Shop Tips & Tricks #17: Making Painting & Varnishing Easier, Cleaner and Cheaper

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Blog entry by GnarlyErik posted 08-06-2016 08:30 PM 1861 reads 6 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 16: How to Plane Stock very Thin Part 17 of Shop Tips & Tricks series Part 18: The Zen of Sandpaper and Sanding »

Today it occurred to me while working in my shop, I have used a little trick for decades which is handy, saves money, is neat and tidy, and costs almost nothing. I didn’t think to pass this on before. To make up for that, here it is now:

Using paint or varnish out of a can is always kind of a messy operation. This is not an issue if you are going to use the whole can of paint, but if you only want part of it for a smaller project, it is. You pour paint out of a can into another container, and invariably, some runs down outside the can. This can get everywhere, on your bench, clothing, shop floor, tools and your hands. You must wipe up, and you miss something anyway. It is frustrating and makes you want to throw something – not a good idea in a project area.

Paint also gets into the sealing area at the rim of the can, and you never get it all out. It can dry there making the can hard, even impossible to open later. It helps to punch several small holes in the bottom of the creased rim to allow the paint there to drain into the can. Some always remains and you get a build-up of dry paint, letting air into the can, spoiling the remaining paint in the can, or allowing a crust to build up. When you try to use the paint later, you must cut through the crust to the paint beneath. Plus, the paint gets contaminated by chunks of the crust mixed into it. It is frustrating and costly.

Years ago, bing! A light went off in my head. My wife provided a cheap stainless soup spoon I could use to dip paint out of the can. Just like that the problem was solved! No pouring, no muss, no fuss, no drips and no gripes. I found by doing some creative bending to my spoon, things got even better. Hammering in the spoon’s sides made a sort of funnel making pouring out of the spoon more accurate. I can dip a precise measure out of my cans for small projects without worrying about the rim, or re-sealing of the can. The spoon is also used to measure precise amounts of thinner, or other additives to the paint as you mix.

Another benefit is measuring a small amount of thinner or turps into the spoon to gently spread back over the surface of the paint remaining in the can before you reseal., This helps maintain the viscosity of the remaining paint, which is affected by the air in the can. I always had trouble getting the turps to stay on top of the liquid paint’s surface before. (NOTE: for oil-based paints only!) Now, I can simply gently let it flow out of the tip of the spoon, right at the paint surface. The pictures show how the spoon is bent so you can reach way down to the bottom of the can if you need to. There is also a return bend at the top which is used to hang the spoon after use. Always remember to wipe the spoon clean with thinner and an a rag or paper towel, or you will have to scrape or burn an accumulation of dry paint off.

Some of the paints and varnishes I use cost over $60 a quart, and it torments my being to waste any of it. If I gauge things right when I dip with the spoon, very little paint is wasted. This is just a simple little no-brainer (my wife insists I certainly qualify there!) trick which works like a charm. Try it!

It is also easy to make a quick one-off larger ladle out of a small can or bottle with a stick nailed or screwed to it for a handle. This is for when you need more paint than is convenient for the soup spoon, but much less than a full can.

See my pictures showing how the spoon is re-formed and used:

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

5 comments so far

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4787 days

#1 posted 08-06-2016 08:39 PM

An interesting solution, thanks for posting it here.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View shipwright's profile


8711 posts in 3873 days

#2 posted 08-06-2016 10:34 PM

I like it Erik. I’m off to bend some spoons (look out Uri Geller).
I highly approve of your choice of finishes too. Epifanes is nice stuff!

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4222 days

#3 posted 08-07-2016 01:01 AM

Great tip—thanks for posting!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View hunter71's profile


3553 posts in 4261 days

#4 posted 08-07-2016 10:20 AM

That’s why to hever throw anything away…TILL YOUR WIIFE TELLS YOU TO.

-- A childs smile is payment enough.

View GnarlyErik's profile


344 posts in 3209 days

#5 posted 08-09-2016 08:43 PM

Yes Paul. I have always loved Epifanes, especially the high gloss. Adding just 2-3% of Penetrol and a little thinner to get the viscosity just right makes it flow perfectly. I can get a finish with it on wood you really literally can’t tell from glass. My theory too, is if the finish is super smooth, then moisture can’t find microscopic crevices to cling to to spoil your finish over time. Seems to work too.

I’ve got a cherry shaving brush (yes, I still use one!) holder in my bathroom which has been in its high moisture environment for at least ten years, and it still looks like it was varnished yesterday. Not a blem, haze or crack anywhere.

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

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