Selecting Painting Tools

To get the biggest payback from your investment in quality paint, make sure that you apply your paint and coatings with high quality application equipment.

Better quality brushes, rollers and applicators tend to apply a thicker, more uniform coat of paint that will look better and last longer than paint applied with cheap equipment. Top quality equipment also speeds up and simplifies your work.

The specific tools you will need to complete your job depend upon the type of project you are doing and the type of paint you are applying. Here are some guidelines.

Types of Brushes

There are two general categories of paint brushes – those made of natural-hair bristles and those made with synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester.

If you are working with alkyd or oil-based paints and coatings, you can use either natural bristle brushes or synthetic bristle brushes. However, quality natural bristle brushes work best when applying enamels or any topcoat.

When applying any type of latex coating, use only brushes with synthetic bristles. They hold their shape and maintain proper stiffness regardless of the amount of water they are exposed to. Top quality polyester brushes are well worth their higher initial cost. Properly cleaned and stored, they will continue to apply paint smoothly and uniformly for years to come.

Which Brushes Do You Need?

Whether you are doing interior or exterior painting, make sure that you match the size and shape of your brushes to the job at hand: Use large brushes to cover large surfaces, small brushes to cover small areas. Still, to do most jobs properly, it takes several brushes of varying widths and sizes. Here are some guidelines for some of the most common painting projects:

For large exterior surfaces, use a 4″-wide (100mm) flat brush with a thickness of ¾” to 1″ (25mm to 30mm).

To cut in at the comers of exterior and interior walls, use a 2″-wide (50mm) brush with tapered edges.

For exterior and interior woodwork and molding, use brushes between 1″ (30mm) and 2½” (60mm) wide.

For precise painting of exterior and interior window frames and trim, use angled sash brushes between 1″ (30mm) and 2½” (60mm) wide.

For interior walls and ceilings, use brushes between 3″ (75mm) and 4″ (100mm) wide.

Selecting a Quality Brush

How can you identify a high quality paint brush? Pay attention to the bristles. They should:

• have split ends, to create a finer, more even finish
• have a definite flex at their tips, to enable them to spring back easily into shape
• be shorter on the outside and longer in the center, to provide more control over where the paint is applied
• measure at least half again as long as the width of the brush (for example, the bristles on a 2″-wide [50mm] brush should be 3″ [75mm] or more in length).

In addition, conduct this simple test before you purchase a brush: Tug on the bristles. If more than one or two bristles can be pulled out, the brush is probably poorly constructed.

You can “condition” a brush prior to applying paint with it by dipping it in the same solvent you are about to use (water for latex and mineral spirits for oil base) and then brushing it out on a scrap of wood. This will pull out any loose bristles + prepare the bristles to accept the paint while reducing the tendency of the paint to gum up at the base (heel) of the brush. This will also make clean-up easier.

Finally, make sure the brush feels comfortable in your hand. If a brush is well-made and you take good care of it, you’ll be using it for years. So it should be a comfortable “fit.”

Selecting Paint Rollers

Rollers are faster and easier to use than paint brushes, especially when painting walls, ceilings, and other large, flat areas. They are also excellent for use on rough exterior surfaces like stucco and concrete. However, rollers do have a drawback: They are difficult to work with in small or narrow spaces; so you’ll probably need to buy several different sizes of rollers… and one or more paintbrushes as well.

As with brushes, when you are applying latex paints, make sure you use roller covers made with a synthetic “nap,” or fiber surface. When applying alkyd or oil-based paints, you can use either synthetic or natural fiber covers. Conditioning a roller cover as previously described for brushes is a good idea as well.

An important consideration when selecting a roller cover is the length of the nap. In general, you should paint smooth surfaces with short-nap rollers, and rough surfaces with long-nap rollers. Recommended nap lengths for some common surfaces are as follows:

• wallboard, smooth plaster, wood or metal a short nap of 1/8″ to 1/4″, 5mm
• light-textured stucco, poured concrete and rough wood – a medium nap of 3/8″ to 3/4″ (l5mm to 20mm)
• heavy-textured stucco, concrete block and brick – a long nap of 3/4″ to 1″ (25mm to 30mm)
(Note: For gloss and semi gloss paints, the short nap covers will tend to generate less foam as the paint is applied.)

As with brushes, it is wise to purchase better quality roller covers, even though they may cost a little more. High quality roller covers apply paint more easily and have less of a tendency to leave nap fibers on the surfaces you are painting.

While price is a good indicator of quality, you can also test the quality of a roller cover by squeezing it – a high quality cover will quickly return to its original shape. Also be sure the roller cover has no obvious seams; these tend to leave streaks when you apply the paint.

Standard roller widths are 7½”and 9″ (190mm and 240mm). The 9″ (240mm) size is suitable for most interior wall and ceiling jobs. Mini-rollers, about 3″ (75mm) wide, are convenient for doing trim and narrow areas.

Paint Pads

Paint pads can help you apply paint in hard-to-reach places, including those where neither brushes nor rollers will fit. While they are not recommended for applying paint to entire walls (lap marks may result), paint pads are especially helpful when cutting in corners and painting areas where walls and ceilings meet.

Most paint pads are made of foam or mohair, which can be used to apply both latex and oil-based or alkyd paints. In most cases, the pads can be replaced when worn or damaged.

Paint Sprayers

For quick coverage of large surface areas, it is tough to beat power-spraying equipment, although sprayers can use more paint than other types of applicators. There are two categories of power-spraying equipment: conventional sprayers which use compressed air as the pressurizing agent; and airless sprayers, which pump the paint.

Achieving proper coverage with conventional sprayers can be tricky business, but accomplished do-it-yourselfers can get good results with airless sprayers. Hand-carry electric airless sprayers are a good choice for interior painting; larger, wheel-around gasoline or electric units are better suited for extensive exterior work.

As with all power equipment, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions with respect to the setup and operation of these products. Most important, be certain that you never point an airless sprayer at any person or pet – the pressure of the spray is strong enough to inject paint into the bloodstream, which can be harmful or even fatal. And when doing exterior painting, avoid working on windy days.

Tools and Materials

In addition to top quality application equipment, you may need some of the tools and materials listed below in order to successfully complete your painting project. If you are like most homeowners, you may already own many of these items; if not, you’ll want to consider purchasing these things – depending, of course, on the nature of your particular job.

• step ladders and extension ladders – to help you reach elevated areas
• paint scraper – to remove loose or peeling paint from wood, plaster, and other surfaces
• triangular-head scraper – to remove paint in small or tight areas
• steel wool – to remove corrosion from metal surfaces
• bristle brush – to clean loose material from masonry
• wire brush – to remove efflorescence and loose material from masonry, or to remove loose or flaking paint
• putty knife – to scrape away loose paint, or to apply filler
• broad putty knife – to fill in and smooth patching compounds in plaster and wallboard
• glazing compound – to replace cracked, broken, or missing panes of glass
• spackling paste – to fill nail holes and small imperfections in walls
• sponge – to clean interior walls and woodwork
• long-handled brush – to clean large exterior surfaces
• scrub brush – to remove mildew and dirt
• sandpaper (various grits) – to smooth and feather previously painted surfaces, or to roughen glossy surfaces so paint will adhere better
• sanding block – to hold sandpaper and help you sand surfaces to an even finish
• caulking gun – to apply caulk to cracks in walls, as well as gaps and seams in woodwork, and where different surfaces meet (e.g., wood siding and stone)
• tubes of caulk – same as above (note that all-acrylic and siliconized acrylic caulks are paintable; “silicone” caulk is not)
• masking tape – to protect window panes and trim from paint
• paint guide – to protect carpets and walls when painting baseboards and other trim
• roller tray and grid – to load rollers with paint
• brush comb – to clean paint brushes
• paint pail – to mix paint and carry it to the work site
• drop cloths – to protect furniture, floors and shrubbery from paint

The core content for Painting Tips is provided by the courtesy of Dow Chemical as found on