Chris Schwarz's Blog

I See a Red Door…

This morning I added a coat of pitch black milk paint to my sack-back chair.

After you strain milk paint, it’s a lot more like adding a colored wash than it is like painting. (It’s funny how my wife doesn’t even bother asking me what I want her old pantyhose for anymore.)

As Michael Dunbar states in his article in our February 2010 issue, it’s really best to work milk paint differently than you would latex. Don’t let the paint puddle or build up. Keep stretching it with your brush and go for a thin and even coat.

This helps prevent a blotchy finish, which is exactly the problem I had when I used milk paint for the first time 13 years ago.

Tonight I’ll rub the paint down a little bit with burlap (thanks for the tip Joel Jackson!), then spread a thin coat of wiping varnish on it.

I was surprised to see all the comments from people who were distressed that I was going to distress this piece. But the bottom line is that I want the piece to fit in with our home’s decor, which is filled with antiques and my furniture, which our children have lovingly distressed for me.

But believe me, I’m not going to be beating on the thing with keys or burying it in manure or lighting it on fire. Just some judicious rubbing.

Dunbar has a two-part article coming up in our magazine on the politics and process of adding age to furniture. I think it will prompt a lot of spirited discussion. Look for it later this year.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of the effect I’m after. These are two chairs from Dunbar’s home.

- Christopher Schwarz

Chairmaking Resources Worth Checking Out

- The Windsor Institute, where I took my class

- Peter Galbert’s excellent chairmaking blog

- “Chairmaking Simplified” by Kerry Pierce

7 thoughts on “I See a Red Door…

  1. james

    Well, fact is, most early American furniture was painted or stained a very dark purple-ish type color AKA "spanish brown". According to John T Kirk, it wasn’t until the 1780s when furniture fashion saw lighter colored stains that showed the natural grain of wood.

    Since windsor chairs are usually made from several species of wood, they were always painted.

  2. tirane93

    ok, ok. i admit i’m still a very new woodworker. but why is it EVER appropriate to paint instead of varnish/oil shelac beautiful wood? am i the only one who cringes every time woodgrain is covered?

  3. Gregg Counts

    I like that look. Those chairs have character, like the walnut rocker I have that belonged to my grandfather. I have not made any chairs yet but, after reading your blog on this one I am ready to sign up for a class or two. I look forward to the two part article from Dunbar.

  4. Clay Dowling

    Let me second the recommendation for "Chairmaking Simplified." My wife bought that for me for Christmas a couple years back. Even a neophyte like me was able to build a chair, with some training on a lathe from my father, and some guidance as we went through the process.

  5. Jon

    Ooh, I like the look of those chairs. It looks exactly like the painted finish on the antique rocking chair in my grandma’s house — the one everyone fights over at family gatherings since it’s so comfortable. Of course, its "distress" happened the old-fashioned way. Regardless, I like the look of "lived-in" furniture.

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