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Hints for Homer, the DIY Homebody

Hello, Homer! How ya been, buddy? Doin’ well, I hope. Now, I know that Simpson’s caricature has given you a bum rap, but I’m of the opinion that your reputation can be rehabilitated. How would like to save a bunch of dough and at the same time put a glow of pride on your spouse’s sour old puss every time she sees your ugly face?

Here’s what we’ll do: Let’s put a new coat of paint on the entry hall! After all, it will be the first thing visitors see when the lockdown eases up and people start coming by again and, well, we wouldn’t want any idle speculation that you spent the last six months indulging your celebrated sloth, would we? 

So finish your mush and coffee and go change out of those squalid old sweatpants into some old jeans that a little paint won’t hurt. First we’ll take down the pictures and mirror and take out all the furniture and roll up the rugs, then cover the floor with drop cloths… 

The No.1 tool for the housepainter is the putty knife. It is so intrinsic to the housepainter’s craft that all painter’s coveralls have a special pocket for it, along with a loop for a hammer, reminding us, Homer, that the finish carpenter is grossly misnamed, unless he happens to be a carpenter from Finland. 

Nails will have to be set or drawn, wildly mismatched miter cuts will have to be caulked, chips and splinters patched – bringing us back to the putty knife and the need to go over the walls and carefully fill every nail hole; and yes, Homer, even the little pinholes – but be careful not to leave a huge swatch of spackle over a hole a flea couldn’t hide in! Just stuff it with bit of spackle on the corner of the knife.

We don’t want to spoil the pattern of the texture with hillbilly-style patches under the finish coat. Nor do we wish to give some self-styled hillbilly grounds on which to later litigate. All we want is to maintain, if not increase, the value of the estate, and thereby elevate you, Homer, as the sterling bloke who got ‘er done, at least in the real estate appraiser’s estimation.

Take your time, Homer. Make sure you get every little nick and gouge filled; use your trusty putty knife to cut away at wallboard paper torn loose from the sheet rock. 

But wait, Homer, I see you’re having difficulty with those sliding doors in the garage where you keep your tools. The problem, you see is the last painter gobbed paint all over the rails and those big ungainly press-wood doors derail and crash every time you try and open or close ’em. Take your trusty putty knife out and scrape all that old paint and dried-out masking tape off those rails, like this, then sprinkle some of these old birthday candles under the doors, for the weight to glide on, run them back and forth a few times and a kid could open and close it with ease.

Homer, get out the caulking tube and trim the tip of the nozzle off about a quarter-inch, at a 30-degree angle. Use an old paint brush to dust the tops of the baseboards and door and window casings. Keep a wet rag, wrung once or twice, a bucket of water handy to rinse it with since you don’t want to leave any excess caulking on the woodwork or the wall. Lay a bead of caulk along the crack then lay it off with your forefinger, pressing the caulking down into the crack and wiping up the excess with the handy wet rag. And thank you for being careful to check the bottom of your shoes before you step off the drop cloth onto the floor. 

Now, Homer, we’ll take a lunch break while the caulking and spackle dry. When we get back we’ll run a pole-sander over the walls – marvelous work-out, Homer, your physique will profit from it (much to the delight of your vanity, if not your spouse), and it’ll be a chance for the Covid-19 mask to do some real good, filtering out some of the sanding dust. Do a thorough job, Homer. Use 150-grit paper, and make it all match. If you get carried away and burn through the texture in one spot, sad to say, you’ll just have to sand 20 times as much to make it all match; so, again, do be careful, Homer!

When it’s all uniformly sanded, take an old paintbrush and dust off the baseboards and casings again; shucks, Homer, why not go ahead and dust down the walls, too… W[where]TF you goin’? Were in lockdown, remember?

Let’s open the paint. Geeze, Homer, I personally wouldn’t have picked that particular color, but, hey, what do I know? But I do recall an incident when I was at the impressionable age of 14 and my cousin Joe got me on as Brush Boy to the celebrated Master Painter George Hollidick of Encinitas. As I recall, Old Hollidick chased his apprentice, Cousin Joe, off the job site with a claw hammer for opening a can of paint that very hue back in 1967.

But the color of the paint is irrelevant to the procedure, Homer, so let’s roll on a nice even coat, being careful not to get any ridges from the roller edges. Dip often, take long sweeps, go over and over until it’s thoroughly covered, always keep a wet edge, and as soon as you are done pick up a two- or three-inch brush and cut it in to the woodwork and ceiling before the edge ridges dry. Catch any drips, runs or misses while you’re at it, then you can go on break for a couple of hours while the first coat dries. Come back, do the same thing all over again and, by then it should be getting on towards 4:20, so go down to the shop for a safety meeting. Then come back and clean up so you can clock out at 5 and go home to a well-earned dinner.

Next, we’ll do the woodwork.

Well, Homer, I see by the eager flush of vigor in your scarred old visage that you were up with the rosy fingers of dawn, itching to get on with the paint project we started last week. Hope the drop cloths were no inconvenience in the meantime, but let’s take Admiral Nelson’s advice and go straight at it and get the casings all sanded down with some 180-grit sandpaper, then brush on a coat of primer to cover any patches and bare wood left from such a bracing bout of sanding – and you are to be congratulated, Homer, on being thorough and attentive to every “face and return,” as we call it in the housepainter vernacular, referring to the 90-degree corners, an eighth-of-an-inch deep and an eighth wide, from the casing to the door stop. That’s right, Homer, stop on the inside edge of the door stop. Everything on the other side will be painted when we do the exterior door and casing.

As soon as you’ve caulked every little crack into invisibility, we’ll move on to the baseboards. Now, Homer, I know crawling around on your hands and knees at your age is something of an indignity, not to say a painful hardship on your expensive new hips and knees, so I suggest you get out the grandkid’s old skate board to sit on – or, perhaps one of those Creepers™ mechanics use to scoot under a car with – anything, even an overturned bucket to sit on, will do, just so you can lean over and set the nails, putty the dimples, sand and prime the whole shebang and not get any paint on the rug where it meets the base.

This is a delicate operation because the carpet is likely to contain fibers, hairs, mites, et cetera, and they will cling to your brush and spoil your paintwork. Best practice is to tuck some masking tape along with some old AVA newspapers attached to the other side, in over the rug right where it meets the baseboard. Now, Homer, you can slather the paint on with willy-nilly abandon. For the finish coat, use the flat wall paint – not the semi-gloss, which will go on the door casings.

But wait a moment, Homer, your enthusiasm is waning. Take a decaf break, relax. You see, Homer, among the building trades house painters are known – not to say respected – as calm, quiet, contemplative craftsmen. While tile setters and finish carpenters are running their noisy saws and making lewd jokes, the only sound coming from the painter is the soft buzz of the sandpaper, the sticky hum of the roller, and the silent lick of the paint brush. This is why the other craftsmen will often as not serve one another notice when a paint crew arrives on a job site, with the patented comment (sotto voce): “Okay, guys, no more swearing, there’re painters in the house.” This modest alarm will generally turn Rabelaisian camaraderie into monastic silence.

Most painters, before they’re ready for prime-time contracting, have recently graduated from painting bathrooms and kitchens for little old ladies related to their grandmas – not, as one might rashly suppose, pulling a sash tool along the mullions of a Victorian conservatory’s fenestration. Reason, if not common sense, dictates that they are decidedly not a boisterous lot of noisome fellows, but I digress beyond my area of expertise.

Let’s get these casings sanded out to 220-grit and finished with two coats of semi-gloss paint in the same color as the flat paint on the walls. While you sweat away at it in this unseasonably warm weather, I’ll rehearse the nomenclature of the door. You may recall doors being described as either open or shut, but there’s some esoteric terms a painter must learn. The door has its interior and its exterior, top and bottom, and I trust you’re with me so far, Homer, but get ready for the face of the door and the heel. The heel is where the hinges are mounted. The face is where the latch and bolt dart in and out. Any glass in a door is referred to as lights, as in 12-light French doors. 

Here's another point, Homer. Doors almost always open inwardly; that is to say, into the room they are accessed through, where you come and go, a feature which necessarily puts the hinges on the inside, rather than on the outside, where anyone, such as a union gang, could simply punch the pins out of the hinges and set the door aside whether it was locked and bolted or not. 

To my not-altogether-limited knowledge, Homer, no one has ever developed a way to paint both sides of a door in one go – I’ve seen a fair number of attempts, and they’ve universally ended with unfortunate results. So let us content ourselves with getting these casings polished to a warm glow and save the front door for next week (after we practice our door-painting skills on these other doors in the hall, such as the one to the closet and the other to the bathroom); next week we’ll come at that front door with the aplomb of a journeyman housepainter – And I hope to see you sporting a brand new pair of painter’s pants (don’t daub paint all over ‘em, either, Homer; those faux poses as a salty old housepainter don’t really impress the guys at the paint store; and it absolutely ruins a hefty pair of canvas ducks, which from then on are useful only for mucking out cesspools). 

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