, Maceyunas uses a rubberized spray-on primer called Good-Bye Crack. Damaged wood requires a slightly different approach. "Don't use spackle on wood," says Toto, "because it just won't stick." For damaged trim, he uses painter's putty or a two-part wood filler, such as Minwax's High Performance Filler. Smooth any repairs, bumps, and nibs with a drywall pole sander. For smoother walls and better adhesion, some of our pros sand all previously painted walls regardless of the shape they're in. Do the sanding two-step
Sanding not only feathers out chipped paint but also provides "tooth" for the next coat of paint. For glossy trim, use a sanding sponge rather than sandpaper. Sponges mold to the shape of the trim and last longer than paper. When applying latex over alkyd paint or when he is not sure of the original finish, Brian Doherty, a painter in Richmond, Virginia, follows the hand-sanding with liquid sandpaper to make sure the surface is completely deglossed to prevent incompatibility problems. "I've seen homes where latex was used on oil-painted trim, and the paint started to peel in less than a year," says Doherty. Sponge-bath walls
Unless you like textured walls, don't paint over dust. Wash the walls with trisodium phosphate (TSP) or a mild cleaner, like Jasco's TSP No-Rinse Substitute. For smoke-stained walls, Toto uses a 50/50 solution of bleach and water. To clean a wall, use two buckets. Load up your rag or sponge from your cleaning-solution bucket, and scrub. Before redipping, rinse the sponge in a second bucket filled with clean water. Caulk all cracks
Filling gaps with a paintable acrylic-latex caulk cuts down on drafts and makes your trim look better than new. The secret to using caulk is to cut the tip smaller than you think it should be; too much caulk makes a mess. Also, instead of using a nail to break the inner seal, use a small wire so you don't stretch out the nozzle. Also consider buying a dripless caulk gun, which will automatically back off the pressure after each pull on the trigger to prevent unwanted oozing. Use tape — maybe
The pros were split on this tip. "Masking tape is problematic," says Mark Dixon, a painter in Missoula, Montana, and author of "House Painting Inside and Out" (Taunton Press, 1997). "Paint can bleed behind the tape, or remove the paint it's stuck to." Another problem is bridging. "Latex paints form a skin," says Dixon. "Removing painted tape can tear the skin, resulting in a ragged rather than a sharp line." Lastly, taping takes time. "Learning how to cut in with a brush takes practice, but if you can do it, you'll leave most tapers in the dust," Dixon says. (Cutting in is painting just the surface you want, not the surface adjacent to it — for example, where a wall meets the ceiling.) On the other hand, "If you can't cut in, you can't beat tape," says Span. The pros we spoke with all recommend painter's (blue) tape because it's easier to remove than masking tape. To prevent bleeding, Span uses a putty knife to bed the tape. After letting the paint dry, he scores the edge of the tape line with a utility knife to avoid tearing the paint.
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