Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Caulking for the beginner!

Caulking a crack is one of those projects that is easy to do, yet can seem so difficult to a beginner. It really can be easy!  The key to being able to do a nearly invisible job is to take your time and to follow some simple steps. Once you get the hang of it, you will be off and running, caulking every crack in your house. 

The first step to caulking will be at the store. The right tools and material make all the difference here. Im going to focus on two types of repair. Using a Silicone based caulk for repairing areas that might get wet or damp. and a Latex(water based) caulk to fix cracking on trim or a wall. 

Silicone is waterproof when dried, and works best for a kitchen counter, vanity in the bathroom, the joint between a tub and tile or a tub and the floor. I use a mildew and mold resistant silicone, there are many types of silicone, but it doesn't appear to make a huge difference which you pick as far as quality. I carry clear and white, that usually takes care of most jobs, but it is also available in colors. Clear seems to work best for seams that connect two different materials, it just seems to make it disappear. The cleanup with silicone is a bit more difficult than latex, it doesn't dissolve with water. so care is needed in application.
Latex based caulk is my all around go to material for fixing cracks on trim or baseboard, and any spot that might be paintable. A little work with latex caulk on the trim of a room before painting will pay off greatly in the finished project. I generally use something similar to the picture on the left. DAP INC 18152 10.1oz White Alex Plus Acrylic Latex Caulk with Silicone Don't be fooled, latex is the key word, there is very little silicone here! Silicone caulk is not paintable, the paint will peel right off, but latex is great to paint over. i usually use white, but there are many colors available to color match your walls or trim. At the store if you ask for latex caulk, any store employee should be able to direct you to it. Latex type caulk can be cleaned up with water while its still wet, and is not generally considered waterproof when applied. This is the least expensive type of caulk generally, at around $2.28 a tube. so if you are paying $5-$10 for it, its probably the wrong stuff(silicone).
The last thing we need from the store is a caulking gun. The best thing you can do is invest in a Pro-grade caulking gun. yes I know there are seven different guns of $1-$3 apiece, but don't do it! you will not be happy with what you get. I spend between $10-$20 for a pro grade caulking gun and its worth every penny. The key is to be able to control the speed and quantity of caulk that comes out of the gun, and to have it Stop coming out when you stop pressing the trigger! This is the exact gun I have used for over 10 years, the Newborn X-Lite Non-Drip Smooth Rod Revolving Frame Caulking Gun, yes I know it has a fancy name, but its worth it, for $12.86 its a great investment!

Ok now we are back home and we are ready to start filling cracks and holes right? Nooo, not quite yet.  Clean any loose material from the crack, I use a razor knife if the edge is ragged to smooth it out a little and try to remove old clumpy caulking . If you are working in an damp or wet area with mildew or mold, use a 1part bleach 4 parts water mixture to scrub it off. If you caulk over mold, it will come back and you won't be able to get rid of it. Make sure the area is dry as well, otherwise the caulk won't adhere. The smaller the crack you are filling the easier it is. Now you are ready to go!

To demonstrate these techniques I am going to re-caulk a kitchen countertop to the wall. Because this is a wet area with the sink nearby, I am going to use a silicone based caulking,  GE612 Kitchen and Bath Silicone I Caulk,  It's a high quality caulking, that stays flexible and seals watertight.

One of the most important ways to make this an easy project is cutting the tip off the caulking gun. I almost want tell you to buy two tubes because you will invariably cut too much off the first time. I try to make the hole as small as possible. Using a razor knife I cut approximately 1/8 to 1/4 " off the tip. just enough so you can see a hole in the tip. I cut it straight across, no angle. A great tip(not Required though) is to use a little sand paper to smooth the cut slightly and remove the sharp edges. 

Once the tip is cut, you want to pick up the gun. if you look under the front of the gun you will see a long metal wire that will rotate out front. Most tubes of caulking(other than regular latex) have a seal where the tip meets the tube, its like a foil cover that needs to be punched thru. take the wire and slide it in the hole of the tube of caulk. If you cut the tube right it will be a tight fit, if its too tight shave a tiny bit more off the end, you are doing well! Once in the tube I like to puncture the seal six or seven times and then remove the wire and clean it off. Put the tube of caulk in the gun and gently squeeze the trigger as you watch the tip, you can see the caulk as it gets close the the end. Now we are ready to start caulking.

Notice the angle of the gun, I try to tilt it back a little bit to get a comfortable angle where I can watch the tip and control the amount of caulk coming out. When it starts to come out of the tube, you will move the gun the way the tip is pointed. (in the photo below it would be moving right to left) you can go either way, whatever is most comfortable for you. 

Here is another important step, When you squeeze the trigger on the caulking gun, its with the tiniest pressure, super gently. Sometimes it takes me several minutes to squeeze it fully even once. Watch the tip, it should come out in a thin stream, slowly, and as it does, you start moving the gun slowly along the wall, watching the tip so as to not let the caulk build up. Start slow and then go half as fast. After a little practice it will come out just about perfect right out of the gun. Remember less is more here. The goal is to perfectly fill the hole, no more no less. 
Well I'm never perfect, and I hate cleaning up messes, so this is why I use this technique. once the crack is filled(you can go back to fill in places that didn't quite get enough) I want to smooth out the bead of caulk. Im smoothing here, not wiping it off, theres nothing worse than a huge fingerprinted smear of caulk on a nice counter. 
First get a paper towel or two folded in quarters and dampened. I use this to make my fingertip wet and to wipe any excess caulk off if there is any on my finger after I wipe the joint. I gently run my fingertip in a smooth motion down the joint. I'm just gently rounding and smoothing the bead of caulking. The smallest pressure possible so you don't smear it, having your fingertip wet will help too, it slides across the caulk instead of smearing and pulling it out of the joint. 

That should get you near perfectly caulked seams every time. Just remember, take it slow and carefully, and you will do just fine. Practice with latex caulk before using silicone, its more forgiving. If you get a little on the walls it can be wiped off with a damp rag. You will quickly become an expert, and love the results you get using these simple rules! 
Remember to always come get your BuilderFix! I want to help you finish all those little projects around your house! If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment below, and I will get back to you with an answer!

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