Developing a Fondness for Milk Paint

During my last project I was extremely perplexed with the consistency of my milk paint. I think it was inexperience more than anything. This time I had a strange clarity, which gives credence to the old adage about getting off your duff and getting into the shop.

I’m not sure if it was the slightly modified ratio or the extended setup time but I developed a strong love of milk paint during this build. I think Schwarz’s recipe (2:1 water to paint) is a bit too running for my taste. I like the 1:1 ratio a little better but with a moderately heavy hand on the water. Plus, I let the mixture set over night this time and the consistency was perfect and easy to use.

I started with a base layer of the orange persimmon from my previous bench build. This was good in theory but if you followed me on IG during this time, you’ll note I put about 100 coats (or maybe six) of Federal Blue to get the top color I desired.

With the color finally right, I called in the steady hand of my wife to paint the letters using white acrylic from Michaels. She’s a perfectionist and normally really good at these things, but the uneven textures, cheap brushes (?), and slight imperfections of the CNCed letters made this impossible to get exact. She was mortified at the job she did but I assured her it was fine. I took some 220 sandpaper to each letter and got rid of all the areas where her hand wandered. It looks a little rustic but that’s kinda the vibe I was after.


You can make out the less-than-perfect details (if you squint)

If anyone has experience painting letters like this, please leave a comment below. We tried strategic blue taping but that was tedious. I really got into every nook and cranny with sand paper and modified plastic scrapers to make the lettering areas as smooth as possible. Also, I’m not opposed to finer or higher quality brushes but this is a new area for us and I simply don’t know the tools.

So, with sandpaper in hand, I selected a few areas to sand thru to the orange layer. Then it was time for some polyacrylic top coat.

In my next, and final post, I’ll show off some glamour shots and give a few shout outs to those that made this possible.

About Shawn Nichols

Heady. Phishy. Woodworker
This entry was posted in Kids Furniture, Toy Chest and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Developing a Fondness for Milk Paint

  1. I’m tucking your milk paint recipe away for future use. And my eyes must be going ’cause I don’t see any problems with the painted lettering.


    • I’ll let my wife know but it did look a bit janky right when she was done. Sanding and topcoating really fixed things up. I might’ve taken that picture after a little sanding.


  2. Bob Easton says:

    I’m with Jim… I don’t see any big problems with the painted lettering.

    It’s a very handsome chest, one that will be enjoyed for ages.

    (and I too am on the way to the milk paint store)

    As for your letter painting question… Having done a few of these, my best suggestions are:
    – The letter carving has to be as crisp as possible, especially where letter sidewalls meet the surface. ANY fuzziness, tearing, or round over there will give the painter fits. As a carver, I shuddered a bit when you mentioned CNC. I’ve seen too many cases of fuzzy edges with machine carved letters. Nothing beats a razor sharp gouge!
    – Artist acrylics are a very good choice. Yet, some may be a bit thick right out of the tube. What you want is a consistency thin enough to raise surface tension right at that crisp edge. (technical: forms a meniscus). Even if it takes 2 or more coats to cover, that crisp edge makes the difference.

    Keep havin’ fun and making beautiful.


    • Hey Bob,

      This is most helpful. Carving is not on my list of skills but maybe using the course, medium, fine approach, I might need a set of gouges to touch up some of the fuzzies from the CNC. I used sandpaper but truthfully, I couldn’t really get in that well. What you’re saying makes sense though as I know the difference between sanding and hand planing. I hope I didn’t make you cringe too much! I’m of the mindset to use the tools for the grunt work and being technical by trade I dig the CNC thing. To each his own though.

      As far as thinning goes, can I just thin it with water?

      Thanks again for the comment.



  3. Bob Easton says:

    As far as thinning goes, can I just thin it with water?

    Absolutely! Water works well. Now, if you want to get artist fancy, there are thinner-retardants for acrylics, but they’re more for “painterly” work.


  4. tombuhl says:

    I did a couple of hand carved signs with acrylic paint for carved portions, then poly/oil top coat over entire sign. My work was mostly pretty good, but there’re some less than stellar areas with non-intended wavy lines, tear outs and such. No fuzziness though, at least. I just sanded with firm block over the sign which “fixed” some over-painted portions, but some seeped in too much to eliminate. However, once the top coat went on and you step back they look great. And with aging of the mahogany they improve. Our eyes are pretty good at making things work. We can call it rustic. Or in my shop, everything I make is a prototype. I have high goals but am also willing to accept some humanity in the end result. Next time…..


    • Another good tip. I’ll keep those in my hip pocket.

      Also, I talked with my CNC guy yesterday and we could’ve done the milling in two steps, which might’ve cleared things up. Sure it’s slower, but it only took seven minutes to produce the whole thing. A clean up pass would be even quicker. Like you said, next time…


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