Chipping and the Importance of Prep Work

Have you ever wondered why it’s best to prep surfaces prior to using Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint?  What exactly is in our Milk Paint that causes it to randomly resist and flake off of surfaces every now and then?  And is prep work really that important?  Can’t you just wing it?

Photo via The Golden Sycamore

These are good questions, aren’t they?  Let’s begin by exploring exactly what Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint is and how it’s different from other types of paint.  MMSMP has five simple ingredients – chalk, clay, limestone, powdered milk protein (otherwise known as casein) and pigments.  The powdered casein is the “milk” part of Milk Paint!

Did you catch that?  The ingredients are very simple and there’s only five of them.  That’s literally all that’s inside of a pouch of Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint – five simple, basic, and primitive ingredients.

Milk paint powder 4

There aren’t any binders to help keep the ingredients mixed together once water is introduced.

Photo via Eight Hundred Furniture

There are no suspenders to keep all of the pigments consistent throughout the paint once it’s all mixed in a cup.

And there are no extra additives in the powdered mix to help Milk Paint adhere once it is applied.

You see, Milk Paint is an incredibly basic product.  It’s not like most modern paints that you’re familiar with in the paint world (latex, oil, chalk, clay, acrylic, etc.).  Once it’s mixed to the proper consistency (when it runs off a stir stick in a steady ribbon), Milk Paint will always be thinner than pre-mixed modern paints.  It doesn’t have the additives that modern paint does that allow the product to bond to most surfaces.  It’s not processed.  Milk Paint simply is not formulated that way.  Milk Paint is as broken down as you can get when it comes to paint, and that’s what makes it so incredibly special!

A good way to compare Milk Paint with modern paint is to think about peanut butter.  If you imagine a jar of natural peanut butter that has not been processed, typically the oil has separated from the butter itself and it needs to be mixed to be reincorporated once you open the container.  It has a chunkier consistency and is not perfectly smooth.  There are bits of broken peanuts in the mixture and it has a simpler taste.  It doesn’t spread the same across a piece of bread and the ingredient list is relatively short.  Milk Paint is like natural peanut butter.

Now compare that with processed or modern peanut butter.  When you open the jar, its consistency is the same throughout the container.  There are no natural variations in the color.  It’s smooth and easy to get out of the can.  It spreads well.  It’s processed to be that way, and the ingredient list is much longer and a bit more complicated to pronounce.  Modern paints are like processed peanut butter.

One isn’t necessarily better than the other.  It all really depends on your personal preferences and how you like your peanut butter.  You can’t expect a natural product to look like, smell like, and behave the same way as a processed product, can you?  They are simply not formulated the same way, so your expectations of the products can’t be the same.

Do you need to go get a snack from the kitchen now?  It’s okay.  We’ll wait…

Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint works best on raw wood surfaces.  It’s naturally thin viscosity allows it to soak in like a stain rather than laying thickly on the surface and drying like a coat of nail polish.  The pigments in Milk Paint provide gorgeous color while still preserving the wood grain.  It acts like a colored stain rather than a paint on raw wood surfaces.

But let’s face it, most of the pieces that we own in our homes already have some kind of finish on them.  The majority of furniture that is available to buy and paint is not raw wood.  Either it has a coat of some sort of paint or design on it already, like this workbench.

Or pieces have a stain and a topcoat, like this empire dresser.

These existing finishes have a big impact on how Milk Paint will behave, and it’s important to realize that the surface you are painting plays a major role in the painting process.  Now we’re not going to get all weird on you and say that furniture has a personality, but it is safe to say that pieces range in how well they “play” with MMS Milk Paint.

The smoother and glossier your surface is, the more Milk Paint will have a tough time adhering to it.  It actually won’t adhere at all in some cases and it will simply fall off in patches, or “chips” as we call it.  This is why Milk Paint can randomly chip and flake on some furniture makeovers.  It is resisting adhering to a smooth, glossy, or oily surface and its primitive nature doesn’t have any extra adhesive properties to force it to cling on.

Now this is not necessarily a bad thing!  The random chipping of MMS Milk Paint provides painters with an authentically aged and old world finish.

It creates a look that seems as if it has always been there for decades.

This authentically old finish perfectly compliments vintage and antique pieces of furniture.

Now what is gained in some aspects of using Milk Paint is lost in other areas, particularly regarding adhesion.  As we mentioned earlier, Milk Paint will resist surfaces that are smooth, shiny, glossy, or oily.  That is why prep work may be required when using Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint.

“Prep work” is a phrase that has become taboo in painting circles.  No one seems to want to do anything prior to painting these days.  Folks can’t even be bothered with cleaning or dusting, and good luck if you mention the dreaded “S” word…SANDING!  

Can we simply take a minute and say that prep work is the key to a quality finish and there are numerous benefits to prep work that far outweigh the perceived “inconvenience” of it all?

Hear us out.

As we mentioned earlier, the surface of furniture pieces play a big role in how Milk Paint will behave on them.  Imagine the years of oils from hands, grime, dust, dirt and other surface contaminants that accumulate on the surface of a piece of furniture before it gets to you.  Think of the layers of furniture polish that have been applied week after week with a soft cloth.  Each piece has a history and a story that it brings to the table, and some pieces have more baggage than others.

The older the piece, the greater the likelihood that these contaminants will be present.  It’s simply not practical to expect a simple and primitive paint product like MMSMP to adhere to a surface in that condition.  You have to help it out a little bit, and there are lots of options to choose from!

Prep work can be as simple as cleaning the piece.  If you’re a lover of primitive pieces like Miss Mustard Seed is, they can come into your possession bearing quite a load of grime.

A simple cleaning goes a long way!

In addition to cleaning the surface of your piece, we strongly recommend that smooth, glossy, and shiny surfaces be scuffed with sandpaper prior to painting with MMSMP.  This does a few things.  First, it roughs up the surface and gives it a bit of texture or “tooth”.  This creates a surface that MMS Milk Paint is more likely to adhere to.  It also gives you a chance to explore the piece and spy any areas that need addressing such as a loose board, drip marks from the previous finish, loose veneer, water rings, etc.  As you open and close the drawers or doors on your piece while you sand, you get to see what it looks like on the inside and determine if further repairs are required before you put paint on it.  You can also learn if the drawers are even able to open with a tug.  The piece below gave Miss Mustard Seed a run for her money.  These drawers were super difficult to open and close and she needed to spend time filing them down prior to painting it.

Scuffing your piece with sandpaper does not equate to taking it down to the raw wood and completely removing the existing finish.  (If you want to, that’s completely fine, but it’s not necessary.)  It means you’re roughing up the surface enough to create one on which Milk Paint can adhere.  Here’s a good example of a scuffed surface.  The process does not need to be a lengthy one.  An ounce of prep in the beginning is worth a pound of troubleshooting once you get going.

Photo via Eight Hundred Furniture

You can also squirt some of our Bonding Agent into your mixed batch of MMS Milk Paint to boost adhesion.

Bonding Agent is a water-based emulsion that contains the bonding agents that are present in modern pre-mixed paints.  MMS Milk Paint offers it as a separate product that can be added in if needed.  Bonding Agent does change the look of Milk Paint slightly.  It gives it more of a subtle satin luster (not necessarily a shine) and it smooths out the consistency, giving you a product that feels a bit more familiar on the brush.

So now do you have a better understanding of why Milk Paint chips randomly?  Do you have more of an appreciation for why prep work is important?  Thanks for reading through our thoughts, and we’re happy to continue helping you Move Mountains In Your Home with Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint!

3 thoughts on “Chipping and the Importance of Prep Work

  1. Tammy spencer

    Thanks for all your information. I am currently waiting for a supplier to get in some products so I can place my first mms order! Can’t wait to try your paints. Wish there was a retailer closer and I didn’t have to wait for it to ship! I am esspecially anxious to try your bicycle red on an old buffet. I am ordering lots of sample colours too.

  2. Susan Gorney

    Thank you for the great article. I have all your books and read everything I can on MMSMP and I love it dearly! This article did a great job of summing up the importance of prep. I love prep work and sanding as I do get to know the piece and make it truly mine. Fantastic!

  3. Loretta

    Your article is helpful but I still have questions. I am searching for different techniques for painting my “10” dinning chairs. I am not sure of the color I want to use nor the finish I want to seal the chairs with. I noticed you used different base colors to achieve a certain color do you have a color chart on the colors to use or is it a trail and error until you find the color you want? Also, do you have a suggestion on a finish that will last a long time and will not need touching up in a year or two. I have used chalk paint in the past but I need a finish that is durable and will hold up to lots of use.
    I feel the prep work is the most important thing to do when you are working on anything because the prep affects everything about the out come of your project.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.


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