Using Milk Paint in Woodworking

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Apply layers of milk paint to add depth and contrast to your work.

A the visitor asked: “Painting on wood? Aren’t you obscuring the natural beauty of wood?”

There are two hypotheses behind these questions: wood is naturally beautiful. The paint is thick, looks plastic and hides everything it covers. I would say that both assumptions are partially correct.

The paint can unify different woods or add color and variety. It can also highlight beautiful woods. In this article, the black above the red paint provides a frame, showing the unpainted, shell-painted walnut top of this table.

Why milk and paint?

The thinness of the milk paint requires a number of coats. It dries on a rough and chalky surface and must be browned to add depth and smoothness. Also, the matte finish of the milk-based paint sometimes needs to be covered with another finish (if you like a sheen). So why use it?

If most of the paints are a wool coat, the milk paint is a silk dress. The exceptionally thin milk-based varnish allows all the pores and growth rings of the wood to penetrate. Its thinness also allows the use of washes, which are a thin layer of color (black, in this case) painted on a different base color (red). The base color peeks out, adding depth.

Real milk paint looks like a powder and is made with milk casein, pigments and lime or borax. Some manufacturers of petrochemical paints sell a premixed “milk paint” which is actually a matte acrylic paint; it does not have the thinness of real milk paint.

In this article, I show you how to apply my most popular finish to a table: two or three coats of red, to add warmth and depth, under a black coat. A final striped black coat gives the subtle appearance of the grain, but also allows the wood grain to pass through. Then I brown the varnish to raise a shine and apply shellac and wax to add shine.

So follow the pictures and try it for yourself. I think you will see that traditional milk paint has a well-deserved place in the modern shop.

1) Mix. Mix the paint one by one with warm water. The relationship between water and paint can vary depending on the brand and color, but this is a good starting point. Stir thoroughly with a stick, then let it sit for about an hour to allow the undissolved paint particles to soften.

2) Skim the foam. There will probably be a layer of foam on the top of the paint. This is difficult to paint, so spoon with the foam until you get to the watery-looking paint (you will see the difference).

3) Filter. To remove any solid particles, filter through an automotive paint filter into another container. A piece of paint filter bag from the hardware store also works well. Dilute it as needed, aiming for the consistency of the thin cream (which measures approximately 9 to 11 seconds with a Ford viscosity cup # 4). Add water slowly; small amounts of water can profoundly change the viscosity.

4) Some membership is required. When painting dense woods or woods with pitch (pine, maple, etc.) Mix the adhesion additive in the first coat to prevent the paint from peeling off. The additive is sold by milk paint manufacturers; mix according to the instructions. Change the appearance of the paint, then use it only in the first coat.

5) Different traits. To apply the paint I use a 1 1⁄2 ″ Purdy fringe brush with synthetic bristles from the hardware store. Hold it vaguely like a pencil, with your fingers on the metal ferrule. The amount of paint on the brush is quite important. This is controlled by the extent to which the brush is dipped in the paint and by the amount of paint removed from the brush. The smaller the surface to be painted, the less paint should be on the brush. Typically, I dip the bristles 1⁄4 ″ to 1⁄2 ″ into the paint, then wipe one or both sides against the lip of the can.

6) Distribute it. You will leave a puddle wherever you put the brush for the first time, then start on a relatively flat area, go ahead, take the tumble dryer, then go back and clean the puddle.

7) Light touch. Try to touch the wood gently with only the last 1⁄4 ″ of the bristles. This reduces splashing and leaves a smoother surface.

8) With wheat. At first you can paint in any direction that is simpler, regardless of the direction of the grain (above), as long as the final strokes are parallel to the grain and as long as possible (below). Try to gently land the brush while it is already moving forward, like an airplane rather than a helicopter. This helps keep brush marks to a minimum.

9) Low angle brushing. Keep the paint on an adjacent surface by holding the brush at a low angle to the surface you’re painting. I leave the bottom and top of my table unpainted.

11) Additional hands. On the following layers, use the paint without additive for adhesion and paint exactly as before. Sometimes two hands are enough, but usually I need three and sometimes four hands. Continue to sand the raised grain between your hands as needed.

12) Black wash. A coat is a coat of paint applied thin enough to pass through. The paint should be so thin that the red undercoat can hardly be seen through black as you paint it. The coat must go on very evenly or it will look stained.

13) Lively painting. The coat must go on quickly, but gently. It should be a distinct layer over the undercoat. Working the paint too much will soften the base coats, mixing them with the coat (as you can see where I’m pointing). A protective shellac barrier between the two colors will avoid this problem and could be useful in the first painting jobs. But don’t go back and repair any lost spots: you’ll make a stained mess. The missing points can be covered on the crawling coat or even left completely.

14) A nice strip. I follow the coat with a striped coat, where two thirds of each surface is painted. It is almost like a grain. It barely touches the bristles on the wood, so some bristles touch and some do not. It looks complicated, but it’s not more difficult than the coat. Everything that results in long lines that go with wheat looks good. The signs of stuttering through the grain don’t look as good.

15) Smooth it out. In its natural state, the milk paint looks like plaster and looks like sandpaper. It must be browned (but wait about a day for the paint to dry completely). Use a dark brown Scotch-Brite pad to rub it. You could rub the paint over sharp edges, but this is a side effect (if rather pleasant), not the lens.

16) Steel wool. Some paint brands (such as Old Fashioned Milk Paint) will become quite bright. Test your paint to see if # 000 steel wool has any effect. With steel wool, pressure is the cause of shine, so push the wool as hard as you can. This will add shine and visual depth to the finish. The signs of wear, however, are not my goal; I find that the objects wear out quickly enough without speeding up the process.

17) Final touches. I use a thin mix of shellac as a finish for the unpainted top, as well as for finishing over the paint. A medium-dark shellac is pleasant on dark paints, but a light-colored shellac is better for lighter paints. Cleaning the paint works well too.

18) Complete it. Shellac and some drying paints dry extremely shiny and must be cut with # 000 steel wool. Soak the wool in the wax for lubrication. Rub and remove the excess. Then let the wax dry for a few minutes before polishing with a rag. The glued wax applied on the shellac tends to leave white spots in the pores of the wood, so I use the BioShield liquid wax mixed with coconut oil. It smells slightly tropical!

All colors Milk paint is available in a wide range of shades, you can also combine them for personalized colors. Working with them is a lot of fun – try it!


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