Three Tricks of the Painters’ Trade

Professional painters who master these techniques for repairing wood rot, removing wallpaper and refinishing butcher blocks will always be busy. 

Know-how is one of the things that separates pros from amateurs, and sometimes the situations you face as a painter demand know-how that’s a little out of the ordinary. Here are real-world tips and products for making you look like a genius as you meet three paint-related challenges.

Repairing Wood Rot

Everyone who paints outdoor wood knows how common rot is. Many wooden buildings that need exterior paint show at least a little punky wood here and there. Some buildings show a lot, and the wetter the climate you live in, the more often you’ll find rot. The thing is, the kind of rot you’ll find as a painter is rarely structural. More often than not it’s something that can be fixed permanently by patching, but only if you use the right kind of patching procedure.

“Keep your eyes open and you could earn a few hundred easy dollars refinishing butcher-block surfaces in the houses you’re already visiting for regular repainting.”

You need to cover three essential bases because there’s more to outdoor rot repair than meets the eye. If you just hack out rotten wood, then trowel in some auto body filler, your repair won’t last. Sure, the repair itself will provide a fine substrate for paint and it will look good in the short run, but the repair will come loose as the rot continues to spread. Improper patching is a callback waiting to happen. That’s because filling an empty cavity in a post or some siding or a windowsill is only the last of the steps necessary for successfully patching wood rot. Disinfection and consolidation are the necessary prerequisites for a permanent repair. After removing rotten wood, it’s necessary to kill the rot organisms chemically. If you don’t do this, the rot process will continue, even if the area is drier than it was before paint. Wood rot is something like cancer; it needs to be killed before it’ll stop spreading.


Rhino Wood Repair is a Canadian system that’s arguably the best there is. It’s not the cheapest option, but I know from my own tests that it works great and is much cheaper than any kind of wood replacement. It’s strong, long lasting and is easy to shape. One reason Rhino works is because it covers the three essential steps: disinfection, consolidation and filling. Remove as much of the rotten wood as you can, kill the rot organisms with a pre-treatment, then firm up any remaining soft wood with Rhino liquid epoxy treatment. The filler part of the Rhino system is made of two putties you mix together until they’re a consistent colour. Force the putty into the rot cavity, smooth it over while still soft, then rasp and sand it to final shape before priming and painting with the rest of the area.

Wallpaper Removal

This is one of the most unpredictable tasks you’ll face as a painter. Sometimes paper comes off easily, many times not. Wallpapers are different one from the other, and the prep applied to the wall before the paper went on can make a big difference when it’s time to get back to bare surfaces. Different painters have different tricks, but one thing worth considering is specialty wallpaper removal products. They don’t always boost efficiency, but depending on the situation that can make a big difference, especially when little bits of paper remain. Zinsser’s DIF wallpaper stripper is one of the most widely available and effective options. Most pros prefer the liquid concentrate version. Wallpaper steamers are usually more than worth it, too. The Wagner Spraytech is readily available, inexpensive and works exceptionally well.

Butcher Block Refinishing

More and more people these days are understandably concerned about the safety of paints and finishing products in their home. This is especially true when it comes to food prep areas. Finishing a butcher- block counter is a case in point. Countertops made of maple and other hardwoods need regular care that they don’t always get. Keep your eyes open and you could earn a few hundred easy dollars refinishing butcher-block surfaces in the houses you’re already visiting for regular repainting. If butcher block has watermarks and staining (and it probably will), then you’ll need to start by sanding. The trick is to do it without making the client’s home dusty.

A little know-how can go a long way towards success. Learning new tricks of the trade is one of the ways good painters get better and stay busy.

Connecting a shop vac to a random orbit sander with a dust bag works well. Take the dust bag off, then use duct tape to connect the vac hose to the sander in some way. It needn’t be fancy because sanding won’t take long. A 100-grit disk is perfect. Vacuum off the surface in preparation for recoating after sanding. Watco Butcher Block Oil & Finish is one option that’s different and better than most in my experience. Unlike ordinary oils, this product seals the surface more thoroughly and creates a thin surface film. It provides a lot of protection and leaves a glossy, non-toxic finish behind.

If your client prefers a flatter sheen, buff down the surface by hand with a fine 3M rubbing pad used along the grain after the product dries at least over night. You can dial in more or less gloss depending on how much you buff. If one coat of the butcher-block oil doesn’t do the trick, sand the wood lightly by hand with 220-grit paper, vac the dust off, then apply another coat. You’ll find thin coats applied by brushwork best. Don’t worry about getting a little on sink edges or faucets. The oil is food-grade and non-toxic when dry and wipes off easily with a rag when wet. A little key know-how can go a long way towards success. Learning new tricks of the trade is one of the ways good painters get better and stay busy.

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