How to Paint a Really Old House

These past couple of weeks we have been quite busy painting the parlor floor in our house, and every day that I paint, I think that I should write down everything that I am learning so that I can remember to do it properly next time.  Here is what I have learned from my own trial and error and from a brief house-painting career in 2002. If you are painting for the first time (or the first time in a while), Manhattan Nest also provides a great guide. Please forgive my photos, most of them are taken on my phone and/or with my left hand.

1. Hold your paintbrush like this - it will make your hand steadier, your lines cleaner, and your coverage better.

 2. Carry a clean, damp rag.  This is for dust.  In old houses, and especially in ornate detailing, dust hides in every nook and cranny.  Dust is a painters nightmare.  If you blow on it or wipe it away, you risk it landing on your wet paint.  A wet cloth will allow you to wipe it up without getting it everywhere. This can also be used for hits - when you get paint on something that you didn't want to paint.

Dirty moldings.
3.  You will need a ladder, so invest in a painters step ladder. You may become distracted by all the fancy ladders that extend and retract, but they are expensive, heavy and can be a pain to use. You want something light enough that you can move it around frequently, and something with a tray on it where you can put your paint so that you don't have to keep climbing down for more paint. Alternatively, professional painters often hook their paint cans to the steps of their ladders.

Update!: I would advise against using a 5 gallon tub as a foot stool.  If you must do so, please make sure that it is closed properly or else this might happen to you...

4.  Take a step back.  All wet paint looks much better at a distance. 

5.  Know that if your house isn't perfect, your painting job won't look perfect.  Accept and embrace this.

This line (between the molding and the wall) is so bumpy that it will never be straight.
6.  Patch holes and dents, let dry and sand and clean before painting, but you don't have to go too crazy.  Its easy to get caught up trying to make everything look straight and perfect, but this stuff can take forever and be very costly, so just remember who you you are doing this for.  When it comes to perfecting you walls moldings and doors, chose your battles, remembering that you are probably the only one that will notice some of these defects (or at least the only one to care).  All of the moldings walls and doors in our house were severely banged up.  We could spend months, if not years, fixing them.  In some cases, we decided to put in the time and effort to completely repair, in others we patched, and in some cases we just painted right over the mess.  We do after all have a whole house to renovate, with limited time and funds.  And besides, these lumps and bumps are what give old homes their character. 

This door is actually covered with dents and bumps.  We filled in some cracks, sanded it down and painted it, and from two feet away you can hardly tell.

7.  Paint from top to bottom.  Paint drips downward. Using the image below as an example, if you paint the bottom molding before the wall above it, there is a good chance that the paint from your wall will drip on to the molding and you will have to redo the molding. If you paint the molding second, you can cover up any drips with your first coat.

8.  Invest in good paint brushes and rollers.  Cheap ones will drive you nuts.  Make sure the brush bristles are soft  - this will make them cover details much more easily. 

9.  Wash your brushes every night or when you are putting away your paint for an extended period of time.  This will add to their longevity and make them easier to use.  If you are just going for lunch you can wrap your brush tightly in a plastic bag, this will prevent them from drying up.

10.  Take it easy.  Painting is one of those tedious jobs where any effort to speed up will almost surely slow you down in the long run.  Painting long straight lines takes patience, as does covering a whole wall with a roller   Going too fast with a brush is likely to cause you to get paint all over the place and going too fast with a roller will cause your roller to spray tiny bits of paint everywhere.

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