THE MODERN PAINTER AND DECORATOR: TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT

THE object of painting is principally for protection against atmospheric and other outside influences, to preserve materials, and secondly to decorate. The craft of the decorator has a long and interesting history, but until comparatively recently it had changed but little for hundreds of years. It employed a relatively restricted range of materials, most of which were ‘ knocked up ‘ by the decorator himself, using rule-of-thumb methods, but producing excellent results. Labour was cheap, time was of far less account than it is now, and houses, furniture, and other things were built to last; all these factors encouraged a high standard of craftsmanship which was, in fact, generally maintained.

The change may be said to have begun in earnest after the 1914-18 war. It originated from the greatly increased cost of labour and the necessity for speeding up work, both of which were legacies from the war. These have necessitated the introduction of many new materials and methods, involving in some instances a different technique of application and, in one or two cases, the reversal of time-honoured principles.

The decorating trade is notoriously conservative and is inclined to be suspicious of everything that is new. The changes which have taken place in it have been forced on it by sheer necessity. It was not that the old traditional methods were not reliable but rather that many of them were no longer economic, since they required too much time and labour under existing conditions. There was also a tendency to use alternative materials for the decoration and protection of surfaces on which, hitherto, paint had been used as a matter of course. If paint, and with it the painter’s craft, were to continue to hold its own, it had to move with the times: the work of the paint research chemist and the enterprise of the paint manufacturer made this possible.

Factory-made Materials

The outstanding difference between the trade to-day and that of prior to 1918 is the enormous increase in the use of factory-made paints and other materials. Ready-mixed paints are by no means of recent introduction: they have been on the market for well over a hundred years but in their early days they were often of inferior quality and the professional decorator, with few exceptions, had little use for them, regarding them as primarily intended for amateur use. True, he did not attempt to prepare his own varnishes or enamels, but his paint he made up himself as a matter of course, relying on white lead and adjusting the proportions of oil, turpentine, and driers according to the condition of the surface, as his experience dictated. Colour mixing and matching were everyday jobs and no one who was unable to carry them out with reasonable efficiency could be regarded as a skilled painter.

Thanks to a more scientific approach to the subject and the volume and nature of the research which has been done on it, the present-day ready-mixed paint, as produced by any firm of repute, is a first-class material which is at least as good as, and in many ways superior to, anything which the decorator can make up for himself. This is due not only to the careful selection of materials and improvements in machinery which enable finer grinding and more thorough mixing than is possible to the painter, but also to the degree of control and close supervision which is exercised over every stage in the operation. Provided that the decorator deals with a good firm, is prepared to pay a fair price, and follows the manufacturer’s recommendations and instructions, he can use factory-made finishes with every confidence.

Since paints, distempers, and other materials used by the decorator in the course of his work are now available in ready-for-use form of high quality in a range of tints more than adequate for all ordinary purposes, it may be asked whether there is much point in studying the various pigments, oils, thinners, and other ingredients employed in the making of finishes, or of attempting to master such operations as paint and colour mixing. The answer must be that it is very well worth doing so, for the more the painter knows of and understands the materials of his trade, the better craftsman he is likely to be. If he relies exclusively on factory-made finishes he has little more claim to be looked upon as a decorator, in the fullest sense of the word, than has a woman, who depends solely on tinned goods, to be regarded as a genuine cook.

It must be recognised that ready-mixed materials have come to stay and the saving of time and labour which their use permits more than outweighs their disadvantages. For all their convenience, however, they have not proved an entirely unmixed blessing to the trade. They have, for 3 example, done much to encourage the entry into it of a great deal of unskilled or, at the most, semi-skilled labour which has been responsible in recent years for a distinct lowering of the standard of workmanship. A considerable proportion of present-day painters have served no apprenticeship, nor have they attended classes at technical institutions: they have, in fact, drifted into the trade because there is a popular illusion that painting requires no particular skill – that it is merely a matter of dipping a brush into a pot of paint and applying it to a surface: ready-mixed paints have helped to foster this illusion.

In spite of the fact that the majority of decorators to-day buy most of their materials in ready-prepared form, there is still a substantial number who prefer, whenever it is possible to do so, to make them up for themselves. These volumes are intended for both classes and in this, as in every other respect, every endeavour has been made to supply practical and reliable information on the many aspects of the craft.

The Paint Shop

System makes for economy and efficiency in any kind of business and in none more than in that of the decorator. It is especially important that it should be exercised in the arrangement and lay-out of the paint shop: a great deal of space might be devoted to a description of an ideal design for the latter, but there would be little point in giving one since only on rare occasions is the decorator in the happy position of being able to build one to his own plans. As a general rule he has to make use of such accommodation as is available on his premises and adapt it to his purpose as best he can.

Since ready-mixed materials came into general use, the paint shop in many small firms is used rather as a store than as a workshop, but there are plenty of small jobs best carried out inside it; for this reason, it should be of ample size, well lighted, dry, and maintained at a uniform temperature. It should be kept as clean and free from dust as is humanly possible, and from dark or hidden corners where rubbish can accumulate or the presence of useful material be overlooked; adequate precautions should be taken against the risk of fire.

In the old days, when most of his paints were knocked up in the shop, the decorator usually bought in bulk and kept in hand substantial quantities of pigments, oil, thinners, varnishes, enamels, and other products. There was an advantage in doing so, for he was thus in a better position to lay in stocks when prices were favourable, in addition to which, most of the materials referred to improved by keeping. To-day, with the vast range of factory-made products on the market and the practice, by architects and others, of specifying proprietary brands by name, he is more inclined to keep less stock in hand and to buy to satisfy his immediate needs.

One of the grievances in the trade against the present-day tendency to specify particular brands instead of leaving it to the decorator to use those products which his experience suggests are most suitable for the job in hand, is that it inevitably involves him in needless waste. On a contract of any size, it is practically impossible to estimate exactly how much material will be wanted and, if too little is bought, it may mean delay in obtaining further supplies. So it usually happens on jobs where branded goods have been specified that there are left over odds and ends of paint which find their way back to the paint shop, either to remain indefinitely on the shelves, or to be relegated to the smudge tub.

Many decorators, however, do little work for architects or builders and are thus usually free to employ materials of their own choice, so that certain items of stock can conveniently be carried in fair quantity. The arrangement of these items in the paint shop deserves more thought and attention than it commonly receives; it should be done both to make access and handling as easy as possible and to store the goods under the best available conditions. When fresh stock arrives, care should be taken that the old is moved up and used first.

Since the arrangement must depend primarily on the size and shape of the shop, only general recommendations can be given. On the upper shelves, where there are likely to be less fluctuations of temperature, keep varnishes and enamels, gold size, liquid driers, etc., which are more susceptible to changes. Lower down, store ready-mixed paints, stainers, etc., while nearer the floor, but well away from the stove or other source of heat, keep the oil, turpentine and white spirit, and heavier goods such as paste white lead, or zinc oxide, and distempers and water paints. There should be plenty of cupboard room for brushes, stipplers, leathers, sponges, and similar goods, none of which should be kept in too high a temperature.

Mixing Bench: A strong mixing bench, from about 2 ft. 6 in. to 2 ft. 9 in. high and 2 ft. 6 in. wide, should be provided. It should have one or two slabs of marble, slate, thick plate glass, or metal, on which putty can be knocked up or mixing carried out. When ready-prepared materials are not to be used, paints should always be made up in the shop rather than on the job. In former years, most shops included a small paint mill, but though this is seldom in evidence nowadays, it is a useful item; during slack times, stock coatings can be made up, though it will, of course, be necessary to have air-tight containers to stock them in, or they will be liable to fatten up.

Paint Shaker: A useful accessory is a paint shaker or renovator. Most flat-drying paints and some gloss paints tend to settle if kept in stock for any length of time and it is, of course, not possible to tell how long a paint has been in store before the decorator receives it. This means that he is often obliged to spend valuable time in knocking up material before it becomes fit to use.

Smudge Tub: A necessary item in the paint shop is the smudge tub, into which are emptied odds and ends of paint left over from various jobs. With ready-mixed paints made, as they are nowadays, from widely differing formulas, the contents of the tub may represent a strange miscellany, but a use can generally be found for them, though it would be unwise to put too much trust in the durability and other properties of such mixtures; if space permits, it is a good plan to have two or three smudge tubs, so that, to some extent, greens, browns, and greys can be kept separate.

After paint kettles have been emptied into the smudge tub they should be cleaned as soon as possible, either by burning out or by a solution of caustic soda. By placing some waste paper in the kettle, adding some paraffin and setting alight, the kettle can be scraped and wiped clean without much difficulty. Caustic soda should be used with great care as it is liable to damage the skin and clothing. If kettles cleaned with a solution of it are not used for some time, they are likely to go rusty: one method of preventing this is to rinse them, after cleaning, in boiling water; dry them and immerse them, while still warm, in linseed oil thinned with turpentine; drain them and allow them to dry. This method may take a little time but will certainly be quicker than having to remove the rust from the kettle when the latter is put into use again.

It is absolutely essential, to have good results, that the paint, when mixed, is thoroughly strained. This applies not only to materials made up by the decorator himself, but also to those bought ready-mixed, although it is to be feared that in the latter case the practice is too often neglected. It will be appreciated, however, that many paints skin over in the container, that it is seldom possible to ensure that all fragments of skin are removed before the material is used, and that unless the container is kept properly sealed, dust and other impurities, likely to mar the finish, may find their way into it.

Strainers: In most workshops the strainer consists of a utensil with tapering sides and with a gauze bottom. Sometimes, instead of the gauze or in addition to it, muslin is introduced. As a rule, the gauze may be removed; this is necessary for cleaning purposes. It is kept in position by a detachable rim. For small quantities of paint or colour, sometimes a cup is used with a piece of gauze placed upon it and held in position by a rim as before. In other cases, for small quantities of paint, a cheap strainer such as is used for straining tea – which may be bought for a few pence – proves useful.

As a matter of fact, the question of straining is one that is not carefully attended to by many decorators; hence the painted work is not satisfactory because it is not smooth. The paint manufacturer owes a good deal of his success to the fact that he strains his materials so very thoroughly. As a rule, in preparing paints three different strainers – coarse, medium, and fine meshes – are used. Revolving brushes, removing the coarse particles which the coarse mesh strains off, facilitate the operation.

The same plan may be followed in the painter’s shop by using a series of three strainers with varying fineness of mesh by placing three strainers one above the other. The paint is poured into the top strainer, the contents gradually finds its way into the medium strainer, then into the bottom strainer and the paint pot to catch the paint, now entirely free from ‘bits.’

It will be understood that not only should oil paint be strained in the manner indicated, but distemper should also be treated in the same way. It is best to have several sorts of strainers for paint and several for distemper. It need hardly be said that in every case strainers must be thoroughly cleaned immediately after use. This is often done with turpentine, but this plan is rather wasteful; soap and hot water with a little soda or ammonia, together with a soft scrubbing brush, quickly clean strainers and render them fit for use again when required.

Paint Mixing: The actual mixing of the paint is often done with a paddle or a shaped piece of wood. A better implement is an iron paint mixer, which is perforated. Better still, however, particularly for large shops where a considerable amount of the same sort of paint is required, is a paint-mixing machine which mixes the paint thoroughly and in less than a quarter of the time which it would take to do it by the ordinary means. These machines can be worked by hand or power, as may be desired, and are made small enough to mix from half a gallon at a time to practically any larger quantity. The mixing arms or knives cut the white lead or other pigment up and amalgamate it with the oil in a very short time. In mixing paint, linseed oil must be added to the stiff pigments first and turpentine last. The reason is that if the turpentine is added first it will dissolve some of the linseed oil out of the stiff paste and render the actual mixing more difficult.

Quite frequently one finds that after paint is mixed and carefully strained it is taken through the street straight to the job unprotected and with the likelihood that dust will set in it during its transport. To obviate this it is desirable to place over the can some protection.

A stout pair of scales with a set of weights is another necessary article of equipment.

Painters’ Knives: They include a putty or stopping knife ; a chisel knife either with a straight or skewed edge , for scraping off, sometimes also employed for stopping; a trowel knife ; a broad knife or scraper ; a moulding scraper , and a palette knife . A glazier’s knife, plain or notched , and a hacking knife for removing old glass and putty from window frames, will also be found useful. For cutting up gold leaf a gilder’s knife is essential.

The Blow Lamp: For the removal of old paintwork, the blow lamp is still widely used in the trade, and although the burning-off method has its disadvantages, there is much to be said in its favour, for it is cheap and, when properly carried out, speedy and effective. The old-fashioned charcoal brazier formerly used for the purpose can now be regarded as obsolete.

The two kinds of blow lamp commonly in use are the paraffin and the petroleum or benzolene types. The former is fitted with a pump which is used intermittently to maintain pressure and, since the fuel it uses is cheaper and more readily available, it is probably the more popular lamp of the two. Whichever type is employed, the principle of combustion is the same: the burner and connecting tubes, on heating, cause the oil or spirit to vaporise and the vapour, mixing with the air, burns with an intensely hot flame as it issues from the nozzle.

The paraffin blow lamp is generally considered the safer of the two although, with ordinary care, little risk attaches to the use of the petrol type. The chief objection to the paraffin-burning variety is its tendency to carbonise, thus involving more cleaning. The spirit-burning type needs less attention and is also ready for use rather more quickly.

The decorator should be prepared to pay a good price for a blow lamp and should preferably select one made by a well-known firm. A lamp which is constantly going out, choking up, and giving trouble generally is dear at any price and may, moreover, be a source of danger. A Memorandum issued by the Factory Department of the Home Office in 1938 stated that in the course of the previous five years, nineteen accidents, of which five had proved fatal, had been reported in connection with blow lamps: faulty construction, absence of suitable fittings, inadequate testing, and lack of proper cleaning and maintenance were given as the causes, and it was added that the lamps concerned were most of them of cheap, foreign manufacture.

Another form of apparatus for burning off old paintwork is the acetylene burner, though this is probably more used in shipyards and similar places than in house-painting. The acetylene gas is stored in high-pressure cylinders to which is attached a flexible tube fitted with a burner. This gives off a flat flame, considerably hotter than that emitted from paraffin-or spirit-burning lamps, and thus makes for more speedy removal of the paint. The chief advantage of the acetylene burner, however, is that it is very light and involves far less fatigue in using it than do the other types referred to above.

Drop Sheets: It is important that there should be an adequate supply of drop or dust sheets for use when interior work is being carried out. These are available in calico, twill, and cotton and, since they will have to withstand a good deal of fairly rough handling, calico or, at least, twill are to be preferred. Drop sheets are made in various sizes, ranging from about 10 ft. x 6 ft. to 12 ft. X 10 ft., hemmed ready for use.

Some sheets are supplied with tape loops attached to the hems, others being fitted with metal eyelets. On the whole, the loops are to be preferred since there is the possibility that the eyelets may scratch fine furniture. Needless to say, all drop sheets should be laundered at frequent intervals. Most decorators stencil the names of their firms on the sheets as some kind of safeguard against theft.

Wash-leathers: Natural chamois leathers are split from the underside of the skin of a sheep – an operation which requires great dexterity as the knife may slip slightly and leave slits or weak places; the latter can often be detected by holding the leather up to the light. The continued wringing* out to which leathers must necessarily be subjected will soon find out weak places and thus it is an economy to buy only those of first grade.

Leathers are usually roughly square in shape and are made in various sizes, ranging from about 16 in. X 16 in. to 24 in. X 24 in. They are generally sold by the dozen or the ‘ kip ‘ of thirty skins.

Sponges: Sponges for decorators’ work range from common grass sponges for rough jobs to fine honeycomb sponges which, in quality, approximate those used for toilet purposes. Cheap grades soon disintegrate. A good sponge, intended for use on fine work, should be soft but tough and free from grit or pieces of shell, which are often found in inferior-quality sponges when new. It is not economical to purchase a large sponge and cut it up, as even good-quality sponges will quickly fall to pieces if this is done.

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