A while back I wrote about building a table to hold my daughter Izzi’s doll house on. You can read more about the build here: A Simple Doll House Table. The build was a fun one day project that resulted in a much heavier duty table than I anticipated, but a table that she will be able to use later in life as well as now.
The biggest issue I had after was what type of finish to put on the table. Using a stain and/or varnish is my typical preferred finish because I don’t like to cover up wood. The problem is the table is going in my daughters room and everything in there is painted…..well girly. Even the big loft bed that I built her a few years ago is painted white.
Around the same time as I was trying to decide on the finish, I was reading about Megan Fitzpatrick’s tool chest and the use of milk paint as the finish. I had never used milk paint before but it seemed like the perfect solution. Milk paint give you a surface that is unlike regular paint. It does cover completely (well mostly) in color but is not completely consistent in tone across the surface. Another difference is that it doesn’t build up on the surface of the wood like modern paints, in fact the first coat acts more like applying a dye to the wood. The result is that the grain patterns show through, especially with the oak I used.
Applying the milk paint was a little nerve racking. I read Michael Dunbar’s article in Popular Woodworking, Milk Paint before getting started it was a great reference on what to expect and some great advice. The milk paint mixes from a powder. After mixing equal parts water and the powder, you get what looks (and smells) like colored mud…and that is partially what it is. The directions recommend waiting for an hour for the bubbles to settle but I found that I had to wait almost twice that long before the paint thinned back down. The first coat goes on very slow and more like dabbing on than painting. The results after the first coat is a very interesting finish to say the least. Luckily I was already prepaided that this coat would not look good…at all.
Because the milk paint has such a short shelf life once mixed, about one day tops, I made sure I applied the second coat immediately after the first had dried. The second coat goes on much easier and acts closer to a regular paint.
The result of the second coat was a much more even tone and consistent coverage, there were still some fluctuations in the tone but I think that is part of the appeal. The paint has a very chalky look and would scratch easily so a sealant needs to be applied to protect the finish. I used two coats of polyurethane thinned to about a 2:1 ratio with mineral spirits. The first coat really penetrated into the wood just showing how little the milk paint protects the wood.
I believe the choice of using the milk paint was the right decision. I am happy with the look and it will only improve with age. Milk paint does not chip off but will only wear. It also darkens and polishes which will give the table a wonderful patina look with age. I hope this is a table that she will enjoy not only now but will be something she will carry with her as an adult.
Be safe, learn something, and have fun.