Home-Repair Tool Basics

Painting Tools

As with everything else we've discussed so far, a good paint job depends as much on selecting the right tools as on selecting the right paint. With the proper equipment, even inexperienced do-it-yourselfers can do a professional-quality job. Here are some tips that may help you achieve that goal:


With few exceptions, paintbrushes fall into two camps: natural bristle brushes, made of animal hair, and synthetic bristle brushes, usually made of nylon. At one time, the naturals were considered the best, but today the synthetics are every bit as good. Besides, you can't use a natural bristle brush with waterbase latex paints because water makes the bristles limp. Consequently, if you're painting with a water-thinned paint, your brush selection is already 50 percent easier.

Paintbrushes can be bristle or foam.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Paintbrushes can be bristle or foam.

Buy the best brushes you can afford. If you have to spend a few dollars more for top quality brushes, it will be worth it in the long run. Quality brushes make any painting task go more easily and quickly, and they can be thoroughly cleaned to look like new for the next job. With a little care, good paintbrushes will last for many years of home maintenance.

Regardless of price, you can distinguish between a good brush and a bad one by examining them closely at the store. Spread the bristles and inspect the tips. The more flags, or split ends, the better the brush and its paint-spreading capabilities. Rap the brush on the edge of a counter; a good brush may lose a few bristles, but a bad one will lose many. Find a brush with long, tapered bristles, particularly on narrow brushes. As a general rule, the bristle length should be about one-and-a-half times as long as the width of the brush (the exception is with wider brushes, often called wall brushes). A 11⁄2-inch-wide brush, for example, should have bristles about 21⁄4 inches long. Bristle length gives you flexibility to paint into corners and around trim. Finally, choose smooth, well-shaped handles of wood or plastic that fit in your hand comfortably.

Paintbrushes come in a wide variety of sizes and types and are necessary for those hard-to-reach spots a paint roller can't reach. Here are some of the main types of paintbrushes:
  • Wall. This type spreads the most paint over the most surface. A 4-inch-wide brush is a good choice, though 31⁄2- and 3-inch wall brushes may be easier to use.

  • Trim. A 2-inch-wide trim brush is ideal for woodwork and for "cutting in" around windows, doors, and corners before painting walls with a roller.

  • Sash. A sash brush has an angled bristle end. Available in 1-, 11⁄2-, or 2-inch widths, the angled sash brush makes close work easier -- especially when you're painting around windows. Used carefully, it reduces the need to use tape to protect window panes.
The same size brushes are also available in foamed urethane. Instead of bristles, they have spongelike heads. They are increasingly popular among do-it-yourselfers, particularly in smaller sizes used for interior or exterior trim painting. Disposable foam brushes come in widths up to 3 inches and are cheap enough to toss out after one use.
Paint Rollers

For large, flat surface areas like walls and ceilings, paint rollers will help you get the job done in about half the amount of time it would take with a paintbrush. Most painters use brushes for trim work and around windows and doors, then turn to rollers to fill in the big blank spaces. Rollers for painting flat areas come in varying widths -- from 4 to 18 inches -- but the two most common sizes for interior jobs are 7 inches and 9 inches wide.

Paint rollers intended for wall or ceiling painting have handles made of plastic or wood that may have been hollowed out and machined to accept an extension handle. They also have a metal or plastic frame that is slipped inside a roller cover. Of the two types, the metal-rib version (also known as a bird cage or spring-metal frame) is best because it's easier to clean and less likely to stick to the inside of the roller cover.

Paint rollers, pads, and trays are part of the painting toolkit.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Paint rollers, pads, and trays are part of the painting toolkit.

The type of roller cover you should buy is largely determined by the kind of paint you'll be using, but they are all fiber-covered or urethane-foam-covered cylinders that soak up paint from a tray and then release it when rolled over a flat surface. The rolling action creates a vacuum that actually pulls the paint off the roller. Made of lamb's wool, mohair, Dynel, acetate, or polyurethane foam, most rollers are labeled with the kind of paint for which they are intended to be used. Choose your roller cover accordingly.

The roller package will also identify the length of the roller cover's nap, or pile, which can vary from 1⁄16 inch to 11⁄2 inches. For rough surfaces, use the long naps; choose short ones for smooth surfaces. The pile is attached to a tube that slips over the roller's plastic or cardboard frame.

Paint trays are made of aluminum or plastic and come in standard 7-inch and 9-inch versions. The 9-inch size is most popular because you can then use either a 7- or 9-inch roller. Some trays come with hooks that allow you to attach them directly to a ladder. The trays, of course, are washable and durable. But to make cleanup even easier, buy some disposable plastic tray liners or line the tray with aluminum foil.

That covers the basic do-it-yourself arsenal. With all of the tools we've examined in this article -- and with some old-fashioned elbow grease -- you can make your home look like new.

©Publications International, Ltd.