Painting wainscoting calls for prep and some tools

Q: We have paneling halfway up the wall in our small bathroom. I believe the siding is original for the house, so around 20 years old, and I think it was spray painted before installation. It has very thin vertical grooves in the wood as part of its pattern, with two grooves / lines every 1 1/2 inches. We repainted the white border, and now the paneling looks yellow in comparison. How can I repaint the paneling given the small grooves?

A: They have a so-called beadboard cladding, but in a modern version. The original type consisted of separate boards that were milled with overlapping edges. Because wood swells and shrinks primarily across its width, the boards were shaped so that they could change width without cracking or loosening. The expansion gaps were built into the design, which resulted in the vertical lines you see.

It is still possible to buy board-style beadboards today. However, builders usually create the look with panel or plank products that mimic the look and are quicker to install. Some panels are made of compressed wood fibers, either medium density fibreboard (MDF) or high density fibreboard (HDF). The vertical grooves are milled as a design feature but serve no practical purpose other than where parts connect.

There is also plywood beadboard, but the vertical grooves cut through more than one of the layers that make plywood, so unlike all the other options, the grooves are rough below.

For use in bathrooms where walls can get steamy or wet, there are special moisture-resistant MDF beadboards and beadboard planks made of PVC or other types of vinyl that are insensitive to moisture damage.

From the pictures you sent it will appear that you have one of the modern versions. The surface is too even for individual planks to be involved. It’s impossible to tell from a picture what type of material you have, but paint will likely stick well even if you are vinyl / PVC type. For example, the products sold at Home Depot can be painted. Some are sold pre-painted, others are primed.

Since we don’t know if your beadboard was finished, primed or painted on site, or what material is under the paint, take the time to prep the surface like vinyl. What works for it should work for all other types. But as always, if you’re painting over a surface you’re not sure of, do a small test patch with the primer and topcoat to make sure everything is sticking.

Wipe the panel to remove any soap or dirt. After drying, sand lightly to rub the surface and improve the color feel. You want it to look equally boring. Don’t worry about rubbing the grooves, though it wouldn’t hurt to fold a piece of sandpaper and quickly run it over each line. Wipe off the grinding residue.

Apply a primer that is formulated to adhere to smooth surfaces. Plastpro, which makes the porch vinyl beadboard sold at Home Depot, recommends Sherwin-Williams’ Extreme Bond Primer. But other brands of primer should work too. A water-based primer is fine.

Wait the time indicated on the primer label for the final paint to apply. For Sherwin-Williams primer, this is one hour for most paints, but 24 hours if the paint is a heavy-duty finish, which in Sherwin-Williams’ range usually means that the product name includes “Pro”. Wait a day to be sure. Apply two coats of the top coat and wait for the time recommended on the label between coats.

Now to the focus of your question, which painting tool or tools to use? For priming, Sherwin-Williams recommends either a nylon / polyester brush or a roller with a soft, woven roller cover with a 3/8 inch nap. Either tool will likely work best for your project. If you were to paint beadboard before installing it, it would be relatively easy to get the job done with just one roller. You can load the roller generously with paint and then roll it up with enough pressure to squeeze paint into the crevices. However, if the beadboard is already installed, there is a risk of excess paint dripping if only one roller is used.

You will likely be luckier if you use a roller to get paint on the wall and mostly into the crevices, and then quickly brush with a mostly dry brush to even out thick or thin areas and to wipe away any blobs of paint, especially in the one Grooves before they dry into visible drops. It is important not to repeatedly paint over an area as this will prevent the paint from drying properly. The second coat of paint should create the consistent look you are looking for. If the first coat leaves bald spots in the grooves, do the second coat with just the brush. Once that’s dry, apply a third coat, during which time you focus on the flat areas.

For the specific tools, an angled wing brush that is 1 1/2 or 2 inches wide should work. The tip and angled shape go into the crevices and still allow you to smooth out the paint on the flat spots. Using a normal size roller can be difficult in a small space. A small roller the size of a hot dog is nimbler and easier to control. Get two roller covers: one for the primer, one for the finish paint. Tightly wrap the roller in a plastic bag between the top coats.

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