Top tips for painting masonry

Having become a world-class expert in painting masonry after covering about 30 sq/m of bare brickwork in two or three coats of emulsion, I have put together my top tips for you, if you are a complete noob at it like I was when I started.

Painting the walls

Comparison of first and second coats on the wall and ceilings


Don’t do it.  You don’t really need to, and this is going to be an enormous pain in the neck to get right. It’s multiple coats. It’s 4 hour drying times. It’s roller-ruining and brush-eating. It’s impossible to get a perfect finish. You might not like it when it’s done. Save yourself a load of hassle and tell yourself you are happy with the bare brickwork.

Still here?

TOP TIP 2: Go cheap and cheerful.

Keep the costs down. You don’t need to pay through the nose for the hell you are about to put yourself through. No fancy Dulux or Crown stuff. Masonry paint is overkill, only really for outdoors, and super expensive in comparison. Own label white emulsion please. I went for very cheap, very white emulsion (B&Q’s own, £10 for 10L).

TOP TIP 3: Get wired.

Give the wall a thorough brush down with a wire brush. You’ll knock out any chunks of loose mortar that would otherwise spoil your finish. Also, if you have brickwork that faces off to dampness (earth, the Scottish weather) it’s likely that what are referred to as “salts” will have leeched out of the brick and formed a crusty top surface. Knock this off with the wire brush to get back to the plain brick. If you are professional, competent or both, now is the time you’d do any repairs to the wall that are required. I didn’t, I just cracked on.

TOP TIP 4: Bricks are thirsty.

If you are with me on the emulsion front, dilute the first coat 50:50 with water. It’ll look the pits when it’s painted onto the bricks, but you’ll discover how surprisingly similar to sponges bricks and mortar are. As a result they’ll soak up a lot of paint at first, so make sure you aren’t chucking full-strength at the wall. It’d be expensive, even with cheapo own-name stuff.

First coat of watered-down emulsion

First coat of watered-down emulsion

TOP TIP 5: Be at one with your drips.

You are going to have drips. No, I don’t care how careful you are, how big your dust sheet is, or how much this sort of thing brings out your OCD, you are going to have drips. Especially at 50:50 dilution. Be at one with them. Let them happen. Just make sure your floor covering will do it’s job and hide them. I’m laying tiles, so my drips will not be seen. As a result I’m almost zen-like when it comes to spots of paint on the floor. I don’t even bother with a dust sheet.

TOP TIP 5: How perfect? How bodged?

It’s a bit obvious, but decide what you’ll be happy with in terms of the finish you want and do absolutely no more work than it takes to attain this. I decided to go for the design language of a McLaren F1 Garage, but as executed by a hapless DIY numpty. So I’m OK with the odd thin spot of paint or bit of missed mortar, as long as you can stand back, squint a bit and it looks semi-professional. The odd imperfection breaks up the white of the walls a bit and adds a little character, at least that’s what I tell myself. You might not have the same standards. In fact if you have taken TOP TIP 1 to heart, you’ll have lovely plain brick and be happy with that. As a general principle it’s good to begin with the finish you want in mind, though, and make sure you stick to that.

Finished section of wall.

The brickwork after a couple of coats of emulsion.

TOP TIP 6: Top up.

Once your second (or third) coat is dry, run your eye over the finish and have a 2″ brush ready and loaded to fill in any gaps or thin spots. Refer to TOP TIP 5 for how much of this you want to do.

It’s a slow process but, bitching aside, really worthwhile in the end. I was aiming to make the most of the light in the garage and the white walls have made a huge difference. Now it’s over, it seems like a great idea. Before I started, it seemed like a great idea. It just didn’t when I was in the middle of the grind of actually doing it. Now it’s over, I’m glad I did.

If you have any TOP TIPS for painting masonry, other home maintenance tasks, or for building a Caterham, feel free to share them in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “Top tips for painting masonry

  1. Hi Rob

    Glad to see that you’re nearly ready for your new arrival – I spent last weekend prepping the garage (painting walls, rubber flooring etc) so the ‘nursery’ is almost ready for the new delivery…..which is lucky as it looks like my car is way ahead of production schedule. Will keep you posted !



    • Hi Martin.

      You prepped in a weekend! That says something about my poor DIY skills.

      I got the email from Caterham yesterday, bringing in the earliest delivery date by about a month from mid-October. I’d love to know why the date has changed so much; only last week I was told we were on course for the original date.

      Not long now, though. I haven’t fixed the date (read: paid the final installment) yet but I’m thinking about the end of September.

      • Hi Rob

        I did have some considerable help from my wife and my 10 year old son who was very taken with a masonry roller ! After reading your blog and recalling the last time I painted a garage I was dreading it. I did consider using a sprayer and purchased a cheap one (Screwfix) but the paint was too thick to use it so I took it back – but to be fair I think that the paint was the key. It was a Leyland Trade emulsion which was much thicker than usual emulsions I have used – 2 coats (no dilution) and the garage looks great; it took just over 20 litres (~£1.50 per litre) in total for a garage 5.9 x 5.6 m so not too bad.

        I too have to pay the final (large) instalment and hope that delivery will be w/c 19th September. Like you I’m surprised but pleased that the slot has moved – I was lucky enough to be at Caterham last Thursday for their top secret pre-launch preview and I was told that there is now a 9 month waiting list for a new car !



    • You put my efforts to shame Martin. I think you are going to be blatting about down south before I’ve got my diff in. 🙂
      Did you install the wifi extender yet?

      Re: the secret pre-launch! I know you can’t say anything about it, but I bet that was a great experience. Did you get to see the factory at all or was it a full PR event with smoke, mirrors etc? As for the waiting list, a six month wait has been long enough for me, and yet suddenly not long enough to finish the garage properly.

      • I don’t think so – from the looks of your photos I think my garage required a lot less prep than yours ! I’m going to take my time with the build and enjoy it, its such as rewarding experience; I’m aiming to try and get the car on the road early in the New Year as I quite fancy a 66 registration.

        The pre-launch was great – it was at Caterham South so very convenient for me; the MD, engineering team etc were there but it was quite informal with CC really showing engagement with the club members which is to there credit….the information embargo is lifted tomorrow when CC make their official launch at Goodwood Revival. I’m also quite excited at the prospect of buying a lego caterham kit too !

        I was considering putting together a similar site to yours so that I can share progress etc with friends but don’t know where to start – who hosts your site ? any advice ?



        • I’m aiming for March to be registered and on the road – once the winter salt is washed off the tarmac, so I too will be taking my time and enjoying the experience.
          Great stuff about Caterham’s engagement with the club – can’t wait to find out the scoop on the launch.
          I’ll send you an email with some options around setting up a blog.

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