Ideas From Ed: Keepin’ it SMOOTH!

Ed is a do-it-yourselfer who is happy to share some of his ideas and experiences in this monthly column.

Have you ever wanted to paint an area that was just plain ugly because of irregularities in the old surface, like spaces where the old finish wasn’t properly sanded or scraped before the previous painting?  Of course you have! Here’s an example of just what I mean: 

This windowsill has lots of “low areas” that will surely show through any new paint, just as it does through the old paint, because of the uneven nature of the surface.  If you’re a person that likes hard work, you can sand and scrape things now, before doing a re-paint. If you’re someone that likes a shortcut to a nice finish, joint compound might be the answer.  I don’t recommend this for an area like a tabletop that will receive a lot of wear, but it’s fine for most painted woodwork (ugh! I HATE that combination of words!) and similar areas.

I like to use a “light”, “easy-sand” version of joint compound, pre-mixed.  Some brands offer additional options, like “reduced dust from sanding”, and I do recommend using that if you can find it, as the dust can find its way into the oddest places (including your nostrils, so wear a dust mask when sanding).  I sometimes install a small-particle filter into my shop vacuum, and hold it right near where I’m sanding, to help minimize issues.

The first step, of course, is to smooth the compound onto the surface.  I like a plastic “putty knife”, of about a 4″ width, for general purposes.  I also like a 1″ one for tight spaces. You can take the compound right out of the bucket and smooth it onto the surface.  Try to minimize any excess, but you do need to slightly overfill the damaged area to allow for sanding it down when it’s dry.  It’s hard to see in this picture because the compound is white and the windowsill is a light color, but this is how it looks after a quick application of compound.  You can dress up any final areas using more joint compound once the initial application has dried (overnight for deep fills, a few hours for shallow ones, or when using quick-drying compound).

The compound sands extremely easily, so go slowly and carefully so as not to overdo things.  You can use a sanding sponge, sandpaper on a pad or even a piece of wood, or anything to help get a nice flat finish.  After some practice, you might even do some free-hand work, especially to help “feather in” any edges. You will be amazed how easy this is, compared to the scraping option!

After sanding, evaluate the surface, and if more work is needed, now’s the time to smooth on more compound. Usually one try is all you’ll need once you get the hang of things.  Here’s how it looks after sanding:

Ready for painting!  A nice, smooth surface will always look better than the flawed one, and no one will know (except you) that you didn’t spend your whole vacation scraping away the old paint!

Happy restoring!

Ed