Create an ‘old-look’ finish.

Old Look Finish on Wood with Milk Paint

Techniques for using milk paint.

The ‘old-look’ painted finish, similar to that prized by antique collectors, is not hard to achieve.  The process is known as milk painting.   Milk paint is easy to use and extremely forgiving.   Like traditional milk paint, today’s ingredients consist of milk protein, clay, earth pigments and lime.  The look and feel of the milk painted surface is the same as that found on antique furniture. Milk paint is truly a “green” finish – completely non-toxic and biodegradable.

The working properties of milk paint are not like those of conventional paints.  Think of milk paint as “mud water.”  Milk paint has far less body than conventional paint.  Where conventional paint can chip and scratch, milk paint penetrates into the grain; polishing as it wears.  The subtle complexities of this finish will improve with age.

Achieving a tortoiseshell appearance. The project should be painted with several coats of contrasting color.  I used lexington green, barn red, and pitch black in that order for my piece.  Sand smooth between each layer and then lightly cut through the final layer to reveal the various colors.

Purchase your milk paint directly through the manufacturer. ( Old Fashion Milk Paint Company offers great service and a quality product.

Mix the powder, bonding agent, and water in equal parts by volume for the first coat.  Subsequent coats can be mixed at a 50% water – 50% powder ratio. The water should be warm, but not hot.   Keep in mind that this is not an exact science.  Mix the milk paint to the consistency of gravy and then add water to achieve the desired consistency.  The most important part of mixing milk paint is to add the powder to the liquid, rather than the other way around.  It’s best to mix the milk paint using a rubber kitchen spatula.  Sometimes mixing requires a bit of effort to remove the lumps.  Milk paint does not respond well to power mixing.  It’s a waste of time and will only cause problems.  Finally, strain the paint through a nylon stocking or a paint strainer.  The strainer helps to identify the viscosity.  You want the paint to flow in a smooth stream.  Add small bits of water to accomplish this.

It is best to use the milk paint the same day you mix it, however you can extend the life a couple days if you cover the paint with plastic wrap and refrigerate it.  Typically you should only mix what you are going to use and keep the remaining powder sealed up tight.  The dry paint will last indefinitely if kept in an airtight container.

Paint using a nylon bristle brush. Spraying is a waste of time, because the paint needs to be so thinned down that it works like stain and too many coats are required.  Bubbles often appear after the paint has been brushed.  This is somewhat typical.  To minimized bubbles, after mixing place the milk paint in the refrigerator for thirty minutes and give the mix a slow stir.  Use long brush strokes.  For best results, back brush the bubbles after they appear.

Milk paint dries extremely flat and you can see brush overlaps and areas that were touched up.  You can get the surface exceptionally smooth by using a maroon scotch brite pad to sand each coat.

Apply an oil overcoat. Use boiled linseed oil for this step.   Boiled linseed oil is extracted from seeds of the flax plant with metallic driers added to accelerate the curing process.  These are usually salts of cobalt, manganese, or zinc.  They act as a catalyst to speed the introduction of oxygen, causing the finish to cure in about a day if the excess is wiped off.  Linseed oil produces a soft, thin finish so it offers no significant protection.  It does, however, add depth and luster to the milk paint.


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