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Some painting tips for around the house

My mom and girlfriend and sister spent some time this past week painting my house. I can paint a little, but it’s not something I enjoy as much as they do, and I’m definitely not as fast as they are.

I made a couple of small contributions. It was strictly a case of me applying things I’ve learned from model railroading. So there is some tangible benefit to that time I’ve spent playing with trains after all.

So here’s everything I know. (This is gonna be a short one.)Remove latex paint drips and spills with rubbing alcohol. Latex paint is water-soluble, but alcohol does even better. A rag dipped in alcohol makes quick work of the nasty stuff.

Don’t paint wall plates and registers with latex paint! In a lot of older houses, you’ll run across these things, painted in a misguided attempt to make them match the room color. The result always looks like crap, because latex paint is intended for drywall, which is porous, and plastic and metal aren’t. The result is you get a thick, gloppy mess that peels really easily.

If you want to paint those metal registers or plastic wallplates, paint them with a paint designed for a nonporous surface. Find a can of spray paint whose color is a nice complement to the room color (you probably won’t find an exact match). First, prime it with two superthin coats. Spray a thin coat that just puts a colored haze over the surface and let dry. A few hours later, put on another thin haze. Next, paint with the desired color in the same fashion. About 3-4 of these coats will cover it with a very nice, smooth, durable layer. People who’ve been doing this much longer than me say Krylon is the best brand.

What to do if someone already ruined your register with several thick coats of latex. I had a return vent cover that was covered with about three thick, ugly layers and the texture of a poorly done ceiling. I took it out to the garage, chucked a wire wheel into my drill, and ground off all that paint, all the way down to the metal. For stubborn spots, I used my Dremel rotary tool with a grinding bit chucked into it. I then primed and painted it. The result doesn’t look quite new, but it looks far, far better than it would with any coat of latex paint on it.

For plastic wall plates, it’s not worth the effort. Buy a 25-cent one and paint it the color you want. But saving a vent cover is easy.

Free stuck and painted-over screws with a pair of locking pliers. Lock a pair of pliers (I use the Vise-Grip brand) around a stuck screw as tightly as it will go, and turn. You’ll have to re-lock and turn several times but if you work at it, the screw will come out. To clean off the paint so you can reuse them, you can just carefully chip off the paint–you’re more likely to injure yourself than the screw–or soak in alcohol. I cleaned out two slotted screws by sawing along the painted-over slot with a small razor saw intended for hobby use. After just a little convincing, the paint just lifted out. I guess slotted screws have one advantage–just one–over Phillips screws after all.

For rusted screws, try soaking them overnight in a glass of cola. The phosphoric acid in the cola attacks the rust. You could also try chucking a bit of aluminum foil in your drill or rotary tool and polish it. Aluminum oxidizes much more quickly than iron, so the aluminum rubbing against the rust will de-oxidize the iron and give you a shiny surface again. Drive the screw into a piece of scrap wood and then paint it to keep it from oxidizing again. Then remove the screw and re-use.

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