Milk paint is a homemade, nearly permanent paint that is thousands of years old. It was used in the U.S. by farmers painting their barns, fences and homes. It has some of the properties of stains in that it soaks into the wood and stays there. But it has a chalky, absorbent surface that felt like the chalkboard paint I like so much. The difference? No polymers!
You may have seen milk paint in artfully distressed surfaces or in green and sustainable applications. Martha Stewart has a recipe on her web site and of course you can buy pre-mixed bags of dry ingredients. I use the 1870 milk paint recipe on Pioneer Thinking.
Many of the recipes I saw on the web (including Martha’s) instructed you to sour the milk in advance and make the paint from the curds. This seemed like an unnecessary extra step. Adding lime does the trick.
Here are the materials I used:
–Non-fat dry milk
–Garden lime made from Dolomite limestone purchased at Home Depot in garden supply.
–Marble dust powder for filler. Look for it in the gesso aisle of any good art supply store. I think you can also use “whiting” which is chalk. The ladies at Utrecht shook their heads when I asked about whiting, so my next stop will be the farm store to look for bags of chalk.
–Iron red pigment (or any dry pigment)
I had four panels and a bench to paint, not the back side of a barn, so I halved the recipe:
–1 quart milk mixed from distilled water
–1 tablespoon lime
I whisked these together in a metal bowl, feeling the sides often to make sure I hadn’t accidentally bought Quick Lime instead of hydrogenated lime. One is for dissolving bodies a la The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, the other is for your strawberries. Guess which one you should use here? Hint: not Quick Lime. It evidently gets very, very hot, like a chemical reaction. You don’t want Quick Lime unless you have an ex husband in the freezer.
The mixture was thin at this point and smelled sour, though not unpleasant. I added:
–6 heaping tablespoons of marble dust to thicken the paint, whisking well after each addition.
The mixture was gray and thick, though the marble settled out quickly. I added:
–About a tablespoon of iron red dry pigment. Martha says you can add acrylic paint, which would probably blend well.
I had a moment of despair while I whisked—the color wasn’t coming up. But after a while, the pigment particles and marble dust blended sufficiently, and as long as I kept the paint in suspension (whisked) it was lovely. Iron red makes the kind of orange that has no blue in it—beautiful.
I brushed the paint onto untreated boards with a cheap paintbrush. The paint was foamy and soaked into the wood. In seconds I could see the grain again. I gave the boards one coat and left them to dry while The Theory and I went to the store.
When we got back, the boards were surface dry, though the wood still felt damp. And there was a bald patch where Didi the Hive Beast had licked off some paint. I don’t know what to say about that except it probably isn’t as bad as antifreeze.
I gave everything another coat, noticing that the paint felt thicker. Possibly the marble dust needed time to absorb more liquid.
After a week, the boards were completely dry and cured. The surface felt chalky but still fairly smooth and I didn’t bother to sand it down.
Smooth as silk in two coats
The next batch I made was white, using titanium oxide for the pigment. Two coats of milk paint dried overnight but this time the surface was gritty. A few quick swipes with sandpaper took the surface down to something you might encounter in a lingerie drawer—silky smooth. Clayboards, bah!
My photos of the white milk paint sample were meaningless—no contrast. You’ll have to take my word for that silky feeling.