A bit on milk paint

[edit – I failed common courtesy.  In attempt to make amends, I was inspired for this post by THIS. Enjoy. ]When I was growing up (in the 60s-70s), my parents liked to get old to antique furniture. Not to collect, to use. And not OLD antiques, but stuff that was at most a century old.

When they bought a piece, we had a fun little drill. Strip it, do maintenance, and refinish – usually with a clear-coat finish. Now before some people have apoplexies, let me say again: USE, not collect. And we were almost always stripping paint or user revarnishing of some sort. OK, so much for the apoplexy fix.

Anyway, I learned a lot about stripping furniture that way, and some about finishes. And one of the finishes still today fills me with dread. That’s Milk Paint.

When I read on various web sites how you should put a protective finish over milk paint to prevent staining, I giggle. And laugh uproariously. And strongly suspect the person hasn’t really worked with the stuff. Now, it is possible to stain the paint if it’s still curing – say, for a month after you’ve painted. If you put a sealer over the paint, you have a little risk, because the still curing paint is trying to expel more moisture, and your finish might have trapped it. If the back is porous, the paint will still cure, it’ll just take longer.

But once it’s cured, it’s darn near indestructible. I mean… Milk paint always got the strongest stripper we could get – the one where you wear THICK gloves, scrape a layer, and change gloves because the old ones are beginning to melt. I saw it win against rough grit on an orbital sander – it ate two pads before wood started showing. You can dent it – crack it – so long as you cause the surface under it to flex or break, but it’s still going to be bonded.

On the other hand, historical milk paints were ugly. You’ve seen the “Prairie Farm Kitchen” kitsch, and the colors? That kind of washed out, almost chalky looking not-quite-pastel? Over and over and over again…

Not too many years ago, I discovered milk paint doesn’t HAVE to be that washed out color. It depends, as does so much, on how much and what kind of dye you add. The dye can’t react to lime. And it needs to be water soluble. On the prairies where this kind of stuff was used a lot, the available dies were, well, earth. Mineral, and not exactly high purity/quality. We can do better, today.

As I noted in a previous page, I’m going to be using milk paint for my beehive exterior. By the middle of summer at the latest, it’s going to be fully cured. And that means it’s going to be, well, almost impervious. Yes, even to the normal fun of outside. Since I’m going to do this, I thought I’d share the recipe. 182Dye. heh, that was brief.

1 part lime (not quick, builders). 8 parts milk – and skim is fine. 2 parts linseed oil. And dye, as mentioned.

Add enough milk to the lime to make a thick paste and stir till smooth. Add a bit more milk to thin and repeat till the milk’s used. Add the linseed oil and again stir till smooth. Finally, add the dye. (No dye and it’s white – not quite milk-white because of the oil, but close.)

I’ve been told you can use it without the oil. It’s no longer waterproof, but allegedly sets up nicely. The person who told me this claimed she used it to size (prepare) canvas and other surfaces for painting. The lack of oil prevented other problems with the paints she used. (And no, I don’t recall if that was oil, acrylic or watercolor.)

Just some old-fashioned, neat stuff that works.

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4 thoughts on “A bit on milk paint

  1. I did some research on milk paint not too long ago. See my post regarding painting the rooms in my house. Milk paint mostly needs porous surfaces, like wood, in order to work. But there is a company out there that makes milk paint that supposedly works on walls – pre-painted even. You buy the powders – and it comes in all sorts of brilliant colors. You can mix the powders yourself to get the shades you want, and they even show some combos and how you can get the shade. I was tempted. Little miss environmental that I am…. I was tempted, but I balked. I am a stickler for getting the color I want. So I opted for the Fresh Aire paint at Home Depot instead. I am still leary of trying milk paint on a wall… but now, if we ever feel like painting the chicken house, this is the way to go….

  2. No worries… but can you really use Milk Paint, like the formula you gave me, on wall board or pre-painted walls? I thought it needed a really porous surface in order to work, which is why it is commonly used on furniture. I wouldn’t mind trying it, although the Prince gets worried about my “experiments”. As I recall, he didn’t like my orange stripes or my blue polka dots in my other house. He has no sense of adventure.

  3. My (long ago) experience is yes, with qualifiers.

    If you paint on a perfectly non-porous surface, it won’t bind. It is somewhat sad, however, to see how many paints – especially after they’ve worn for a while – aren’t perfectly non-porous. If the paint you’re overpainting is water resistant, it’ll probably need treatment. Treatment can be done in one of two ways – a binder/primer, or scuffing. I’ve scuffed, never used a binder. Scuffing – “just” use rough sandpaper on the pain till you start to see the wallboard beneath. Be thorough, but you don’t have to remove every speck of paint. Actually, I only had to scuff once – on enamel. But I cannot claim to be an expert on this.

    Wallboard’s problem is actually the reverse. It’s VERY porous. What happens is that you wind up using MORE paint. ummm… try using watercolor on wallboard sometime and you’ll get the idea. Again, a primer would probably work. But for me, the price of a gallon of milk paint is (relatively) low enough to make the extra no big deal. It just means I paint twice. For what it’s worth, I’d use a non-tinted the first pass, let it dry for a day or two, and then use my dyed batch. But again it’s been a while since I’ve used it, and your experience may be different.

    For what it’s worth, I think YOUR biggest problem will be with the coloring. Since you’re making it yourself, getting the right shade will be in YOUR hands – and worse, MATCHING the shade will be in your hands. Precision records from chemistry class come to mind…

    And as for the Prince… surely you have effective controls over him. I know Evelyn does of me. (evil grin…)

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