Workbench Weekly eTip

Archive for August, 2009

15 Top Tips for Spray Painting

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Runs, drips, and uneven paint coverage — these are the signs of a less-than-perfect spray-can paint finish. And as anyone knows who has had to deal with these irregularities, it’s nearly impossible to fix them once the paint dries.

The obvious solution is to apply the paint correctly from the start. Of course, the directions on the can give you a few basic guidelines on how to do that. But to end up with a perfectly painted finish (one where you don’t have to hide those telltale runs), try out the following tips:

#1) Shake, Shake, Shake. The directions on a spray can say to shake it for a minute after the mixing ball releases. The longer you shake the can, however, the finer the spray mist, and the smoother the finish. I always shake it an extra minute for good measure. It’s also a good idea to give it a few shakes now and then as you’re painting.

#2) Use an Auxiliary Handle. Pick up an auxiliary handle for about $3 to make spraying easier (Photo, above right ). The handle snaps onto the top of the spray can, and it puts your hand in a more natural position, resulting in a better finish. Plus, the trigger is easy to squeeze, so you won’t end up with finger fatigue (or a painted index finger).

#3) Brush Sealer on End Grain. When spraying plywood or MDF, seal the edges with sanding sealer before painting (Photo, below ). The reason is simple — without this sealer, paint will soak into the porous edges, making full coverage nearly impossible (Photos, below right). I recommend two sealer coats, with a light sanding after each coat dries.

#4) Prime Before Painting. A spray can delivers an extremely fine mist of paint, so several coats are required for full coverage. To “build” the finish quicker, spray on a primer coat before the color coat (even if the directions on the can say it isn’t necessary). For light paint colors, select a white primer, and for darker colors, use gray.

#5) If It’s Wood, Prime It Again. Projects made of wood, plywood, or MDF soak up paint like a sponge. To get good coverage, just apply additional coats — three to four coats each of primer and paint is a good rule of thumb. As you can see in the Photo above, the difference between that and a single coat is significant.

#6) Apply Light Coats. Regardless of the material being painted, it’s always best to apply several light coats rather than one heavy coat. Spray paint dries quickly, which means you can apply additional coats within a few minutes.

#7) Use A Continuous Motion. In addition to spraying light coats, always keep the can moving at a consistent speed as you spray, without stopping midway through a pass. Slowing down or stopping is a surefire way to cause runs or drips.

#8) Get Closer Than You Think. Another way to ensure smooth coverage is to hold the can about 6″ to 8″ away from the surface. Get any further away, and the paint may actually dry in the air, leaving a rough surface.

#9) Spray Off the Edges. As you approach the edges of a project, spray completely off those edges, as shown in the Illustrations on page 26. This keeps the paint coverage at the edges consistent with the coverage in the field of the project. Place Kraft paper, cardboard, or newspaper under your project to catch the overspray.

#10) Exaggerate Overlap. Another way to ensure complete coverage is to overlap each coat of paint by roughly 1″ (Illustrations above ).

#11) Make Perpendicular Passes. A good way to avoid inconsistencies as you spray on additional coats of paint is to use a “crosshatch” pattern. In other words, spray the second coat perpendicular to the first.

#12) Keep Paint Thinner on Hand. If you do experience a run or drip, the best solution is to wipe that area down with paint thinner, let it dry, and re-spray it. It only takes a few extra seconds, and it ensures a smooth, even finish.

#13) Check it with a Worklight. In a poorly lit work area, it can be difficult to tell if your paint is smooth and even. By shining a worklight over the surface at a low angle, you can easily detect any inconsistencies (Photo, right).

#14) Sand between “Stages.” You don’t need to sand between every coat. But it is a good idea to sand between each “stage,” such as between the primer and the color coat. Let the paint dry thoroughly, sand lightly with 400-grit sandpaper, and then remove dust before applying the coats for the next stage.

#15) Consider a Clear Coat. For added protection, you may want to consider spraying on a clear coat. Both lacquer and polyurethane are available in spray-on finishes in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss sheens.

Have a nice weekend,

Wyatt Myers

Editor, Workbench

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (14 votes, average: 4.64 out of 5)
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Simple Tips for Cutting Sheet Goods

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Materials such as MDF, particleboard, and plywood — commonly known as “sheet goods” because they’re produced in large 4-ft. x 8-ft. sheets — have become the materials of choice for building cabinets and built-ins. Sheet goods make sense because they allow you to create large panels that are flat and stable, and they greatly simplify project joinery and assembly. For all their advantages, though, sheet goods have a big drawback. Their large size makes the sheets heavy and awkward to handle: A sheet of 3/4″-thick MDF weighs about 100 pounds. So moving sheets around and cutting them up can be challenging.

But you can get great results without a table saw or a fancy workshop, and without having to heft the sheets around. All you need are a circular saw, a saw guide, a jigsaw, and a few measuring and marking tools, along with these simple tricks and tips.


Along with a straightedge, you’ll need several simple tools to ensure precise layouts and smooth cuts in sheet goods. A tape measure, framing square, compass, and a pencil handle the layout. To make sure the cut is smooth, use a blade made for cutting sheet goods. The 40-tooth carbide-tipped blade shown here works great, yet sells for less than $20.


Rather than cutting sheet on sawhorses, simply lay a sheet of 2″-thick foam insulation on the ground, and then lay the sheet to be cut onto the foam. The foam supports the sheet and the cutoff as you make your cuts (Photo, right). Set the saw so the blade cuts about 1/4″ into the foam. You can reuse the foam many times.


The easiest way to keep a circular saw tracking straight is to use an edge guide (Photo, above right). We bought this one, made by Swanson Tool Company, at Lowe’s for less than $20. It has two 50″-long sections and comes with clamps. You can use each section alone when cutting across a sheet, or join them to cut a sheet lengthwise.


If you need to make a cut that starts straight and the curves, use both a circular saw and a jigsaw. First, make the straight cut with a circular saw, stopping the saw before the curve (Photo, right). Let the saw stop, and then lift it off the sheet. Now lower the jigsaw blade into the cut, and complete the curved portion (Photo, far right).

Have a nice weekend,

Wyatt Myers

Editor, Workbench

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (11 votes, average: 4.82 out of 5)
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Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder

Friday, August 14th, 2009

No matter where you mount your bird feeder, crafty squirrels always seem to find a way to get in and eat the seeds. Now you can put a stop to scavenging squirrels for good.

Just drill pilot holes in aluminum flashing, and then use panhead screws to secure it around the base of the feeder, creating a lip that the squirrels can’t climb over. (Note: You could also use copper if desired.) Now the squirrels fall to the ground when they try to climb the feeder.

Have a nice weekend,

Wyatt Myers

Editor, Workbench

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (18 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)
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Time-Saving Masking

Friday, August 7th, 2009

When you have to paint something small and intricate — like the muntins on this glass window — you can often spend more time taping off the areas you don’t want to paint than you spend actually painting the areas you do.

We came up with a faster way to tape off these areas. Instead of carefully aligning the tape with the edge of the muntins where they meet the glass, let the tape overlap the muntins slightly. Then come back with an Xacto knife to trim the tape precisely along the glass.

This trick can work anywhere. Just be careful not to cut into the surrounding material with the Xacto knife.

Have a nice weekend,

Wyatt Myers

Editor, Workbench

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (13 votes, average: 4.23 out of 5)
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