DIY Painting: walls and “cutting in”

What you need to know to achieve a professional finish on your walls, and how to master the art of “cutting in”…

Painting the walls

Walls are one of the most visible aspects of your home and a rushed job will look it, so before you start to tackle your project, plan your approach, remove all obstacles, repair gaps/cracks/dents/holes, clean the wall and mask off anything that remains in your way. After that it’s a question of getting the right tools and mastering the technique. Tools Using a roller is by far the easiest and quickest method of painting a wall, but holding one in your hand for a long period of time can prove to be tiring. It also means that your strokes will be shorter, which can impair the finish. It’s therefore a good idea to attach an extension pole to the roller and adjust to a comfortable working length. The reasoning behind it is that this will allow for longer, more even strokes, resulting in a better finish and less fatigue. A 9” or 18” roller will not be able to apply paint right into the edge between the ceiling and the wall, so the trick is to carefully roll out the paint as close to the ceiling as you can without touching it. If the distance you’ve left uncovered between the ceiling and wall is an inch or more, then switch to the long-handled mini-roller (radiator roller) and fill the gap, leaving no more than an inch between wall and ceiling. (If the gap is less than an inch there’s no need for the mini roller.) Once you have covered the walls you will then need to paint the untouched area between the wall and ceiling with a brush, in a process known as “cutting-in” (see below), so it’s important that you don’t leave too much to cover. What if… If painting the walls a dark colour, mask off the woodwork first wherever the new paint will meet it. It saves time later. Alternatively, paint the skirting first and allow to dry. Apply masking tape and then paint the walls with the dark colour. When dry, peel off the tape – but carefully! Technique
  1. To achieve a professional finish you need a smooth surface. The first task is to remove hooks and nails, then repair any damage caused in the process. This is particularly important if you are not re-hanging pictures in the same place. A lightweight filler is best but it will need time to set before you can paint so plan ahead and do this beforehand.
  2. Load the roller with paint and roll backwards and forwards in the tray until the roller is evenly coated. Watch for drips as you lift the roller from the tray!
  3. Press the roller against the wall and slowly roll up and down using long, even strokes. Paint in a “W” pattern initially, then finish by directing your strokes from top to bottom.
  4. Stop the roller just short of the ceiling and continue until you feel it needs more paint. Repeat the process until the wall is completely covered. When you’ve reloaded your roller with paint don’t start where you left off – stay six to eight inches away from the last stroke and then fill the gap smoothly with a left-right motion. You’ll get a better finish!
  5. Walls always benefit from a second coat – you will get more depth and less blemishes will show through. So once the first coat is dry, repeat steps 2 to 4.
Tips on painting new plasterboard Many new builds and renovations leave you with a skim plaster finish that must be primed before it can be painted. It must also be completely dry before starting to apply any paint! If you try to apply emulsion paint directly from the tin it is likely to peel away with each pass of the roller. There are several methods to counteract this, namely:
  • Apply a high-adhesion primer as the first coat. They stick to almost any surface, obliterate deep colours and are quite economical. Some will provide you with a finishing coat as well. If the room has no cornice, and you are using a high-adhesion primer, prime the walls before painting the ceiling. This ensures that you have no colour mismatch around the edge of the ceiling as the primer will be a different shade of white to standard ceiling emulsion.
  • Add a bonding agent to your first coat of emulsion. This separates from the paint as it dries and sticks to the surface, providing a sound base for the second coat.
  • Use an emulsion paint of a suitable colour which has been diluted with clean water – usually 20%. This ensures that the emulsion will thoroughly penetrate the plaster and any moisture will be allowed to escape. Several coats will need to be applied until the surface is built up to a solid finish. Then apply the finishing coat or coats but do not dilute the emulsion. Apply it as if you were painting a normal wall or ceiling.
Tips on tackling staircases and landings In the stair area, walls can be tricky to paint due to the height of the stairwell opening and the angled nature of the stairs. When combined, they make the task of painting the ceiling, “cutting in” and achieving a smooth finish much more difficult. But don’t worry! By planning your approach, this can be made a lot less daunting. The first thing to do is to divide the area into three separate sections – the hall section, the stairs section and the upstairs landing section and treat each of them as separate ‘rooms’. The hall and the landing sections are just like painting a normal room, as outlined above.

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Written by Brian Cahill

Brian Cahill is the author of The Complete DIY Guide to Painting Your Home


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