Staying Neat & Clean When Refinishing Your Wood and Furniture Projects

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A question from a viewer asking how I stayed so clean in the videos prompted this subject. Watching students, friends, and other professionals while they work has shown me that there is a wider range between the finicky (my end of the spectrum) and the sloppy (my brother's way, among others) than I would have initially thought existed.

Herewith, some tips on staying clean(er). First of all, let me say that staying neat and pressed on the tapes was easy; I had three pairs of identical shirts and slacks, and when the cameras quit rolling, I pulled on regular, scruffy "painting" clothes. But at the end of many days of taping, only one shirt had gotten a little paint on it. All the pants were fine, but I was lucky; it's rare to stay that un-marked!

Here's the biggest hint: always try to remember where your brush (or other material applicator) is, and where your open container of paint (or other material) is. This sounds simple, but seems to be a big source of splatters and smudges on the brush end, and minor and major spills on the container end.

If you are brushing very liquid material, or using a very stiff brush, it will spatter in the direction the brush is traveling. This is convenient when you are applying a spatter coat for decorative or antiquing purposes, but not when it's ending up on your face or hands or clothes. Try standing in front of the project when you are brushing side-to-side, for example. The same goes when you're rolling a wall or, (even more so) a ceiling. Avoid standing directly in front of, or beneath the roller.

If you pay attention to the end of your brush or feather or whatever, you will also be less likely to brush it across adjacent surfaces that you had not meant to paint (including yourself). Keep a rag or paper towel handy for when you forget these hints.

At the container end of this back and forth movement, I have a couple of suggestions. First, have only one open can, jar, tray, etc. at a time. Put the caps and lids back on every other thing once you're done with any mixing, pouring and general puttering about type of activity. If you feel that that will be terribly inefficient, make sure that those other open/loosely covered containers are stowed well away from the area of your project! It's amazing how far elbows range, steadying hands reach out, and steps backward you will take while admiring your progress; -all headed uncannily for that open can of paint.

Secondly, put no container on the floor. Keep it up on something, -a cart or stool or bench- something that is easier to see and remember.

Usually you are working over a floor surface that doesn't matter for drips and splatters, or else you've covered the floor well with dropclothes, but when you kick over a can of paint or varnish (and eventually you will), it can make a huge mess, as well as losing most of the material itself. Most disconcerting!

The only exception that I try to give myself is when roller painting a room and the tray (or 5 gallon pail) would be hard to use if it were up on a cart. Be especially aware here when doing a ceiling; it gets very easy to step back into the tray. (You know who you are!)

If (when?) you get paint on your hands, even if you're wearing gloves, try to wipe it off soon, otherwise it starts migrating to everything you touch, including the brush handle, your face, unfinished parts of your project, -well, you get the idea... Toss used rags and paper towel straight into a trash can rather than strewing them about the floor and project area where something will somehow brush up against them.

EXCEPTION: linseed or tung oil soaked stuff needs to be washed out with water or put outside to dry or into a fireproof container. These can spontaneously combust; it really happens! These steps will go far toward keeping the paint where you want it, and nowhere else.

- Dave

My featured product: mineral spirits, a.k.a. paint thinner. If you work with oils or alkyd paints and varnishes, you'll need to keep something around for thinning and cleaning. For most people, most of the time, I recommend odorless mineral spirits. Odorless is a little more expensive than "plain" spirits, but I think it's worth it if you will be working inside. It is slightly more refined than its stinkier brother, hence the higher price.

Turpentine is a much older product, still mentioned often, and still available, but I suggest avoiding it for two reasons. It costs a lot more and works no better than m.s.. And it's more toxic than paint thinner, whether it's breathing it or having it on your skin, though it does have that olde tyme painter smell...

Try to minimize your exposure to these solvents. Keep a goodly amount of ventilation going, or wear a respirator (not a dust mask!). Wear gloves if you expect much physical contact (sponge painting, for example). If you use it to clean paint off your hands or other skin, follow up quickly with soap and water.

More often these days, I'm using the citrus-type cleaners directly on my hands for removing paint. I think this is easier on my skin, -maybe a lot easier on my liver (which apparently is where all the nasty things go that you absorb through the skin). Another very useful product for removing dried or near-dried oil and alkyd paints and varnishes from your hands, and especially more delicate areas like your face or forearms is baby oil (light mineral oil). The oil seems to lift or displace the paint without exposing yourself to harsh paint thinner. As an added bonus,it's probably nice for skin moisturizing.

Back to the topic, I recommend that you buy mineral spirits by the gallon, quarts are too expensive for something that doesn't go bad and that you know you'll eventually use.

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