Painting trim with brushes: handy tips and how to

Buying the best brushes you can afford is the first step to a successful trim painting job. After that, it's a matter of learning how to use them effectively. Here are some handy tips and a how to.

  • To spread paint evenly with a brush, start with a few zigzag strokes, then spread the paint out to cover the gaps. To finish an area, use just the tips of the bristles to smooth out the brushstrokes. This is called 'laying-off' or 'feathering' and removes any unsightly overlapping marks.
  • You'll be less likely to overload a brush if your paint can is only partly filled. Gently pressing your brush against the side of the can will remove any excess, an clear space at the top of the can ensures that you won't accidentally reload your brush while removing excess paint.
  • Usually it's easiest to paint the ceiling first, then the walls, then finally the trim. Don't worry if paint gets on the trim when you're working on the walls: you'll cover it later.
  • If you have a steady hand, you can try painting your trim with the outer bristles of the brush right in the joint where it meets the wall. Otherwise mask the wall with masking tape.
  • The key to an ultra-smooth finish on trim is to apply several coats of paint, sanding with a sanding sponge (not sandpaper) between each coat. Sponges conform to the shape of the woodwork and get into crevices where sandpaper can't reach. After sanding, vacuum, then wipe down with a tack cloth to remove the fine dust.
Painting trim with brushes: handy tips and how to

What you will need

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Piece of old cardboard
  • 5 cm (2 in) or 8 cm (3 in) paintbrush (for skirtings)
  • 2.5 cm (1 in) paintbrush (for picture rails)
  • Paint
  • Drop sheets (if required)

Before you begin

  • Fill damaged woodwork with fine surface filler then sand it smooth.
  • Lift fitted carpets before painting a skirting board, or protect them with drop sheets.
  • Remember that the gap between the skirting board and the floor is likely to be full of dust, so vacuum along the skirting board before you start painting.
  • Slip a piece of cardboard under the skirting to help keep paint drops off the floor.

1. Brush your skirtings

  • The height of your skirting board will determine the size of your brush, either a five centimetre (two inch) or eight centimetre (three inch) brush.
  • Paint so that your brushstrokes go lengthways, following the run of your skirting board.

2. Paint your picture rails

  • Use a 2.5 centimetre (1 inch) brush for picture rails.
  • For best results, apply two or three thin coats rather than one thick one, allowing ample time to dry between coats.
  • Finish off with fine brushstrokes along the run of your picture rail.

3 painting tips

  • Bolt a handle to a 500 gram (1 pound) coffee can, coating the bolts with silicone to seal the holes. On the opposite side, drill two holes just below the rim of the tin, slide a length of coathanger wire through them, and use this to scrape excess paint off your brush.
  • Turn old soccer socks into drip-catchers. Cut off the elasticized band at the top and stretch it across the body of the brush or around the tin. The material will absorb paint trickles.
  • A fresh coat of paint can fill in and hide small nail holes, which can be a nuisance if you're planning to rehang a picture in its old location. To preserve a nail hole, stick a toothpick into it. Trim the toothpick until it protrudes by just a few millimetres (about 1/8 inch) so you can brush or roll right over it. Remove after painting and reinstall the old picture hook.

Follow these handy tips and how to, and you'll be using your brushes more effectively in general and especially when you're painting trim.

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