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Milk-Paint Finish

Milk painting can give unfinished furniture a distinctive antique look, a method of finishing that was popular a century ago.

More in Painting

paint surface of piece with coat of milk paint

Step 1: Determine if Milk Paint is Suitable for your Project

During the early and mid-1800s, furniture was often painted with paint made from a combination of milk, lime and natural pigments. Today powdered milk-paint formulas, available in a variety of colors, may be used to create an attractive and durable finish. Milk paint is a good choice for less expensive woods such as pine and fir that aren't prized for their grain patterns.

Step 2: Measure Water and Powdered Milk

Once you've selected a color, measure equal amounts of powder and warm water in separate containers. Add the powder to the water, and stir until the mixture reaches a smooth consistency. For a thinner paint, add more water. Mix thoroughly for about 3 minutes, then let the paint stand for about 15 minutes

get the milk paint mixed and ready to use

Courtesy of James Calloway

Step 3: Remove Dust from Furniture

Wipe the wood with a damp cloth to remove any dust and dampen the wood (Image 1). Seal any knots with fast-drying shellac (Image 2).

Step 4: Paint the Surface

Use a foam or synthetic-bristle brush to paint the entire surface with a first coat of milk paint. For a thin coat--almost like a stain--add more water to the mixture. For a thicker coat, or for stenciling, add more powder.

Let the paint dry for about 2 hours, then buff it with a synthetic sanding pad. If you wish, apply a second coat.

Step 5: Distress the Furniture

Once the piece has been painted, it can be carefully distressed with a sanding pad to remove paint from areas that would be worn on a true antique--for example, around the feet or along the front edges.

Step 6: Apply a Water-Based Finish

Once you're done distressing the finish, you may want to protect the milk paint by applying a clear water-based finish with a foam brush. This will help bring out the color of the milk paint.

water based finish will bring out color of paint

Courtesy of James Calloway

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