Step-back Cupboard Build #9: Milk paint test

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Blog entry by rwyoung posted 06-19-2009 05:53 AM 4047 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: Cut nails and scant holes Part 9 of Step-back Cupboard Build series Part 10: Lower case stiles »

I got my small pint samples of milk paint today. There are a couple of different sources for the powdered mix, I happened to pick these guys Old Fashioned Milk Paint because should I realize in the middle of painting that I need more, I can zip over to Woodcraft and get a small package to finish up.

Another alternative is to simply make the paint. I did experiment a little bit with this using powdered milk, a lemon and some food coloring. I wasn’t expecting any kind of deep colors because the cheap liquid food coloring isn’t a strong dye. It did work but only if you want the wood to look like something from the Easter Bunny’s house… I should have taken a picture but I just chucked that test board. :)

Anyway, step one, read the directions:

Easy enough, mix 1+1 with water (adding the water slowly to get the right mix). I just mixed up a small batch, about 1/4 cup total volume. The rest of the powder I left in its foil pouch and zipped up in a plastic bag. This all goes in the fridge. The lime in the mixture is pretty hygroscopic (that means water loving) and so will pull water from the air. This eventually ruins the mix. Keeping it in the fridge will keep it dryer.

Anyway, the purposes of my test are many. I want to see a larger swatch of the color, I want to see how it covers the poplar, I want to see how it bonds to some dings in the wood filled with sawdust and CA glue. And I just want to get a feel for the application process.

Using an inexpensive “chip brush”, the $2 job with the light brown bristles from the bottom shelf at the hardware store, you apply the paint to a sanded surface.

I read in Mike Dunbar’s article that dampening the wood to raise the grain, followed by a quick sand down works well. I decided to skip this and just go with the basic instructions that came with the paint. They say just paint onto the wood.

First coat goes on pretty rough and streaky looking. No amount of feathering or attempting to keep a wet edge is going to work. It will just look nasty. Period. Don’t sweat it. Let the paint dry, it was 95 here today and my garage was plenty warm so after one hour it was quite dry. The basic instructions say to knock it back with 0000 steel wool. Knocked it back. Smoothed right out.

The sawdust and CA patch didn’t loose its paint but I can easily see the wood grain of the poplar through the paint. Not offensive by itself but because I have pretty much every color in the poplar wood spectrum in my boards it will need a second coat.

The second coat goes on much more like “real” paint. You can keep a wet edge and feather. It still looks a little bit streaky and I can see some grit in the paint. That would be undissolved powder. If I had mixed up a larger batch I would strain it.

Again, from Mike Dunbar’s article, these little bits of powder aren’t much of a concern because they won’t bond and will come away with the next steel wool rub-down.

So again, an hour wait and rub down with 0000 steel wool. Very nice coverage. I have two colors, a barn red and a mustard yellow. It might need a 3rd coat on the mustard yellow but the barn red is solid.

Milk paint is quite flat. The way to make it pop is to oil it (linseed oil, tung oil, etc) and then seal it with wax or poly. I’m going to test with linseed oil and regular Johnson’s Paste Wax.

The oil goes right on and soaks in. I rubbed it down with a rag until the surface would no longer finger print. Normally one would let the oil sink in deeper for better protection but I’m just looking for a test swatch here.

Next is the wax. Apply as you wood for any finish. Once it hazes up, buff it out. Multiple coats would be fine.

Here you see the result (direct flash on the camera so you get a little bit of glare which gives some idea of the sheen).

As I said above, I used an inexpensive chip brush. You can see some brush marks near the end of the board. Another option would be a foam roller. Given the surface area I need to cover, I think I will go the foam roller route when the time comes, keeping some chip brushes or basic foam brushes on hand to work into corners.

The direct flash is a bit misleading because the wall color is NOT the same as the barn red. The barn red is deeper than what is already on the wall. And the red on the wall only goes up to a chair rail. After that it switches to a sponged on finish with light brown. The wall color and finishing was from the previous owners of the house. I may leave it or I may re-do it a more neutral color. But I think the barn red color for the cupboard is going to be fine.

Again, referring to the Mike Dunbar article, he suggested the barn red for the outside and the mustard for the inside walls and back boards to keep it a little bit lighter. After making my swatches I think I’ll just keep it that way. However another option would be an ivory white outside with perhaps a darker color underneath and then some distressing to expose it a little bit.

In the end I’m going with the barn red & mustard combination.

Coverage of the paint is reasonably good, I calculate that I’ll need about 1 gallon total of paint to get two coats of barn red and two to three of the mustard. This works out to buying two more quart packages of each color plus the pint packages I already have.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

5 comments so far

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3331 days

#1 posted 06-19-2009 01:54 PM

Very interesting. I’ve thought about trying it myself. What do you see as the main advantages of milk paint?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3469 days

#2 posted 06-19-2009 03:31 PM

Well, I’m not sure “advantage” is quite the right word to describe it.

Since it comes as a powder and has several extra steps to mixing, prep, application, and post-application use and cost per square foot covered over say, a latex, there isn’t much advantage.

However it is tough stuff when properly applied and treated with an overcoat. The colors available seem quite right for the Shaker style. It has a very low toxicity so you can work indoors, no objectionable odor (some smell but it fades quickly and I didn’t find it offensive), water clean-up and inexpensive application tools.

Just another choice to make. It looks right to me so I’m going with it.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View FlWoodRat's profile


732 posts in 3906 days

#3 posted 06-19-2009 05:11 PM


Just don’t let your four legged sweaty petted friends rub up against it till it dries. Looking forward to seeing the final version in full color.


-- I love the smell of sawdust in the morning....

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3469 days

#4 posted 06-19-2009 05:23 PM

Great going Bruce! Now I have this vision of a herd of naked mole rats stampeding through the kitchen.

Ewww, icky.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View firecaster's profile


572 posts in 3415 days

#5 posted 06-20-2009 06:16 PM

Great info. Thanks.

-- Father of two sons. Both Eagle Scouts.

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