Sunday, April 4, 2010

Home Depot vs. DIY Academy

Two cities; two days; two workshops

Which class teaches you “How to paint a wall” better?

Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel March 6, 2010

The Home Depot class started out badly. First, the manager couldn’t allow me to take pictures. This was expected since I had forgotten to call ahead for corporate clearance. But then they didn’t start on time. The instructor seemed harried and put out. She was the only one working in the paint department on a sunny Saturday morning, there was still a long line of customers, and although she apologized, she wasn’t sure how soon the class would start. So I roamed around the store, and finally, 20 minutes later, she had set up a table and supplies near the color chip display, and was ready to begin the Interior Painting class.

Then things started to get a lot better. First, I was the only student in the class, so she asked me exactly what I wanted to learn—basic painting or faux finishes?--and she was willing to teach directly to that. Second, she shook off the distress of a busy morning of paint mixing, and expressed a very real enthusiasm for paint. “I’m really passionate about color,” she said. Kristina Revetria has worked in the Watsonville Home Depot paint department for 2 years and really knows her stuff. “I pretty much live here,” she said. When another shopper asked if she could join the class and learn about faux finishes, Kristina very willingly added specific decorative painting techniques to her basic demonstration.

By the end of the one-hour plus class, she had opened 6 gallons of paint, 2 containers of spackling, 1 pint of glaze, used several brushes, rollers, sponges and paint trays, and had answered every question her two students could come up with. She had clearly learned a lot about paint and painting from personal experience, but also from teaching the class itself. “The cool thing is, I get contractors in these clinics and they show me a whole new way of doing things.”

Not only did I learn the basics of painting a wall, but I also learned some painting tricks such as:

  • Although sponging creates an interesting decorative texture, just using a simple plastic bag for dabbing on a paint looks even better
  • Although you can buy expensive textured rollers for faux painting, you can also simply wrap an old t-shirt around a roller, fasten in on with rubber bands, and create similarly great effects
  • If you have a gallon of paint in a color you’re tired of, you can bring it back to Home Depot and have them add new tints to create a new color you’d rather have
  • From fellow student Judy Kirker: If you’re not sure what color will look good on your walls, the Buena Vista Landfill in Watsonville has a recycling center with cans of paint you can take home and try out for free (you can also bring unwanted cans of paint there for someone else to try)
  • As work permits, Kristina is willing to set up impromptu classes to answer customer questions with a demonstration

I took the Home Depot class to provide counterpoint to another class I took earlier the week called “Paint Like a Pro,” offered by the recently opened DIY Academy in South San Jose. This small, strip-mall facility offers classes in a number of home-improvement areas, including painting, tiling and wiring.

The fun thing about DIY Academy is that its classes are completely hands-on. Their website ( says “expect to get dirty,” and so everyone shows up in their grubbies and is assigned a partner and a tiny room to “finish” by the end of the class. The Drywall a Room and Trim Out a Room classes had obviously happened before ours, since there were nails to be set, holes to be filled and sanded, and gaps to be caulked before we could start priming and painting—just like in real life. Each team was given just the right amount of time to master each technique in their room, before gathering for the next demonstration.

The class was taught by a veteran paint contractor, Santa Cruz native Chad Buckner, with 17 years of experience. The two Academy founders, Jeff Vasek and Steve Gross, were also on hand to help late arrivals catch up, answer questions, and wash brushes and buckets between primer and paints. The class was geared to beginners, but even a somewhat experienced painter might be surprised by all the time-saving techniques practiced by professionals—things as elemental as using the appropriate brush or roller, or properly loading a brush or roller with paint. The instructor had a more efficient way of doing just about every step.

My favorite part of the class was learning how to clean a brush. I’d always considered buying expensive brushes a waste, since I could never wash out enough paint to keep the brush flexible for the next job. But in this class, the instructor recommended buying the $15 brush, and then showed you how to property wash and store it to keep it like new indefinitely. (Sorry, you’ll have to take the class for this trade secret.)

You can see a complete listing of classes and schedules, and enroll, on the DIY Academy and Home Depot websites. Some of the DIY Academy workshops, like Basic Home Electricity and Tile a Bathroom Floor, are all-day weekend classes, while others, such as Tile a Backsplash and Paint Like a Pro, are half-day or evening classes. By contrast, Home Depot usually teaches one-hour workshops that are repeated every weekend, and sometimes geared to the seasons.

Since the 1-hour Home Depot class was free and the 3 ½-hour DIY Academy class was $150, I was afraid the former would pale in comparison with the latter. But, they turned out to be two very different classes that actually complemented each other in content and style. I would recommend the Home Depot class if you have a very specific question about a painting technique or product, and the DIY Academy class if you want to improve your painting skills overall and become a more proficient painter.

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