Painting Technique Essentials

Always prepare ceilings first, then the walls and finally any woodwork or metal (window frames). See section dealing with metalwork.

Preparing ceilings and walls

In new houses or extensions, plastered walls and ceilings can be painted within a few weeks. Old ceilings should be washed with sugar soap or household detergent, then rinsed with plenty of clean water and allowed to dry.

Always wash walls from the skirting upwards to prevent dirty streaks running down and drying out. These could show through the new paint.

Fill any holes or cracks with cellulose filler and leave them flush with the surface. Any dried water stains should be coated first with oil-based primer sealer to make sure the following paint conceals them. An aluminium sealer is needed on a ceiling that has become discoloured with nicotine stains. Any flaking paint should be scraped off before using oil-based primer sealer. Powdery surfaces need the same oil-based sealer applied over them.

Flaking paint often indicates dampness, so cure the cause of this before decorating.

Preparing woodwork

Never remove paintwork which is in a sound condition. The only exception is where a thick film is preventing windows and doors from closing properly.

Wash down sound paintwork with sugar soap or household detergent then rub down with fine grade glasspaper and rinse off. Any small chips can be filled with fine surface filler.

Where paint is peeling, pitted or badly chipped, strip it off back to bare wood before repainting.

When stripping with a blowtorch, place a metal tray below to catch burning paint peelings. Always keep the blowtorch moving to avoid a concentration of heat scorching the wood. Be careful around windows where heat can crack the glass.

An electric heat stripper is equally quick and has the advantage of not scorching the wood in mouldings where paint stripping takes longer. It’s also safer to use since there are no burning paint peelings to worry about.

Chemical stripper is only economically justified for small areas or for mouldings or around glass. After stripping, the bare wood should be cleaned thoroughly with white spirit or the solvent recommended by the manufacturers. If traces of chemical are left they can affect the new paint.

Preparing metal

Treat sound paintwork as for wood. Flaking

or rusted surfaces should be stripped back

to bare metal. Rust can be removed with a

wire brush. Apply a coat of rust inhibiting metal primer before repainting.

Painting walls and ceilings

Apply the paint in bands about 500mm wide working away from the window. Working away from the light makes it easier to see which areas have been covered. Close the windows to slow down the drying rate of the paint so that wet edges can be joined up before they start to dry. Open the windows to accelerate drying when the job is finished.

Always plan to paint a complete ceiling or wall in one continuous work session. If a break is taken halfway through, allowing the paint to dry, then the dried paint line will show when the ceiling is completed. Breaks can be taken in corners when painting walls.

If using a roller it will first be necessary to use a small brush to apply a narrow band of paint around window frames and in corners and other areas where the roller will not reach. A roller is used in a criss-cross, random fashion.

To load the roller correctly, push it backwards and forwards in the paint to cover it then run it up and down the sloping part of the tray to spread the paint evenly around it. Never let the roller spin freely or leave the surface sharply when painting or paint splashes will result.

A paint pad can be used more quickly without fear of splashing. Load it by immersing the pile in the paint before wiping away the excess on the can. If using a special applicator trough, this incorporates a roller which transfers paint to the pad.


Usually two coats of emulsion paint are sufficient to cover a ceiling or wall and leave a smooth, even finish. However, sometimes a third coat will be needed to get a good finish. The first coat of emulsion paint can be diluted with water following the instructions on the can. Do not dilute

non-drip emulsion.

Emulsion paint is sold in various finishes such as matt or silk. If there are bumps and hollows in a wall it is best to use a matt finish to disguise the faults — a shiny emulsion will highlight them.

If a wall has been patched with filler in lots of places then it is best to first hang lining paper, or a textured paper which is especially formulated to be painted. Lining paper should be hung in vertical lengths when it is to be painted over.


Remove all door fittings such as handles and keyhole plates — trying to work around them causes paint runs. Clean out the keyhole and the top edge of the door to prevent dirt being picked up on the bristles and being transferred to the paint. Finally, open the door and put a wedge below it.

With a panelled door, paint the mouldings first with a small brush then switch to a 50mm brush to complete (in the following order) the panels, vertical centre sections, horizontal sections at the top, middle and bottom, vertical outside sections, edges and door frame.

Paint a flush door in square sections working from the top on the hinge side, downwards to finish at the bottom corner on the handle side. Use a 75mm brush to cover the surface more quickly and to join up the squares before the paint starts to dry.

For a smooth finish, always paint flat surfaces as follows. Dip the tops of the bristles in the paint and wipe away any excess on the side of the tin. To lay on the paint make two or three down strokes, then cross-brush the area. Lay off the paint with vertical strokes and finish with light upward strokes using the tips of the bristles. Then reload the brush and paint the adjoining section.


Paint openable windows as early in the day as possible so they will be dry for closing at night. Use a small brush and paint (in the following order) the rebates, any cross bars, top and bottom horizontal rails, side vertical rails and edges, the window frame. It is important that the correct order of painting is followed so that you do not miss parts or smudge the work.


Use a coat of metal primer on bare surfaces, followed by undercoat and gloss. Previously painted metal is treated as for wood. Always make absolutely sure that any rust is removed before priming.

Paint types

When the old paintwork is to remain, apply one or two coats of undercoat, as needed to hide completely the old colour. Finish off with a coat of gloss.

When painting bare wood, first use a brush or lint-free rag to dab shellac knotting over knots and resinous patches; this seals in any resin which might otherwise bleed through the following paint coats. Next apply a coat of wood primer to seal the wood and fill any cracks. Follow up with undercoat and gloss. Always allow full drying time between each coat.

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