how do you take your milk paint? chippy or not chippy

If you read the Miss Mustard Seed blog or look at the portfolio of my work, it’ll be pretty obvious that I’m partial to the “chippy look”.  I love old things, though, and I am also laid back enough that I like to let things happen naturally – put the paint on and see what it does!

That is one reason I love milk paint.

But, I don’t want you to get the idea that milk paint only gives you the “chippy look”.  Another thing that I love about milk paint is how diverse it is.  It can be chippy or a smooth coat of paint.  It can be sheer, like a stain, or opaque.  It can be thick and textured or buttery soft.

Milk paint is not a one-trick-pony.

So, how do you take your milk paint?

If you like it chippy, here are some tips…

  1. Don’t prep the surface you’re painting.  Just apply the milk paint directly to the existing substrate and see what happens!
  2. Don’t add the Bonding Agent to the paint.  The Bonding Agent helps the paint adhere to surfaces it might not otherwise stick to.
  3. Paint outside on a hot day.  Heat can accelerate the drying time, causing the paint to craze, crack and chip.  This technique doesn’t require any mediums or additional products and it looks amazing!  (You can also use a hair dryer or heat gun.)
  4. Use the Wax Puck or 100% Beeswax Finish as a resist in areas where you want the paint to chip.  You would want to use this over raw wood, stained wood or other porous surfaces.  Milk paint will absorb into those and will not chip unless a “resist” is applied.
  5. Scrape the dry paint gently with a putty knife to loosen any paint that may chip and to force it a little.  You can also hit the edges of the piece with a 100-80 grit sand paper to pull off some of the paint.
  6. Randomly stick painter’s tape on the surface and peel it away.  This will usually take some chips of paint along with it!

If you like it smooth, here are some tips…

  1. Sanding really goes a long way when it comes to making milk paint stick.  Give the surface a light sanding with a 100 grit sand paper.  This isn’t about stripping the existing finish, but roughing it up.
  2. Make sure the piece is clean and free from oils or waxy build-ups from years of polishing.  Clean the surface with TSP, denatured alcohol, mineral spirits or some other furniture prep cleaner.
  3. If you’re painting something that has a glossy finish, add the Bonding Agent to the paint.  (1 part Bonding Agent to 1 part mixed milk paint.)
  4. Give the paint 30 days to full cure before heavy use.  Almost all paints and finishes require 30 days to completely harden.  The finish is more susceptible to gouges, scrapes, chips, etc. prior to that 30 day mark.  You can use the piece, but just be gentle with it!

Both looks can be finished with any of our topcoats, depending on the desired sheen and end result.

If you’re not sure which topcoat to use, check out all of our posts and tutorials on topcoats to help you decide!

10 thoughts on “how do you take your milk paint? chippy or not chippy

  1. Nina Luisi

    Thanks for this article. I was thinking about asking you about some pointers on smooth finishes as I have some pieces I want to work on, and I’m not into the chippy look. This was very helpful. I’ll be keeping your paints in mind when I get ready to start.

  2. Deborah D

    I love milk paint. I like the versatility. Most times I only like a little chipping. Thanks for the article.

  3. JeanFB

    Thank you for this great summary of tips! I like a bit of chipping – usually not a ton (although I adore the dresser in this article, there’s just something about it!). I would love to see more of the milk paint used as a stain (and tips to go along with how you do it). I have a honey oak dining set that is just too “yellow” for my taste, and I’d love to give it something that would look like a washed/weathered gray wood finish – sort of French/Old European style (a la Restoration Hardware). I’d love to know how to start.

  4. Miss Mustard Seed

    The good news is that you’re already working with oak, which is what RH uses for most of their pieces. It has a deep grain that lends itself to a weathered look. The bad news is that if there is a thick poly finish, you really need to strip it away in order to get the look you want. Once the finish is removed, you can use a color like Trophy (gray) as a stain. Brush it on and then rub it into the grain with a cloth, pulling it off of the “high points” and leaving it in the grain. You can also add some white if you want it to look more limed. Once you like the look, apply a wax finish.

  5. Sam

    excellent article! I too am going to be working with a glossy old oak buffet. I know I’ll have to strip it a bit and sand it a bit to get the milk paint to adhere, but I’d also like it to have a bit of a light gloss or sheen when it’s finished (neither myself of my partner like the chalky look or feel). Can you give a recommendation of a sealer/finish? I have been looking at the hemp oil finished stuff and I’m not sure if that over milk paint will give enough of the desired sheen. Any advice is warmly welcomed!

  6. Judy

    I have a highly glossed Mahoney chest. I want the chippy look. If I understand your tips right. All I have to do is apply the paint and let it do s it thing. Also I would have to,buy the furniture wax to apply after after to,preserve. Or is the hemp oil best, this is going on an outside covered deck.
    This isn’t first time trying this paint.
    Thank you in advance,

  7. Maggie

    Hi – can you tell me which paint color you used on that blue dresser with the linens, please?

  8. Natalie

    I’m having some trouble using the bonding agent. It ends up with a lot of stripes that don’t go away with sanding. Tried stirring more often and even switched up my brushes but it still happens. Do you have any suggestions?

  9. Jamie

    If I am going over an old Mahogany Bedframe that has old varnish on it and my client wants it distressed should i sand it first or no?


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