Painters and Paperhangers


Exploring this Job

Painting is a career that is easy to get started in by taking a summer job during high school. Paperhanging summer jobs are harder to come by and often require practice before taking on a paid job. Becoming an excellent painter or paperhanger requires experience, specifically by working in the field as an employee. Those who show interest and diligence can go far working for a construction or painting company.

You can also explore the work of painters and paperhangers by reading trade journals such as the monthly Painters and Allied Trades Journal, available to members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades union (https://iupat.org/member-information/publications). Look for educational books and videos at your local library. The projects tackled on television home improvement shows almost always feature the work of painters or paperhangers to some extent.

The Job

Workers in the painting and paperhanging trades often perform both functions; painters may take on jobs that involve hanging wallpaper, and paperhangers may work in situations where they are responsible for painting walls and ceilings. However, although there is some overlap in the work, each trade has its own characteristic skills.

Painters must be able to apply paint thoroughly, uniformly, and rapidly to any type of surface. To do this, they must be skilled in handling brushes and other painting tools and have a working knowledge of the various characteristics of paints and finishes—their durability, suitability, and ease of handling and application.

Preparation of the area to be painted is an important duty of painters, especially when repainting old surfaces. They first smooth the surface, removing old, loose paint with a scraper, paint remover (usually a liquid solution), wire brush, or paint-removing gun (similar in appearance to a hairdryer) or a combination of these items. If the home or building was built in 1978 or earlier, then the painter usually tests for lead paint, which involves a simple and inexpensive over-the-counter kit. If lead paint is present, the painter must be certified for lead paint removal through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and follow the steps for containment.

Painters will also remove grease and fill nail holes, cracks, and joints with putty, plaster, or other types of filler. Often, a prime coat or sealer is applied to further smooth the surface and make the finished coat level and well blended in color.

Once the surface is prepared, painters select premixed paints or prepare paint by mixing required portions of pigment, oil, and thinning and drying substances. (For purposes of preparing paint, workers must have a thorough knowledge of the composition of the various materials they use and of which materials mix well together.) They then paint the surface using a brush, spray gun, or roller; choosing the most appropriate tool for applying paint is one of the most important decisions a painter must make because using incorrect tools often slows down the work and produces unacceptable results. Spray guns are used generally for large surfaces or objects that do not lend themselves to brush work, such as lattices, cinder and concrete block structures, and radiators.

Many painters specialize in working on exterior surfaces only, painting house sidings and outside walls of large buildings. When doing work on tall buildings, scaffolding (raised supportive platforms) must be erected to allow the painter to climb to his or her position at various heights above the ground; workers also might use swing-like and chair-like platforms hung from heavy cables.

The first task of the paperhanger is similar to that of the painter: to prepare the surface to be covered. Rough spots must be smoothed, holes and cracks must be filled, and old paint, varnish, and grease must be removed from the surface. In some cases, old wallpaper must be removed by brushing it with solvent, soaking it down with water, or steaming it with portable steamer equipment. In new work, the paperhangers apply sizing, which is a prepared glazing material used as filler to make the plaster less porous and to ensure that the paper sticks well to the surface.

After erecting any necessary scaffolding, the paperhangers measure the area to be covered and cut the paper to size. They then mix paste and apply it to the back of the paper, which is then placed on the wall or ceiling and smoothed into place with brushes or rollers. In placing the paper on the wall, paperhangers must make sure that they match any design patterns at the adjacent edges of paper strips, cut overlapping ends, and smooth the seams between each strip.