Home-Repair Materials Basics

fTo do basic home-repair jobs, you need to know how to select building materials and how to use them. This article offers fundamental information on selecting lumber, plywood, drywall, and other materials for common do-it-yourself projects.


Maybe you've noticed that lumber sizes are often misleading. The "nominal" cross-section dimensions of a piece of lumber, such as 2X4 or 1X6, are always somewhat larger than the actual, or dressed, dimensions. The reason is that dressed lumber has been surfaced or planed smooth on four sides (called S4S). The nominal measurement is made before the lumber is surfaced.

Board and Lumber Dimensions
One-by (1X) lumber is called "board":

Nominal Size  Dressed Dimensions (inches)
 1X6 3/4X51/2
 1X10 3/4X91/4

Two-by (2X) and four-by (4X) lumber is called "dimension lumber":

 Nominal Size
 Dressed Dimensions (inches)
2X2 11/2X11/2
2X6 11/2X51/2
2X8 11/2X71/4
2X10 11/2X91/4
2X12 11/2X111/4
4X4 31/2X31/2

Board measure is a method of measuring lumber in which the basic unit is 1 foot long by 1 foot wide by 1 inch thick, called a board foot. It is calculated by nominal, not actual, dimensions of lumber. The easiest formula for figuring nominal board feet is:


The answer is in board feet. Lumber is often priced in board feet. However, most building material retailers and lumberyards also price lumber by the running foot for easier calculation. That is, a 2X4X8 is priced at eight times the running foot cost rather than as 5.333 board feet.

Plywood Grades Guide
There are numerous types of plywood grades on the market. For extensive information on plywood grades, click here. This downloadable table indicates the various uses for each grade. The first letter in the first column of the table indicates the face grade, while the second letter indicates the back grade.


Some projects require that you use or at least understand plywood. Knowing about plywood can save you money and may mean the difference between a successful project and one that fails.

For example, you don't need to buy an expensive piece of plywood that's perfect on both sides if only one side will be seen. Similarly, there's no sense in paying for 1/2-inch thickness when 3/8-inch plywood is really all you need. Plywood also comes with different glues, veneers, and degrees of finish. By knowing these characteristics you may be able to save money as well as do a better job.

Available at home centers, hardware stores, and lumberyards, plywood is better than lumber for some jobs. It is strong, lightweight, and rigid. Its high-impact resistance means plywood doesn't split, chip, crack all the way through, or crumble; the cross-laminate construction restricts expansion and contraction within the individual plies. Moreover, you never get "green" wood with plywood. When you buy a sheet of plywood, you know exactly what size you're getting, unlike with other types of lumber that have nominal and actual measurements. For example, a 4X8-foot sheet of 1/2-inch plywood measures exactly 4 by 8 feet and is exactly 1/2-inch thick.

Plywood is broadly categorized into two types: exterior and interior. Exterior plywood is made with nothing but waterproof glue and should always be used for any exposed application. Interior plywood, made with highly resistant glues, can actually withstand quite a bit of moisture. There is interior plywood made with IMG (intermediate glue), which is resistant to bacteria, mold, and moisture, but no interior plywood is made for use outdoors.

When purchasing plywood, look for a back stamp or edge marking bearing the initials APA or DFPA. APA stands for American Plywood Association, while DFPA is the Douglas Fir Plywood Association. These two organizations represent most of the plywood manufacturers, and they inspect and test all plywood to ensure quality is high and grading is accurate. The most critical plywood grading category for most home projects is the appearance grade of the panel faces (see the above sidebar on plywood grades).


Drywall repairs typically mean patching rather than replacing. However, you should know something about drywall. Drywall, also known as gypsum wallboard, has all but replaced plaster in modern homes. Its rocklike gypsum core makes drywall as fire-resistant as plaster, and its heavy paper facing eliminates the cracking problems that plague plaster walls. Best of all, drywall is far easier to work with than plaster.

The standard-size sheets for walls measure 4X8 feet. All drywall sheets are 4 feet wide, but many building material outlets offer 10-foot and even 12-foot lengths. The most popular thicknesses of drywall are 1/2 inch (typically for walls) and 5/8-inch (ceilings).

Of course you can't really do much of anything with these materials without fasteners to hold everything together. We will cover the wide range of fasteners available to the handyman, starting in the next section with nails, screws, and bolts.



Most repair projects require such fasteners as nails, screws, glues, and bolts. And there are many of each type to choose from! The following are some of the most common types of fasteners and advice on how to select the right one for your fix.


The easiest way to fasten two pieces of wood together is with nails. They are manufactured in a variety of shapes, sizes, and metals to complete almost any fastening job. Most commonly, nails are made of steel, but other types -- aluminum, brass, nickel, bronze, copper, and stainless steel -- are available for use where corrosion could occur. In addition, nails are manufactured with coatings -- galvanized, blued, or cemented -- to prevent rusting and to increase their holding power.

Here are the common nail types and sizes.
�2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Here are the common nails and their sizes.

Nail size is designated by penny size, originally the price per hundred nails. Penny size, almost always referred to as "d," ranges from 2 penny, or 2d (1 inch long), to 60 penny, or 60d (6 inches long). Nails shorter than 1 inch are called brads; nails longer than 6 inches are called spikes. The length of the nail is important, because at least two-thirds of the nail should be driven into the base, or thicker, material. For example, a 1X3 nailed to a 4X4 beam should be fastened with an 8 penny, or 8d, nail. An 8d nail is 21/2 inches long; 3/4 inch of its length will go through the 1X3, and the remaining 13/4 inches will go into the beam.

Nails are usually sold by the pound; the smaller the nail, the more nails to the pound. You can buy bulk nails out of a nail keg; the nails are weighed and then priced by the retailer. Or you can buy packaged nails, sold in boxes ranging from 1 pound to 50 pounds. For most repairs, a few 1-pound boxes of popular nail sizes will last a long time. What follows are some of the most common nail types.

Common Nails: Used for most medium to heavy construction work, this type of nail has a thick head and can be driven into tough materials. Common nails are made from wire and cut to the proper length and are available in sizes 2d through 60d.

Box Nails: Lighter and smaller in diameter than common nails, box nails are designed for light construction and household use.

Finishing Nails: Finishing nails are lighter than common nails and have a small head. They are often used for installing paneling and trim where you do not want the nail head to show.

Roofing Nails: Usually galvanized, roofing nails have a much larger head than common nails. This helps to prevent damage to asphalt shingles.

Drywall Nails: Nails made for drywall installation are often ringed and have an indented head. Annular-ring nails have sharp ridges all along the nail shaft, providing greater holding power.

Masonry Nails: There are three types of masonry nails designed for use with concrete and concrete block: round, square, and fluted. Masonry nails should not be used where high strength is required. Fastening to brick, stone, or reinforced concrete should be made with screws or lag bolts.

Tacks: Available in both round and cut forms, tacks are used to hold carpet or fabric to wood. Upholstery tacks have decorative heads.

Corrugated Fasteners: Corrugated fasteners, also called wiggly nails, are used for light-duty joints where strength is not important. The fasteners are set at right angles to the joint.

Screws provide more strength and holding power than nails. Additionally, if something needs to be disassembled, screws can easily be removed. Like nails, screws are available with different coatings to deter rust. They are manufactured with four basic heads and different kinds of slots. Flathead screws are almost always countersunk into the material being fastened so the head of the screw is flush with (or lower than) the surface. Oval-head screws are partially countersunk, with about half the screw head above the surface. Roundhead screws are not countersunk; the entire screw head lies above the surface. Fillister-head screws are raised above the surface on a flat base to keep the screwdriver from damaging the surface as the screw is tightened.

Most screws have slot heads and are driven with slotted, or standard, screwdrivers. Phillips-head screws have crossed slots and are driven with Phillips screwdrivers. Screws are measured in both length and diameter at the shank, which is designated by gauge number from 0 to 24. Length is measured in inches. The length of a screw is important because at least half the length of the screw should extend into the base material. Tip: To prevent screws from splitting the material, pilot holes must be made with a drill before the screws are driven.

For most home repair purposes, wood screws will suffice. Sheet metal screws, machine screws, and lag screws also come in various types. If you're trying to replace one of these screws, take an old screw with you to the hardware store.

Here are the most common types of screws and screw-like fasteners.
�2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Here are the most common types of screws and screw-like fasteners.

Drilling for Wood Screws
For optimum wood screw performance, you need to drill first. Click here for a guide.

Wood Screws

Wood screws are usually made of steel, although brass, nickel, bronze, and copper screws should be used if there is potential for corrosion.

Sheet Metal Screws

Use this type of screw to fasten pieces of metal together. Sheet metal screws form threads in the metal as they are installed. There are several different types of sheet metal screws. Pointed panhead screws are coarse-threaded; they are available in gauges from 4 to 14 and lengths from 1/4 inch to 2 inches. Pointed panheads are used in light sheet metal. Blunt panhead screws are used for heavier sheet metal; they are available in gauges from 4 to 14 and lengths from 1/4 inch to 2 inches. Both types of panhead screws are available with either plain or Phillips-head slots.

Roundhead Screws

Partial-tapping roundhead screws have finer threads; they can be used in soft or hard metals. They are available in diameters from 3⁄16 inch to 11/4 inches. Self-tapping roundhead screws are used for heavy-duty work with thick sheet metal and are available in diameters from 1/4 inch to 2 inches and in lengths from 1/8 to 3/4 inch. Both types of roundhead screws are available with either plain or Phillips-head slots.

Machine Screws

Machine screws are blunt-ended screws used to fasten metal parts together. They are commonly made of steel or brass. Like other fasteners, they are also made with coatings -- brass, copper, nickel, zinc, cadmium, and galvanized -- that help deter rust. Machine screws are manufactured with each of the four basic types of heads -- flathead, ovalhead, roundhead, and fillister-head -- and with both plain and Phillips-head slots. They are typically available in gauges 2 to 12 and diameters from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch and in lengths from 1/4 inch to 3 inches.

Lag Screws

For light work, lead, plastic, or fiber plugs (called anchors) can be used to hold screws. But for larger jobs and more holding power, lead expansion anchors and lag screws are used. Lag screws are heavy-duty fasteners. They are driven with a wrench and are used primarily for fastening to masonry or wood framing. The anchors are inserted into holes drilled in the masonry, and the lag screws are driven firmly into the anchors.


Bolts are used with nuts and often with washers. The three basic types are carriage bolts, stove bolts, and machine bolts. Other types include the masonry bolt and anchor, toggle bolt, and expansion bolt, which are used to distribute weight when fastening something to a hollow wall. Machine bolts are manufactured in two gauges: fine-threaded and coarse. Carriage and stove bolts are coarse-threaded. Bolt size is measured by shank diameter and by threads per inch, expressed as diameter by threads (for example, 1/4X20). Carriage bolts are available up to 10 inches long, stove bolts up to 6 inches, and machine bolts up to 30 inches. Larger sizes usually must be special ordered.

Carriage Bolts

Carriage bolts are used mainly in making furniture. They have a round head with a square collar and are tightened into place with a nut and wrench. The collar fits into a prebored hole or twists into the wood, preventing the bolt from turning as the nut is tightened. Carriage bolts are coarse-threaded and are available in diameters from 3⁄16 to 3/4 inch and lengths from 1/2 inch to 10 inches.

Stove Bolts

Stove bolts aren't just for stoves; they are quite versatile and can be used for almost any fastening job. They are available in a wide range of sizes, have a slotted head -- flat, oval, or round, like screws -- and are driven with a screwdriver or tightened into place with a nut and wrench. Most stove bolts are completely threaded, but the larger ones may have a smooth shank near the bolt head. Stove bolts are coarse-threaded and are available in diameters from 5⁄32 to 1/2 inch and lengths from 3/8 inch to 6 inches.

Machine Bolts

Machine bolts have either a square head or a hexagonal head. They are fastened with square nuts or hex nuts and are wrench-driven. Machine bolts are manufactured in very large sizes; the bolt diameter increases with length. They are either coarse-threaded or fine-threaded and are available in diameters from 1/4 inch to 2 inches and lengths from 1/4 inch to 30 inches.

Masonry Bolts and Anchors

These work on the same principle as the lag bolt or screw; a plastic sleeve expands inside a predrilled hole as the bolt is tightened.

Hollow Wall Bolts

Toggle bolts and expansion bolts are used for fastening lightweight objects, such as picture frames, to hollow walls. Toggle bolt wings are opened inside the wall by a spring. Expansion bolts are inserted into an expansion jacket, which expands as the bolt is tightened. The bolts are available in diameters from 1/8 to 1/2 inch and lengths up to 8 inches for walls as thick as 13/4 inches.

Now let's consider an entirely different way of fastening things: with adhesives. Details are in the next section.



Adhesives chemically attach two or more surfaces together. The right adhesive can make any fix quicker and longer lasting. Here's some information on adhesives frequently used by do-it-yourselfers.

Multipurpose Adhesives

If you keep a small assortment of multipurpose adhesives in stock you will be able to make a wide variety of repairs. The following are the most common types of multipurpose adhesives.

White glue (polyvinyl acetate, or PVA): PVA glue is a white liquid, usually sold in plastic bottles. It is recommended for use on porous materials -- wood, paper, cloth, porous pottery, and nonstructural wood-to-wood bonds. It is not water resistant. Clamping is required for 30 minutes to 1 hour to set the glue; curing time is 18 to 24 hours. School glue, a type of white glue, dries more slowly. Inexpensive and nonflammable, PVA glue dries clear.

Epoxy: Epoxies are sold in tubes or in cans. They consist of two parts -- resin and hardener -- that must be thoroughly mixed just before use. They are very strong, very durable, and very water resistant. Epoxies are recommended for use on metal, ceramics, some plastics, and rubber; they aren't recommended for flexible surfaces. Clamping is required for about 2 hours for most epoxies. Drying time is about 12 hours; curing time is one to two days. Epoxy dries clear or amber and is more expensive than other adhesives.

Cyanoacrylate: Also called super or instant glue, cyanoacrylate is similar to epoxy but is a one-part glue. These glues form a very strong bond and are recommended for use on materials such as metal, ceramics, glass, some plastics, and rubber; they aren't recommended for flexible surfaces. Apply sparingly. Clamping is not required; curing time is one to two days. Cyanoacrylates dry clear.

Contact cement: A rubber-base liquid sold in bottles and cans, contact cement is recommended for bonding laminates, veneers, and other large areas and for repairs. It can also be used on paper, leather, cloth, rubber, metal, glass, and some plastics because it remains flexible when it dries. It is not recommended for repairs where strength is necessary. Contact cement should be applied to both surfaces and allowed to set; the surfaces are then pressed together for an instant bond. No repositioning is possible once contact has been made. Clamping isn't required; curing is complete on drying. Contact cement is usually very flammable.

Polyurethane glue: This high-strength glue is an amber paste and is sold in tubes. It forms a very strong bond similar to that of epoxy. Polyurethane glue is recommended for use on wood, metal, ceramics, glass, most plastics, and fiberglass. It dries flexible and can also be used on leather, cloth, rubber, and vinyl. Clamping is required for about 2 hours; curing time is about 24 hours. Polyurethane glue dries translucent and can be painted or stained. Its shelf life is short, and it is expensive.

Silicone rubber adhesive or sealant: Silicone rubber glues and sealants are sold in tubes and are similar to silicone rubber caulk. They form very strong, very durable waterproof bonds, with excellent resistance to high and low temperatures. They're recommended for use on gutters and on building materials, including metal, glass, fiberglass, rubber, and wood. They can also be used on fabrics, some plastics, and ceramics. Clamping is usually not required; curing time is about 24 hours, but the adhesive skins over in less than 1 hour. Silicone rubber adhesives dry flexible and are available in clear, black, and metal colors.

Household cement: The various adhesives sold in tubes as household cement are fast-setting, low-strength glues. They are recommended for use on wood, ceramics, glass, paper, and some plastics. Some household cements dry flexible and can be used on fabric, leather, and vinyl. Clamping is usually not required; setting time is 10 to 20 minutes, curing time is up to 24 hours.

Hot-melt adhesive: Hot-melt glues are sold in stick form and are used with glue guns. A glue gun heats the adhesive above 200 degrees Fahrenheit. For the best bond, the surfaces to be joined should also be preheated. Because hot-melt adhesives are only moderately strong and bonds will come apart if exposed to high temperatures, this type of glue is recommended for temporary bonds of wood, metal, paper, and some plastics and composition materials. Clamping isn't required; setting time is 10 to 45 seconds, and curing time is 24 hours.

Wood Glues

Wood glues are specifically made for wood repair projects. Here are your main choices:

Yellow glue (aliphatic resin or carpenters' glue): Aliphatic resin glue is a yellow liquid, usually sold in plastic squeeze bottles and often labeled as carpenters' glue. Yellow glue is very similar to white glue but forms a slightly stronger bond. It is also slightly more water resistant than white glue. Clamping is required for about 30 minutes until the glue sets; curing time is 12 to 18 hours. Yellow glue dries clear but does not accept wood stains.

Plastic resin glue (urea formaldehyde): Plastic resin glue is recommended for laminating layers of wood and for gluing structural joints. It is water resistant but not waterproof and isn't recommended for use on outdoor furniture. This glue is resistant to paint and lacquer thinners. Clamping is required for up to 8 hours; curing time is 18 to 24 hours.

Resorcinol glue: This glue is waterproof and forms strong and durable bonds. It is recommended for use on outdoor furniture, kitchen counters, structural bonding, boats, and sporting gear. It can also be used on concrete, cork, fabrics, leather, and some plastics. Resorcinol glue has excellent resistance to temperature extremes, chemicals, and fungus. Clamping is required; curing time is 8 to 24 hours, depending on humidity and temperature.

Adhesives for Glass and Ceramics

Most multipurpose adhesives will bond glass and ceramics, but specialized versions often bond them more securely.

China and glass cement: Many cements are sold for mending china and glass. These cements usually come in tubes. Acrylic latex-base cements have good resistance to water and heat. Clamping is usually required.

Silicone rubber adhesives: Only silicone adhesives made specifically for glass and china are recommended. They form very strong bonds, with excellent resistance to water and temperature extremes. Clamping is usually required.

Metal Adhesives and Fillers

Need to make a repair in metal? Here are some popular adhesives that can make a strong bond with metal:

Steel epoxy: A two-part compound sold in tubes, steel epoxy is quite similar to regular epoxy. It forms a very strong, durable, heat-and water-resistant bond and is recommended for patching gutters and gas tanks, sealing pipes, and filling rust holes. Drying time is about 12 hours; curing time is one to two days.

Steel Putty: This metal putty consists of two putty-consistency parts that are kneaded together before use. It forms a strong, water-resistant bond and is recommended for patching and sealing pipes that aren't under pressure. It can also be used for ceramic and masonry. Curing time is about 30 minutes; when dry, it can be sanded or painted.

Plastic metal cement: Plastic metal is one-part adhesive and filler. It is moisture resistant but cannot withstand temperature extremes. This type of adhesive is recommended for use on metal, glass, concrete, and wood, where strength is not required. Curing time is about four hours; when dry, plastic metal cement can be sanded or painted.

Plastic Adhesives

Plastics present a special problem with some adhesives because solvents in the adhesives can dissolve plastic. Here are some popular plastic adhesives.

Model cement: Usually sold in tubes as "model maker" glues, model cement forms a strong bond on acrylics and polystyrenes and can be used on most plastics, except plastic foam. Clamping is usually required until the cement has set (about 10 minutes); curing time is about 24 hours. Model cement dries clear.

Vinyl adhesive: Vinyl adhesives, sold in tubes, form a strong, waterproof bond on vinyl and on many plastics, but don't use them on plastic foam. Clamping is usually not required. Vinyl adhesive dries flexible and clear; curing time is 10 to 20 minutes.

Acrylic solvent: Solvents are not adhesives as such; they act by melting the acrylic bonding surfaces, fusing them together at the joint. They are recommended for use on acrylics and polycarbonates. Clamping is required; the bonding surfaces are clamped or taped together, and the solvent is injected into the joint with a syringe. Setting time is about five minutes.

Once you have your walls put together, you might notice they look a little plain. Fortunately, that is what paints are for. In the next section, we'll outline the various types of interior paint.



The wide variety of paints can be bewildering -- but they exist for a reason. The trick is to be knowledgeable about their respective uses and strengths. Because there are such differences between the many paints, it's important to know about each kind. We'll start this article by discussing the various types of interior paints.

Interior Paints Guide
From acoustic to latex, there are all sorts of interior paints on the market. For a guide to interior paint types and uses, click here.

Although paints are available for every possible surface, there is no such thing as an all-surface paint. The wrong paint can damage a surface and often not adhere well, so it's crucial to know in advance what goes where and when. Fortunately, modern paint technology has taken a lot of the risk out of choosing the proper paint. Formulas for so-called "latex paints" have been improved to withstand dirt, moisture, and daily wear and tear, so these paints are no longer reserved exclusively for low-traffic areas. They are as washable and durable as the old oilbase paints, so you no longer have to think in terms of latex paints for walls and oilbase enamels for woodwork, windows, and doors.

Still, an important factor in paint selection -- aside from personal color preference -- is gloss. Regardless of the type of coating you choose, the gloss of the one you buy will affect both its appearance and its durability. High-gloss paints are the most durable because they contain more resin than either semigloss or flat paints. Resin is an ingredient that hardens as the paint dries. The more resin, the harder the surface.

Consequently, for kitchens, bathrooms, utility rooms, doors, windows, and trim, high-gloss paints are ideal. Semigloss paints, with less resin and a reduced surface shine, are slightly less wear-resistant but still suitable for most woodwork.  Finally, flat paints are the coatings of choice for most interior walls and ceilings because they provide an attractive, low-glare finish for surfaces that take little abuse and require only infrequent washings. Here's a paint primer to help you decide what kind of paint you need for the quick fix at hand.

Latex Paint

The word "latex" originally referred to the use of rubber in one form or another as the resin, or solid, in paint. The solvent or thinner, called the "vehicle," was water. Today, many paints are made with water as the thinner but with resins that are not latex, and the industry is leaning toward such terms as "water-thinned" or "water-reducible." If the paints are called latex at all, the term often used is "acrylic latex" because they contain a plastic resin made of acrylics or polyvinyls rather than rubber.

In addition to the speed of drying, new opacity (the ability to completely cover one color with another), and washability of acrylic latex paints, the greatest advantage of water-thinned paints is you can clean up with water. The higher expense -- as well as the potential fire hazard -- of volatile thinners and brush cleaners is gone. If you wash the brush or roller immediately after the painting session is over, it comes clean in just a few minutes.

Latex paint works well on surfaces previously painted with latex or flat oilbase paints. It can even be used on unprimed drywall or unpainted masonry. However, latex usually does not adhere well to high-gloss finishes and, even though it can be used on wallpaper, there is a risk that the water in the paint may cause the paper to peel away from the wall. Because of its water content, latex will cause bare steel to rust and will raise the grain on raw wood.

Alkyd Resin Paint

The use of synthetic alkyd resin for solvent-thinned (oilbase) paints has brought several advantages. One of the most useful is a special formula that makes the paint yogurt-thick. A brush dipped in it carries more paint to the surface than previous versions. Yet, under the friction of application, the paint spreads and smooths readily.

In most gloss and semigloss (or satin) paints, alkyd materials are still preferred for trim, doors, and even heavy-traffic hallways. Many homeowners still like them best for bathrooms and kitchens, where they feel more confident of washability despite the availability of water-thinned enamels in satin or gloss that can be safely cleaned with standard household cleaners.

The opacity of alkyd paints has improved with the addition of a material that diffuses and evaporates, which leaves minute bubbles that reflect and scatter light and makes the paint look thicker than it really is. With paints of this formula, one coat of white will completely cover black or bright yellow.

While alkyds should not be used on unprimed drywall (they can raise the nap of its paper coating) or unprimed masonry, they are suitable for raw wood and almost any previously painted or papered surface. The most durable of interior paints, alkyds are dry enough for a second coat within four to six hours. Solvents must be used for thinning and cleanup. Check the label to find which solvent is recommended by the manufacturer. And, while the solvents may be almost odorless, they're still toxic and flammable, so you should work in a well-ventilated room.

Rubberbase Paint

Available only in a limited number of colors and in flat or low-gloss finishes, this paint contains a liquefied rubber. It is expensive and has a potent aroma, but, because rubberbase paint is waterproof and durable, it's an excellent coating for concrete. It can be applied directly to unprimed masonry. When used on brick, rubberbase paint should be preceded by a sealing coat of clear varnish. Before putting it on new concrete, wash the concrete with a 10 percent solution of muriatic acid, rinse thoroughly, and let dry completely. (Wear goggles and gloves when working with muriatic acid, and work in a well-ventilated space.) Like alkyds, rubberbase paints require special solvents; check the label for specifications.

Textured Paint

If you're after a finish that looks like stucco, or if you want an effective cover-up for flawed surfaces, textured-surface paint will do the job. Some varieties come premixed with sandlike particles suspended in the paint. Because of their grittiness, these paints are usually used on ceilings. With other varieties, you have to add the particles and stir thoroughly. Another form of textured paint has no granules. Thick and smooth, it's applied to the surface and then textured with special tools. Textured paints are available in either flat-finish latex or alkyd formulations. Latex versions are frequently used on bare drywall ceilings because they can be used without a primer and they help to camouflage the seams between sheets of drywall.

One of the problems with textured paint becomes evident when the time comes to paint over it. All those peaks and valleys created by the texturing actually increase the surface area of the wall. The rough surface will require 15 to 25 percent more paint the second time around.

Dripless Paint

Quite a bit more expensive than conventional alkyd paint, dripless paint is ideal for ceilings because it's so thick it won't run off a roller or brush. It will usually cover any surface in a single coat, but, because it's so dense, it won't go as far as its more spreadable relatives.

One-Coat Paint

With additional pigment to improve their covering capabilities, true one-coats are otherwise just more expensive versions of ordinary latex or alkyd paints. For best results, reserve them for use on flawless, same-color surfaces that have been previously sealed. Tip: Not all paints advertised as "one-coat" really are. Read the warranty.

Acoustic Paint

Designed for use on acoustic ceiling tile, this paint covers without impairing the tile's acoustic qualities. It can be applied with a roller, but a paint sprayer is more efficient and less likely to affect the sound-deadening properties of the tile.


Primers are inexpensive undercoatings that smooth out uneven surfaces, provide a barrier between porous surfaces and certain finishing coats, and allow you to use an otherwise incompatible paint on a bare or previously painted surface. For flat paint finishes, the primer can be a thinned-out version of the paint itself. But that's often more expensive than using a premixed primer, which contains less-expensive pigment, dries quickly, and provides a firm foundation or "tooth" for the final coat of paint. Latex primer has all the advantages of latex paint -- almost odor-free, quick drying, and easy to clean up -- and is the best undercoat for drywall, plaster, and concrete. Don't use it on bare wood, though, because the water in it may raise the grain. For raw wood, it's best to use an alkyd primer.

Exterior painting requires different types of coatings. We'll examine exterior paints in the next section, as well as another common home repair tool -- abrasives.



One of the major differences between indoor and outdoor painting is, with outdoor painting, there is a wider range of exterior surfaces to consider. These surfaces include clapboard and aluminum siding, wood shingles, tar shingles, cedar shakes, brick, concrete block, stucco, and, of course, old paint. On many older homes, you'll find a combination of these surfaces. Fortunately, there is a paint for every type of surface, and some paints are suitable for more than one surface.

Exterior Paints Guide
Choosing the correct exterior paint can be a complicated process. For a guide to the range of exterior coatings, click here.

Like interior paints, exterior paints are available in either water-thinned or solvent-thinned formulas and in three lusters: flat, semigloss, and gloss. There are, however, several characteristics that distinguish exterior coatings from those used inside the house. For one thing, exterior paints are more expensive. They also contain more resin (for moisture resistance and durability) and more pigment (for color).

You may want to choose your paint based on what was used before. As with interior paints, latex works best over latex and alkyd works best over alkyd. If you can't tell or are unsure about what type of paint is on the house, use an alkyd-base paint.

Latex paints are easier to apply, dry quickly, and can help minimize moisture problems because they "breathe." Cleaning up is a matter of soap and water. These paints do not adhere as well to oilbase or alkyd-base paints or to poorly prepared surfaces, however. Alkyds, on the other hand, are extremely durable, but they are more difficult to work with and they dry slowly. Also, solvents must be used with alkyds to clean brushes, rollers, paint trays, and drips.

One of the alkyd types of exterior paint may be especially appealing because of its regulated, self-cleaning property. It's called "chalking," and that's exactly what it does. Over a period of years, the paint surface slowly oxidizes. Each rainfall washes off a minute quantity of the paint -- along with dirt. As a result of this shedding, the paint surface is constantly renewing itself. The price of this convenience used to be chalky residue on foundations and shrubs, but the newest formulas control the shedding so it doesn't stain adjacent surfaces.

Chalking paint is not recommended for every house. In areas with little rainfall, for example, the powder tends to remain on the surface, dulling the paint. In wet regions, chalking paint may not be worth the extra expense because frequent rainfalls will keep the outside of the house clean no matter what kind of paint is used. If you live in or near either of these climatic extremes, ask your paint dealer if the chalking type is suitable for your area.



Choosing the proper abrasive tool for a home-repair job usually means the difference between mediocre results and a truly professional appearance. Depending on the task, you'll choose between sandpaper, steel wool, and a file.

Sandpaper: Most do-it-yourselfers still refer to various grades of "sandpaper," but the proper term for these sanding sheets is "coated abrasives." There are four factors to consider when selecting any coated abrasive: the abrasive mineral, or which type of rough material; the grade, or the coarseness or fineness of the mineral; the backing (paper or cloth); and the coating, or the nature and extent of the mineral on the surface.

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Paper backing for coated abrasives comes in four weights: A, C, D, and E. A (also referred to as "Finishing") is the lightest weight and is designed for light sanding work. C and D (also called "Cabinet") are for heavier work, while E is for the toughest jobs. The coating can be either open or closed. Open coated means the grains are spaced to only cover a portion of the surface. An open-coated abrasive is best used on gummy or soft woods, soft metals, or on painted surfaces. Closed coated means the abrasive covers the entire area. They provide maximum cutting, but they also clog faster and are best used on hard woods and metals.

There are three popular ways to grade coated abrasives. Simplified markings (coarse, medium, fine, very fine, etc.) provide a general description of the grade. The grit refers to the number of mineral grains that, when set end to end, equal 1 inch. The commonly used O symbols are more or less arbitrary. The coarsest grading under this system is 41/2, and the finest is 10/0, or 0000000000.

Electric Sander: Need to sand a surface but don't have all day? An orbital sander is the handiest for most small projects. Since it's power tool, it can make sanding jobs easier and quicker.

Steel Wool: Steel wool comes in many grades of coarseness. Always apply the correct grade of steel wool to the work you have at hand, as detailed in the chart available at the right.

Files: A wood rasp, with a rasp and/or curved-tooth cut, is used to remove excess wood. The piece of wood is final-smoothed with a single-cut or double-cut file. You may not need files for most quick fixes. If you do decide to add some to your home-repair toolbox, buy an assortment of flat files -- wood rasp, bastard, second-cut, and smooth.

Now you know all the basic materials used in most home repair projects. Once you start fixing up your home, the objects described within this article will become only too familiar to you.

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