The message is grinding 2016.05.25

We had our house painted last summer. What a luxury to have it done by someone else. This column from 20 years ago reminds me about why it’s really smart not to do it all yourself.

By the way, the prologue to this story is that our house was quite damaged by a windstorm in 2001 and the house got painted by professionals via insurance money.


My wife and I were just minding our business, which at the moment involved scraping paint off the south side of our house.

That’s when this guy named Dave Schwartz pedaled up on his skinny bike and said, “There must be an easier way to  do that.”

Of course there’s an easier way. There are plenty of ways. You can do a quick scrape and paint, and then watch it peel off in the next couple of years. You can hire someone else to do it. You can cover it all over with vinyl siding. You can move. So many options. Maybe I’ll take a couple weeks off from scraping just to think them over.

When this Schwartz guy talked about an easier way, he was delivering a loaded statement. He knew just how he wanted me to do it; the same way he did it on a log cabin up north. He got out this little mini-grinder and really went at it.

For all I know, my house painting project could be somewhat of a joke around town. It’s been going on so long. Every summer I’m out there with a scraper tackling a new portion of the house. And what have I accomplished? The inside of the front porch is mostly done and last summer I completed most of the back of the house.

This summer it had to be that side so obvious to passersby—the south expanse that’s now showing patches of bare wood from my scraping efforts.

There’s lots of loose paint that I can scrape off. There’s lots of almost loose paint that will loosen about a year after I cover it with new paint. There’s a layer of latex paint that’s peeling off portions of the old oil-base paint. It’s a real mess.

I like to keep the ladder propped up against the house at all times, so it’s obvious that this is a work in progress. I don’t want people to think I’m ignoring the eyesore.

My friend Pete thought I should take this a step further. Get one of those black silhouettes that people put in their yards. Have one cut out that shows a person on a ladder holding a paint scraper.

I might get around to that some day, but I don’t seem to get around to much of anything beyond making a newspaper every week. I hope you appreciate that when you walk past my pitiful looking home.

But back to this Schwartz guy. He’s made me realize that house painting—and the all-important preparation stage—incorporates an entire body of philosophy. There are scrapers. There are heat guns. There are blow torches. There are power washers.

There are so many common approaches, but Mr. Schwartz’s mini-grinder is not among them. Whenever I mention that technique to someone, they think I’m crazy. Nobody does that to a house.

So who is this Schwartz character, anyway? He’s just an itinerant bicyclist, really. He lives in Dearborn, he drove to Blissfield the previous Sunday, today he unpacked his bicycle and took off for a tour of rural Lenawee County.

As he rode up Summit Street in Morenci and saw Colleen and me working our scrapers, he stopped his bicycle and said, “There must be an easier way to do that.”

He’s dialed the 800 numbers on the back of paint cans. He talked to the pros. He says the only way to go is to work the walls down to bare wood, put on a quality paint and relax for about 15 years.

Think about it. A guy from Detroit just happens to pedal by my house when I’m out working. He must be a celestial messenger sent by the archangel of exterior house care.

But nobody seems to believe his message, and now I’m on hold again, confused over which way to go. But Dave Schwartz did bring me liberation: I haven’t lifted a scraper since.