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Restoring woodwork to its original beauty

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WHEN I first moved to Cambodia, I was struck by all of the concrete; where I'm from houses are made out of wood and sheet rock, but in Minnesota we don't have to worry so much about termites, ants and other wood-eating nuisances. Although Phnom Penh seems like a concrete jungle, there is a fair amount of woodwork and most of it is in need of some serious attention.

The shutters in our house are as old as the building and, through the years as people have come and gone, the wood has been buried far, far beneath the thick layers of oil paint that have accumulated on these beauties.

While painting woodwork is more a chore than anything else, there is a right way to go about it and a wrong way. Let's get the wrong way out of the way first. Do not go to your local hardware market and buy the cheapest paint and simply whack it on. This will only perpetuate the problem of layers of bad painting. With a little bit of foresight and a heck of a lot of elbow grease, you can have beautiful-looking woodwork in no time.

While there are many paint stores in town and more cropping up all the time, I recommend Tang Pheng Por Dulux at 146 Monireth Boulevard near Mao Tse-tung Boulevard. They have the best tools, fine-quality paints and knowledgeable and friendly employees.

Pick up some masking tape, a couple of putty knives, varying in width from narrow to medium, an angled nylon, maroon-handled paint brush, a small roller and roller pan, thick and fine-grained sandpaper and paint thinner (remover).

When choosing paint, you will first want to decide on the finish; Pheng Por carries both matte and high-gloss. You will be looking for either Metex Decorative Oil Based Enamel ($8 a litre for high-gloss) or Nexa Autocolor ($10 a litre for matte). If the color you are choosing is vastly different from the existing color you will want to use a tinted primer, in which case I recommend Metex Primer ($8 a litre).

Step one - Scraping

Use your putty knives to scrape as much of the existing paint off as possible. This is the second-worst part of the job, but the more you get off, the easier the worst part of the job - sanding - will be. Begin at the top of your project and work your way down. Make sure to get all of the bumps and rough spots flaked free. When you are done with this, brush off the entire project and vacuum clean.

Step two - Sanding

Take the roughest sandpaper you can find and sand everything until it's all relatively smooth. Wrap the paper around a block of wood to make it easier. Once the surfaces are smooth, change to a lighter grain paper and give it one more go. When you have finished sanding, brush off and thoroughly vacuum, making sure that all of the corners and grooves are free of dust.

Step three - Painting

The most important thing about painting woodwork is to go slowly and watch for drips. Do not paint directly from the can - use a cut up bleach bottle or a plastic container and dip only the tips of the bristles into the paint. After you have masked off the edges of your project, start by painting what is highest and furthest away from you. If you are painting shutters begin with the upper most slat and work your way down. When painting shutters you need to be careful not to have too much paint on your brush to avoid drips. Don't worry about painting the entire slat, only paint what shows.

Begin in the corner by brushing a thin layer of paint against the grain of the wood. Follow this with longer strokes over the first, going with the grain. Once again, watch out for drips; corners and around hardware (hinges and knobs) are the most likely areas for paint to accumulate and run. Wherever you have large flat surfaces to paint, use your roller and roll a layer of paint onto the surface and then go over it with your brush.

Always make sure that your finishing strokes are painted with the grain and try to keep your strokes long and straight. When you are finished with the first coat of paint or primer, allow your project to dry for at least 12 hours. Lightly sand your work, vacuum well and continue with the second coat. If you used primer, continue with a second coat of paint equalling three coats all together.

Between coats keep your paint and your brushes sealed in plastic bags. Cleaning up oil paint is a pain in the butt, so I suggest simply tossing it all out. But if you must, buy a wire brush and clean everything with thinner.

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