Home Improvement Project Paint Selection Guide

In home improvement, paint can cover a multitude of mistakes. Whether hiding the

In home improvement, paint can cover a multitude of mistakes. Whether hiding the hideous wall color of a pre-owned house or adding the perfect finishing touch to a newly created project, paint can make the undeniable statement, ‘this is mine.’ Sometimes the goal is to cover, like hiding mistakes or imperfections in the wood. Other times, the goal is to accentuate the beauty of the grain or highlight a special feature on a homemade project. When the question arises, ‘should I paint or not,’ here are a few tips that might help you decide what paint is right for you:

How Paint Works: There are three major components in paint – the pigment, the binder, and the ‘vehicle’. The pigment is basically the color of the paint. It is the element of paint that covers stains, wood grains, and other existing colors. Without pigment, paint is simply varnish or high shine lacquer. The binders in paint contain resin, which helps keep the paint from separating and enables the paint to fasten to the surface being painted. The higher the resin content, the more durable the final finish will be. The ‘vehicle’ of the paint refers to the properties of the base – whether it is water soluble or solvent soluble. These three components work together to create a beautiful finish.

Project Conditions: Now that we understand the components of paint, consider the conditions in which the project or painted item will exist. Will it be damp or dry, windy or calm, cold or hot. Will it be exposed to chemicals or heavy abrasives? Do you live in the mountains or by the ocean? Sometimes, depending on the environment of your area, special paints may be required to withstand the elements, like protection against salty air or extreme cold. Things like mildew resistance may also be considered for painting basements or other high moisture areas.

Considering the Material: If the surface is very porous, more paint will be needed. Sometimes special primers can be used to reduce the amount of paint necessary to provide complete coverage. For example, very soft woods and concrete have a tendency to absorb paint more readily than hardwoods or metals. Remember that priming a surface helps increase the durability of the final paint finish, and it also helps to compensate when the surface being painted cannot be cleaned.

Final Finish: Determine the kind of finish you want on the final product. Finishes range from flat to high gloss, with additional finish levels in between. The general rule of thumb is, the higher the gloss of the finish the easier it is to wipe the surface clean, and the more resistant it will be to stains and water damage. For items that will be in high traffic areas, subject to daily use, it is best to use a high gloss. By doing so, you will reduce the damage to the finish, as well as reduce the need for re-occurring maintenance that tends to come with painted items.

Now that we have covered the basic things to take into account when approaching your project, consider the different kinds of paint that can be used:

Oil Based: Combining linseed oil and pigments, the beauty of this kind of paint is its ability to withstand the elements. It is known for its deep penetration and is very popular in outdoor projects. It is harder to clean up, requiring a solvent like turpentine to clean brushes and rollers. Oil paints require a longer period of time to dry, so make sure that you have a safe place to set your project. Also, keep in mind that oil based paints are not forever paints. They yellow with age and tend to break down much faster than other paint types.

Water Based: Also known as latex paints, water based varieties are much quicker to dry than oil based paints and are much easier to clean up. Water based paints have the great advantage of being able to cover almost any surface directly, including plaster, masonry, wallboard, other latex paints, and flat finished oil paints. Water based paints do not cover high gloss paints very well and should be applied only after a primer has been used. Also, do not use latex paints directly over wallpaper or bare wood. The water in the paint that makes application so easy on other surfaces will work against you on these surfaces.

Enamels: This term has changed meaning over time. Where it once referred to high gloss paints used primarily on furniture, it now is used by manufacturers to indicate a higher quality paint with greater durability and a more even finish than other paints. Make sure to read the label when a paint claims to be enamel. Enamels dry to a hard, very glossy finish, and often require the application of several strong coats of tinted undercoating. It is best to seek help from a paint specialist if you are uncertain about this paint.

Varnish: Although transparent, varnish is indeed a paint. It merely lacks the pigment that other opaque paints have. Varnish provides a very hard, high gloss finish most popularly used to cover wood and other materials to gain a high protective finish. Varnish is perfect for furniture pieces and wood products because it allows the natural beauty of the grain to show through.

Shellac: Similar to varnish, shellac is a clear to deep orange resin used to seal wood products, giving them a high shine while providing a strong protection from scratches, abrasions, and water damage. Shellac is derived from the secretions of a bug found only in India. The secretions are then diluted with denatured alcohol to create the product many people use on their hardwood floors. Shellac is considered a natural polymer, preventing wood stains from blotching. It is not water resistant and should not be used alone if the treated surface might be exposed to water or moisture of any kind. Because of this reason, shellac is often used as a primer with other wood products.

Stains: These wonderfully versatile products are used primarily in woodworking to allow a hint of color to be added to an item while still allowing the wood grain to be seen. Stains absorb into the surface of the wood. Adjusting the number of applied coats will determine the intensity of the color. Increase the number of coats of stain applied and the intensity of the color will increase. There are opaque stains, which act like paints by completely covering surface detail. Once the stain is applied and completely dried, a sealing product like varnish should be applied to protect the surface of the wood.

Miscellaneous: This category highlights less commonly used paints like tempera paints and milk based paints. These paints use less conventional binders like egg yolks and milk to hold the pigment together. Kits containing instructions can be purchased from many home improvement centers, allowing you to go through the process of mixing ingredients to form the paint. Typically, these types of paints should be used immediately, unless combined with a preservative, to prevent rotting of the food products (eggs, milk). Tempera creates a beautiful luminous finish and can be used for detail work and murals. Milk paint has been used for centuries, providing flint-hard finishes that have withstood the test of time. This product can be used to add a wonderful antique feel to furniture or reproduction pieces, as well as for detail work and murals.

No matter what your project is, consider adding the richness of paint as a finishing touch. Allow the colors of life to burst forth on your walls and furniture. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You can always paint over what you don’t like. After all, some of the greatest masterpieces began as mistakes.