Udder Fun

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

by Elia Bizzarri
pages 39-43

A visitor asked, “Paint over wood? Aren’t you obscuring wood’s natural beauty?”

There are two assumptions behind these questions: Wood is naturally beautiful. Paint is thick, looks like plastic and hides whatever it covers. I’d say both assumptions are partially correct.

Paint can unify disparate woods, or add color and variety. It can even highlight beautiful woods. In this article, black over red paint provides a frame, showcasing this table’s unpainted, shellacked walnut top.

Why Milk Paint?

Milk paint’s thinness requires a number of coats. It dries to a rough and chalky surface, and needs to be burnished to add depth and smoothness. Plus, the matte finish of milk paint sometimes needs to be covered with another finish (if you like a shine). So why use it?

If most paints are a woolen coat, milk paint is a silk dress. Exceptionally thin, milk paint allows every pore and growth ring in the wood to show through. Its thinness also allows the use of washcoats, which are a thin layer of color (black, in this case) painted over a different base color (red). The base color peeks through, adding depth.

True milk paint comes as a powder and is made with milk casein, pigments and lime or borax. Some petrochemical paint manufacturers sell a pre-mixed “milk paint” that is actually matte acrylic paint; it doesn’t have the thinness of true 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 washcoat. A final black streaking coat gives the subtle appearance of graining – but also allows the wood’s grain to show through. I then burnish the paint to raise a sheen and apply shellac and wax to add luster.

So follow along with the pictures and give it a try yourself. I think you’ll see that traditional milk paint has a well-deserved place in the modern shop. 

Website: Visit the author’s website and read more about chairmaking and milk paint.
Read: Nancy Hiller’s technique for a milk paint pickling look.
In Our Store: For two hours of step-by-step video instruction on using milk paint for many applications, watch “Master a Classic Milk Paint Finish” (available on DVD or as a download).
Article: Read “The Apprentice,” a short article about the author’s time studying with chairmaker Curtis Buchanan.
Video: Watch and listen as Elia Bizzarri plays guitar with his pick-up Bluegrass group.
In Our Store: “Build a Hand-Crafted Octagonal Table” video (available on DVD or as a download).

From the December 2017 issue, #236