In a piece on careers in construction, in one of the old newspapers which are always standing by for duty in The Shed, somebody was quoted as saying dismissively: “If you can piss, you can paint.”
That might apply in the painting of bridges or whatever, where all the painter has to deliver is square yardage, but the staff of The Shed have recently been reminded that decorating in an occupied and furnished house is a job requiring a rare delicacy and patience. Getting paint on the areas that require it is less than half the job. The greater skill is to keep paint off the areas that do not want it.
Achieving this balance involves a laboriously careful to and fro, with tools for use and for cleaning, and a lot of strain on the knees, hopping up and down steps or ladder and getting down to below where the eye normally sees. After taking on a new built-in wardrobe, with a lot of sides, ceilings and corners, The Shed submits that a good painter is well worth whatever you can afford.
The cupboard was built in medium density fibreboard (MDF). Any kind of solid timber would have been twice as expensive and to make it from a timber worth leaving unfinished, or simply varnished, would have required many days of careful joinery. Good old wardrobes are well worth their cost and we would have used them if we could.
As it was, we got to the point where somebody had to put in a day or two with a paintbrush. We volunteered and the joiner who did the actual building was happy to accept.
For ease and value, he recommended a Dulux Trade water-based emulsion, from Jewson’s, and for extra ease, we chose a matt vinyl. Satin vinyl would have been a bit harder to use but the finish would also have been a bit harder. Silk vinyl is the toughest and glossiest of the water-based emulsions. After that, you are into oil-based paints – harder to spread and harder to clean off the brushes – which usually come in a fairly matt eggshell, a shinier satin finish and then an old-fashioned hard gloss. For the ultimate in durability, we note that Jeff Howell, the Telegraph’s DIY guru, once recommended 10-year exterior gloss from International Paints (22.4.12).
Both the joiner and the man on the Jewson’s counter warned that it would be necessary to prime the bare MDF, especially the cut edges, with a 50-50 mix of the paint and water. They did not need to warn us that a thin mix like that will drip and spatter however hard you try. First job was to hoover up all dust, especially along the floor line, and the second was to spend a good hour with masking tape, dust sheets and newspapers, covering all surfaces adjoining the wardrobe or within range of an accidental flick of the brush.
We also opted for masking tape to get straight edges where the wardrobe met the existing walls and ceiling. Professional decorators will rely on a good eye and a damp rag but we like to mask. Given a little more time to shop, we would have paid extra for tape with extra-light adhesion, because you always get some damage taking masking paint off old emulsion. Another part of the preparation work was to make sure we had some touch-up paint for the existing décor and could get some clean spoonfuls of it out of the leftovers stored in the The Shed – not always easy when tins have been left to rust and paint to crust.
It is a basic rule of painting that two thin coats are better than one thick one and nowhere does this apply more than in painting newly-sawn edges of MDF. The first priming coat disappears. After a second, a third and a fourth, you begin to have something a full cream emulsion might stick to
We worked some paint onto the screw heads in the construction and then applied Polycell decorators’ caulk, which likes a bit of paint to stick to. After the doors had gone on, there were not many caulked holes still visible but those which were required a final dab of paint for a good finish. It wasn’t a perfect job but we were pleased enough with it – and even more pleased that we didn’t have to clean the stair carpet or the tiles around the kitchen sink afterwards. Any apprentice in The Shed would be offered the following rules …
* Before you open your paint, have a bag of rags on standby and a bucket for the used ones, plus plenty of newspapers for putting pots and brushes and stirrers down on.
* Work in old shoes or socks and take them off every time you leave your painting space.
* Take a regular break to clean yourself down – your arms and hands and probably your head too – with rags and nailbrush, always brushing downwards into the sink.
* Carry your paint tin in a bowl or bucket, so you are not clutching a tin with a wet edge to your body.
* When finished, resist the temptation to use a hammer to get the lid back on the paint pot – the residues around the rim will spatter for yards.
After the job was done, we went for a celebratory pint and passed a couple of lads in a decorators’ van, finishing their lunch by rolling a couple of joints. We wished we had had some. If cannabis is good for anything, we agreed, it is inducing the methodical trance required for clean painting