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Painters and Paperhangers - What They Do

Paint and indoor wall coverings make surfaces clean, attractive, and vibrant. In addition, paints and other sealers protect exterior surfaces from erosion caused by exposure to the weather.

Painters apply paint, stain, varnish, and other finishes to buildings and other structures. They select the right paint or finish for the surface to be covered, taking into account durability, ease of handling, method of application, and customers' wishes. Painters first prepare the surfaces to be coated, so that the paint will adhere properly. This may require removing the old coat of paint by sanding, wire brushing, burning, or water and abrasive blasting. Painters also fill nail holes and cracks, sandpaper rough spots, and wash walls and trim to remove dirt, grease, and dust. On new surfaces, they apply a primer or sealer to prepare the surface for the top coat. Painters also mix paints and match colors, relying on knowledge of paint composition and color harmony. In most paint shops or hardware stores, mixing and matching are automated.

There are several ways to apply paint and similar coverings. Therefore, painters must be able to choose the appropriate paint applicator for each job, depending on the surface to be covered, the characteristics of the finish, and other factors. Some jobs need only a good bristle brush with a soft, tapered edge; others require a dip or fountain pressure roller; still, others are best done using a paint sprayer. Many jobs need several types of applicators. In fact, painters may use an assortment of brushes, edgers, and rollers for a single job. The right tools speed the painter's work and produce the most attractive finish.

Some painting artisans specialize in creating distinctive finishes by using one of many decorative techniques. These techniques frequently involve "broken color," a process created by applying one or more colors in broken layers over a different base coat to produce a speckled or textured effect. Often these techniques employ glazes or washes applied over a solid colored background. Glazes are made of oil-based paints and give a sleek glow to walls. Washes are made of latex-based paints that have been thinned with water which adds a greater sense of depth and texture. Other decorative painting techniques include sponging, rag-rolling, stippling, sheen striping, dragging, distressing, color blocking, marbling, and faux finishes.

Some painters specialize in painting industrial structures to prevent deterioration. One example is applying a protective coating to oil rigs or steel bridges to fight corrosion. The coating most commonly used is a waterborne acrylic solvent that is easy to apply and environmentally friendly, but other specialized and sometimes difficult-to-apply coatings may be used. Painters may also coat interior and exterior manufacturing facilities and equipment such as storage tanks, plant buildings, lockers, piping, structural steel, and ships.

When painting any industrial structure, workers must take necessary safety precautions depending on their project. Those who specialize in interior applications such as painting the inside of storage tanks, for example, must wear a full-body protective suit. When working on bridges, painters are often suspended by cables and may work at extreme heights. When working on tall buildings, painters erect scaffolding, including "swing stages," scaffolds suspended by ropes, or cables attached to roof hooks. When painting steeples and other pointed structures, they use a bosun's chair, a swing-like device.

Paperhangers cover walls with decorative coverings made of paper, vinyl, or fabric. They first prepare the surface to be covered by applying a compound, which seals the surface and makes the covering adhere better. When redecorating, they may first remove the old covering by soaking, steaming, or applying solvents. When necessary, they patch holes and take care of other imperfections before hanging the new wall covering.

After preparing the surface, paperhangers mix the adhesive unless they are using pretreated paper. They then measure the area to be covered, check the covering for flaws, cut the covering into strips of the proper size, and closely examine the pattern in order to match it when the strips are hung. A great deal of this process can now be handled by specialized equipment.

The next step is to brush or roll the adhesive onto the back of the covering, if needed, and to then place the strips on the wall, making sure the pattern is matched, the strips are straight, and the edges are butted together to make tight, closed seams. Finally, paperhangers smooth the strips to remove bubbles and wrinkles, trim the top and bottom with a utility knife, and wipe off any excess adhesive.

Work Environment
Most painters and paperhangers work 40 hours a week or less; about 25 percent have variable schedules or work part time. Painters and paperhangers must stand for long periods, often working from scaffolding and ladders. Their jobs also require a considerable amount of climbing, bending, kneeling, and stretching. These workers must have good stamina because much of the work is done with their arms raised overhead. Painters, especially industrial painters, often work outdoors, almost always in dry, warm weather. Those who paint bridges or building infrastructure may be exposed to extreme heights and uncomfortable positions; some painters work suspended with ropes or cables.

Some painting jobs can leave a worker covered with paint. Drywall dust created by electric sanders prior to painting requires workers to wear protective safety glasses and a dust mask. Painters and paperhangers occasionally work with materials that are hazardous or toxic, such as when they are required to remove lead-based paints. In the most dangerous situations, painters work in a sealed self-contained suit to prevent inhalation of or contact with hazardous materials. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that full-time painters and paperhangers experienced a work-related injury and illness rate that was higher than the national average.

Education & Training Required
Most painters and paperhangers learn through on-the-job training and by working as a helper for an experienced painter. However, there are a number of formal and informal training programs that provide more thorough instruction and a better career foundation. In general, the more formal the training received, the more likely the individual will enter the profession at a higher level and earn a higher salary. There are limited informal training opportunities for paperhangers because there are fewer paperhangers and helpers are usually not required.

A high school education or its equivalent usually is required to enter an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships for painters and paperhangers consist of 2 to 4 years of paid on-the-job training, supplemented by a minimum of 144 hours of related classroom instruction each year. Apprentices receive instruction in color harmony, use and care of tools and equipment, surface preparation, application techniques, paint mixing and matching, characteristics of different finishes, blueprint reading, wood finishing, and safety.

Besides apprenticeships, some workers gain skills by attending technical or vocational schools that offer training prior to employment. These schools can take about a year to complete.

Whether a painter learns the trade through a formal apprenticeship or informally as a helper, on-the-job instruction covers similar skill areas. Under the direction of experienced workers, trainees carry supplies, erect scaffolds, and do simple painting and surface preparation tasks while they learn about paint and painting equipment. As they gain experience, trainees learn to prepare surfaces for painting and paperhanging, to mix paints, and to apply paint and wall coverings efficiently and neatly. Near the end of their training, they may learn decorating concepts, color coordination, and cost-estimating techniques. In addition to learning craft skills, painters must become familiar with safety and health regulations so that their work complies with the law.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Painters and paperhangers should have good manual dexterity, vision, and color sense. They also need physical stamina and balance to work on ladders and platforms. Apprentices or helpers generally must be at least 18 years old, in addition to the high school diploma or GED that most apprentices need.

Painters and Paperhangers - What They Do - Page 2

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