Sunday, February 13, 2011

Using Soldier Blue Milk Paint on Small Woodworking Projects

Milk paint is an excellent source of color for any woodworking project- especially those projects that involve making children's toys. The paint is non-toxic and has absolutely no fumes associated with it. This make me feel better about giving these out to friends and also making things for my own children- especially when there is a chance part of it may end up in a child's mouth. (Not that subscribe to feeding them paint or encouraging the practice or eating it but you know how it goes.) Many people also love the color and application on walls, furniture and housewares.The milk paint I work with on my games and toy products starts in a powder form. It utilizes casein to bind the paint to the surface (hence the milk part of the name) and lime to make the powder soluble in water.  The finish is very flat so I finish each piece in natural tung oil to deepen the color of the paint and provide a more durable finish to each piece. I'm new to working with it and wanted to step through the setup and application of milk paint for small woodworking projects. I picked soldier blue for the following piece because I love the antique look of the color. It reminds me of an antique pie cabinet I saw a while back which reminds me of pie- always a good thing. Great- now I'm distracted.

Before you start:
You need to have a cleanly finished piece of wood to start. Use increasing sandpaper grit until you are at a 220 or 280 grit. Wipe with a tack cloth to remove the dust and you are ready to start.

Step One: Mixing the Paint
 Start out with a two cups- one empty and one with warm water. Take a spoon an measure a healthy dollop of powder into the empty cup and then pour a matching amount of warm water from the other cup in with the powder. Try and mix what you plan to use. If you plan on needing another batch- you need to also be more scientific and exact with your measuring than dollops and feels-rights or your color will vary (although I could see doing this on purpose for certain applications.) I like to have more warm water then I know I will need so I have an instant place to clean my brush between coats.

The next trick is stirring it in. The warm water helps out in getting the powder fully mixed but it will still take some time to blend it in. Work the paint until it looks smotth and creamy. Mine ended up with the consistency of melted ice cream. If I add more water at this point I could end up with a washed out color which can be very pretty if that's what you are going for. When working with small projects, it's not practical to use a paint stick but you can use whatever you would normally use to stir a drink- think coffee stirrer, spoon, fork, etc. I ended up with a plastic spoon for this round. Next time I'll be using a metal fork to help me with some whisking action. You want to be careful and not get to zealous with the mixing or you will end up with froth in your paint. By the time it settles out it may have gelled up enough to have to start with more water so be careful. You want to make sure you don't leave too many lumps in the paint. The photo below shows where there are some lumps that came up with the brush. These aren't too concerning to me because I know they will even themselves out before the next coat.

Step Two: Wait a While
You will need to wait at least an hour for the first coat to dry. After the first coat has had time to set and dry, get the sandpaper back out and rough up the first coats just a little to give the second coat a place to grab on to. If you need to wait longer than an hour between coats, place your milk paint in the fridge with a little plastic wrap over it. It will be a little thicker when you get it out but milk paint does spoil. Use it within a few days. Think of paint safety like food safety- it spoils in about the same time if left out or if left in the fridge.

Step Three: The second coat
Using the same paint, apply an even second coat to the piece. I noticed on my second coat a few areas where I must have picked up a bubble of unmixed paint powder. The top coat popped and the powder showed on the top of the piece and I was able to grab it with my paint brush. I probably should have stirred with a fork- something to note for next time.

Step Four: The finishing
My finish of choice is 100% Tung Oil. It is a little pricier than your petroleum distillates but it's one of the safest finishes available. It's also great for anyone who has experienced allergies to other finishes. I can also use it in the game room while my son plays with his trucks as there are no harmful vapors that make you feel like you are inhaling cancer. You can pick this up in any specialty hardware store like Rockler's. The stuff I linked to is cheaper than what I found it for there- a quart at Rockler's ran me about $23. Now that I know- I'll get a better deal with no tax online. ;)
The Tung Oil will deepen the color of the milk paint so think a shade lighter when you pick your milk paint color ass the Tung Oil will deepen it a shade down.
The first coat has to go on mixed with mineral spirits 50/50. Just use an old piece of cotton T-shirt folded up and rub it over the painted surface. Let it sit alone for about 10  minutes and then come back and wipe up any excess. You will then need to let it sit for another 24 hours before you go in for a second coat. A satin finish takes at least two coats. If you want it super glossy, add as many coats as it takes for it to get to the shine you are looking for. You can then use regular furniture polish when cleaning and you can periodically come back with another light coat of Tung Oil if you want to renew. I'm in a drying phase at the time of this posting and plan to edit later and add photos of the finished product... Look for future posts that show the process of "antiquing" by applying coats of more than one color and then sanding down the top coat to show the colors beneath. It gives the appearance of an older piece that has had many coats of love.

Finally: Cleaning Up
Milk paint can be stored indefinitely in its powder form. You will need to transfer it from the paper and foil it was shipped in if you used Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co. I picked out jelly jars used in canning. The rubber seal and non reactive glass makes it a great container- plus I can see the color and spoon it out in whatever measure I need for the next time. Remember- wet mixed paint is only good for a few days if left in the fridge covered up- so only mix what you need and for color matching, do a better job  measuring water and powder to get better color consistency between mixes.

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