Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bullet Proof Finish

I don't think that I have to go very far explaining the troubles that can plague finishing. We all love woodworking and hate finishing. Milk paint has an especially bad reputation for drawing us into some bizarre quantum world where paint mixed and applied the same way can have very different results.

New Milk Paint Results
I've used one brand of milk paint almost exclusively, which I've covered in other posts. It can create a lovely translucent finish, but is plagued by many problems such as a short pot life, lots of filler that needs to be strained out, strange hazy white specks that show up when least expected, trouble retouching and I'm afraid the list goes on. I've stuck with it because of the softness of the paint that allows it to be easily burnished to a high sheen. But after suffering my own traumas and fielding many calls and emails from others with the same trouble, I thought it was time to direct some attention to finding a solution.

The search for a solution pointed me to another brand of paint from The Real Milk Paint company. I've always loved the paint for its rich colors, ease of mixing (no straining), incredibly consistent results, long pot life (two weeks) and rock solid results. I suppose that I should mention that there's no connection between myself and the company.
What I didn't like was the matte finish and density that made it hard to get that translucent glow that I like. Lucky for me, I had a strange job recently reproducing a 200 year old chair that pushed me to play with some new techniques that seem to have surmounted those issues.

I will spell out the basic process here, and then give the blow by blow in the next post or two. I also hope to make a video soon. There have simply been to many folks in the shop lately for me to attempt a video, which would give far too much teasing fodder to my so called friends.

The key to the process is to mix the paint thin and use a very thin coat of shellac to seal between the different colors, and at the end of the process before varnishing.
Ugly Stain and Shellac Seal Coat
 First, I seal the chair by brushing on thinned shellac (one cup of shellac flakes to 3 cups alcohol). The shellac mix should be so thin that you suspect it of just being alcohol. I put some stain in the shellac to stain the chair and let me see where the application is going. Later, I use clean blonde shellac.

Then I paint the chair with red paint twice. The mix is 1 part paint to 2.5 parts water. I gently rub the chair with mirlon pads to remove any rough areas. I also sand any scraped areas to eliminate the raised grain between the first and the second coats. I have found that the shellac seals the first paint coat from raising the grain excessively, bonus. In between each coat of paint, I use the mirlon to rub off any caked up areas of paint, which makes getting a smooth result later easier.

Red Milk Paint
Then I shellac over the red paint. You could use the stained shellac or the blonde here. The next step can and should be applied while the shellac is still soft.

Shellac Coat

Then I paint the chair black, with a similar ratio of paint as the red. You'll notice that paint is a bit slippery on the surface and doesn't melt into the red. The second coat of black should be applied once the first is dried for at least 3 hours.
First Thin Coat of Black Paint

Once the black is dry, I burnish the chair with the mirlon again until it is somewhat smooth.
Mirka Mirlon Pads

It will be tough to get it shiny like the other brand, but that is what the next step is for.

Once the final coat of black paint is burnished, paint one more coat of shellac and then burnish it to even it out.

Burnished Shellac

Finally, apply your favorite oil or varnish. If I want a quick build up, just one coat of Minwax antique oil can do the job.

I know that it sounds like a lot of steps, but it really isn't because the shellac goes on thin and fast. The benefits of control, consistency and ease make this a great finish. And if you like a more matte finish, just skip the last shellac and go straight to the oil.
I did the finish you see here in less than 24 hours and I've done samples this way and run them under the tap after a few hours to see the water bead off.

There is still lots of experimenting to do with the other colors and layering possibilities, but for my most popular black on red finish, I'm sold. 


Steve Kirincich said...

Hi Peter,
Is there a significant differnence in pot life when comparing one brand to another? I got some milk paint on my jeans a couple of years ago, and I am amazed it has held onto the fabric after so many wash cycles. Have you made any attempt to contact the other milk paint company?


Peter Galbert said...

The other company claims that the paint can be held overnight in the fridge, but that it tends to gel. I have had this happen, but I have also had the paint last for a few days. Both brands have a lot of staying power, but I have found the ease and consistency of the Real Milk paint companies product makes the job easier. In the past, I have spoken with both companies about their products.

Unknown said...

I have always preferred the Real Milk Paint brand. It is definitely harder to burnish but just a nicer paint all around.

I have found that a shellac base is really great for getting the first coat be really smooth but have never done it between coats. Then again I don't do layered colors really.

Nice post. I need to try those Mirlon pads. Look like a better product for the rub down than I am using.

Has anyone ever used the Annasova milk paint? They sell theirs in a liquid sealed in a paint can. I have spoken to the owner and it sounds like great stuff but never ended up using it.

Gary said...

Peter, there is no need to mix the paint with a bonding agent so it will adhere to the shellac?

Peter Galbert said...

from the company literature and some experience, I think that the shellac is enough of a sealer to assure good adhesion. I invite folks to experiment along with me so that we can "know" this for sure, but I've found the the Real Milk paint has very solid sticking qualities.