Last weekend I did something I have been afraid to attempt for over 25 years - I repurposed a piece of furniture! To understand what a big deal this was for me, you have to know that 25 years ago I spent an entire hot summer day with paint strippers and varnishes and my bad painting techniques (which have not improved much) and ruined a lovely little cedar chest of drawers with a horrible paint job. But last weekend I painted a piece of furniture I love and I am so pleased.
The secret? Homemade "chalk" paint. Repurposing and distressing old furniture is a hot trend now and when I was in the Midwest I noticed my sisters were creating some really cute pieces out of old beat up furniture using Chalk Paint. I did not use the branded chalk paint, but made my own. I have heard wonderful things about Annie Sloan's Chalk Paint, but I just wanted my own specific color so I decided to make my own.
Here's the good news for people like me who are intimidated by this type of project: There is little to no preparation time and you can easily finish a project in several hours (with down time in between). Chalk paint is EASY to make and use - no special equipment and very inexpensive. By making your own chalk paint you can create any color you want. And, best of all, you need minimal skills!
Here's what you need:
First, you need flat latex paint in the color of your choice. I used Behr Marquee in a sample size and had plenty left from these two samples. I also found that buying in the sample size was much cheaper than buying by the quart (even if I had used that much). Make sure your finish is flat or matte. I also used Plaster of Paris (buy the smallest amount you can find because you won't need much). I didn't really want to change the wood top much, so I just used a Danish Oil in a Golden color. I used Polyacrylic water based product for the finish - again be sure to get a matte or satin finish instead of a high gloss; fine sand paper (although you might need a more coarse grit if you are going for a more distressed look); an ordinary paint brush, cloth rags and a container to mix the paint (I just used a throw-away plastic paint liner).
To create your own chalk paint, mix 1 part Plaster of Paris to 3 parts paint. I mixed my Plaster of Paris with a little water first. You're looking for a consistency slightly thinner than pancake batter for your Plaster of Paris/water mix. After you mix it with your paint, stir well until is completely mixed. Because your paint now has a plaster in it, it "sets" very flat and quickly. Essentially, you are putting a layer of paint on top, so there is no stripping or complicated preparation. You can also use this on real wood, pressed wood or even laminate furniture.
I used a damp cloth to wipe away any surface dirt on the table before I started. At this point I made a critical decision to do minimal sanding on the table top before applying the Danish Oil. In retrospect, I could have thoroughly sanded the top because as you can see, the wood is gouged, scratched and stained. Being
shellshocked scarred from my last furniture stripping attempt 25 years ago, I just did some minor sanding. I was really pleased with the final product, but if I want the table top to look new, I will definitely have to go back and sand it down more. Using a lint-free rag, I applied the Danish Oil to the sanded tabletop (after making sure to wipe off the sanding dust with a damp cloth). One of the major problems I had all those years ago was using too much product, so I would recommend using the oil (and the later step polyacryllic) sparingly. I think it's better to put on multiple thin coats than big globs.
Once I finished the top, it was on to the painting. This was just too simple. I used small amounts and multiple coats, applying with the brush and making sure to allow each coat to dry in between. Using chalk paint, the "between coats" time is pretty short because it sets up quickly. Here's a couple of pictures through a couple of coats:
Once you have the color coverage you want, let it dry and then you can distress the wood. Being
a scaredy cat conservative, I chose to do minimal distressing on the piece. I like the color of the paint. You can use heavier grit sandpaper and do techniques that involve dark waxes and fancy brush strokes, but I chose to use a fine sandpaper and sand the edges. That gives a bit of a worn look and allows the color underneath to show through. I even purposely sanded the paint on the medallion to look more worn. Don't forget to thoroughly wipe off any dust created by sanding. Again, I was going for a very minimal distressing.
Notice how flat the color is? This is where the last step comes in. With chalk paint, you will need to apply some type of finish or your paint will scuff easily. The Annie Sloan Chalk Paint process comes with waxes for this purpose, but when you use waxes you need to periodically reapply. I chose a water-based polyacryllic mixed with water and applied very thinly in multiple coats. While I wanted to protect the paint and get a little shine, I didn't want to use a messy oil-based polyurethane. Applying a watered down (1:1 polyacryllic to water) finish in thin coats gave me a lot of control to see the final finish without a yellowy glow.
Starting on one side, I gently wiped the finish on with a lint-free rag. You need to keep moving in one direction across without going back. You can see in the above picture on the left side of the drawer what happens when you go back over a place you just applied - a bit of smear. I used small amounts and 3-4 coats of the thinned polyacryllic to get the finish I wanted. Once source I read about polyacryllic noted that the water-base pushes the wood grain out. You can sand very lightly between coats of finish, but again, be sure to get any dust or dirt off before you apply more polyacryllic. I also used the same finish on the top of the piece over the Danish Oil. Take your time to get the exact shine you want.
The great thing about this process is the ability to get the look you want because the materials are so forgiving. I couldn't be more pleased with the final product and look forward to trying this again! I won't even have to wait another 25 years!