Tip for Writing Instructions

When you write instructions, make them as easy to follow as possible. Usually, the best option is to write step-by-step in the imperative voice (speaking directly to the reader, as in “write step-by-step in the imperative voice”).

Not-So-Good Instructions

I found the following instructions for painting laminate countertops on a website that shall remain nameless to protect the guilty:

First clean the counter top thoroughly with a detergent. Then wipe the countertop with denatured alcohol to remove any residual oils or grease. The next step is to sand the entire surface with 120 grit sandpaper to rough it up slightly. Don’t gouge the countertop… just scratch the surface a little to help the paint to stick.

If there are any serious chips in the surface, they should be filled with a two-part wood filler called Minwax High Performance Wood Filler. This product sets quickly, sticks like crazy, is very sandable. Though these characteristics are important, the most critical quality is that this product dries as hard as a rock… important for a surface that has frequent contact with hard objects. Once you mix and apply this product, do your initial sanding no longer than fifteen minutes after it becomes solid. If you wait too long, it will become so hard that it will be difficult to sand by hand. By the way, this product is very similar to auto body filler, which shares its strength and handling characteristics.

It is important to apply a primer/sealer before your finish coat. The primer/sealer will stick better to the laminate than the finish paint, decreasing the potential for paint chipping. I would suggest using an alkyd (oil) based paint, applied with a short nap roller for the smoothest surface. Also, tint the primer to match the finish paint if the finish color is anything but slightly off-white.

With oil paints, two thin coats are better than one heavy coat. The other advantage of an oil paint is that you can sand chips and nicks smooth when it is time to repaint (sorry to interject that little reality). With a latex paint, you will get a less smooth surface initially and chips cannot be sanded smooth.

The Revised Instructions

Here’s my cleaned up, and easier to follow, version (I didn’t verify the accuracy of the above instructions, so don’t take them as the final word on how to paint laminate):

You need these items to prepare and paint laminate:

  • Detergent cleaner.
  • Denatured alochol.
  • 120-grit sandpaper.
  • Roller(s) – preferably with a short nap.
  • Paint: I suggest using an alkyd (oil) based paint, applied with a short nap roller for the smoothest surface. The other advantage of an oil paint is that you can sand chips and nicks smooth when it’s time to repaint (sorry to interject that little reality). With a latex paint, you will get a less smooth surface initially, and you cannot sand chips smooth.
  • Primer/sealer: The primer/sealer will stick better to the laminate than the finish paint, decreasing the potential for paint chipping. Tint the primer to match the finish paint if the finish color is anything except slightly off-white.
  • If you need to fill chips, use a two-part wood filler called Minwax High Performance Wood Filler. This product sets quickly, sticks like crazy, and is very sandable. Though these characteristics are important, the most critical quality is that this product dries as hard as a rock… important for a surface that has frequent contact with hard objects.

Follow these steps to prepare and paint the laminate:

  1. Clean the countertop thoroughly with a detergent.
  2. Wipe the countertop with denatured alcohol to remove any residual oils or grease.
  3. If the surface has any serious chips, fill them with the Minwax High Performance Wood Filler. After you mix and apply this product, do your initial sanding no longer than 15 minutes after the filler becomes solid. If you wait too long, the filler will become so hard that it will be difficult to sand by hand.
  4. Sand the entire surface with 120-grit sandpaper to roughen the surface slightly. Don’t gouge the countertop… just scratch the surface a little to help the paint stick.
  5. Apply the primer/sealer. Let dry.
  6. Apply the paint. With oil paints, two thin coats are better than one heavy coat.

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