How to apply milk paint & Bees Wax polish

What is milk paint?

Milk Paint is a traditional finish, first used in the 18th and 19th centuries on Shaker furniture. Milk Paint has a rustic, chalky appearance that delivers beachside style or country charm, instantly softening and aging the look of new furniture and complimenting old. It is made from milk by-products mixed with powdered oxide pigment to produce subtle, mellow colours. Source: Porter’s milk paint.

For my review of the pros and cons of milk paint refer to my post.

What do I need before I start?

  • Milk paint – Porters have a great range and is the only Australian company I know that produces milk paint. It comes in 1 kg bag.
  • 2 paint trays – One used for mixing, the other used after the paint is sieved.
  • A paint mixer utensil
  • Buy a cheap kitchen sieve from the supermarket. Porter’s recommended a muslin cloth however I believe the sieve is more convenient and less messy.
  • Undercoat. I would recommend Zinnser Smart Prime as it as a good finish.

Porter's milk paint in Corn Flour white

A standard cheap sieve like this is suffice

Paint Preparation (allow 20 minutes)

For those who are not familiar with milk paint, milk paint comes in powdered format. Hence preparation is required before you can start painting.

  1. Pour a small quantity of powder into a tray/mixing bowl. Slowly mix in water and stir.
  2. Add more powder and water as you go along. Doing this slowly ensures that the batter is smooth with no lumps.  Porter’s say to stop mixing when the consistency is like pancake batter. From experience I find that it is better for the consistency to be slightly more watery, as the paint will thicken after step 3.
  3. Leave for 10 minutes then sieve paint. After sieving the consistency should be similar to standard paint.

Tip: Only make the amount you require. You are able to preserve the paint in the fridge however only opt for this only if required. Preserve by glad wrapping the paint. When you are ready, you may require to add water.

Paint Application (allow 12 hours between each coat)

  1. Dependent on your surface check the porter’s pdf instructions in regards to surface preparation. I was painting on raw wood and found that the best preparation was a light sand and 1 coat of undercoat. Note: When reading the instructions it was not clear whether undercoating is required for not. Conclusion: Undercoat, otherwise the wood will bleed through. Then you’ll require more than 2 coats, which will be a pain.
  2. Paint 2 coats. Drying time is much longer than standard paint. They say 12 hours between each coat.

Tip:

  • The second coat is always hard to apply as the paint gets very sticky. To make it easier I sometimes water down the paint.
  • Paint in the direction of the wood grain. This is important as part of the look is seeing the textures of the wood.
  • To perfect milk paint you need a little trial and error. Hence start in an area that is not so noticeable if possible.
  • Due to the paint preparation and drying time you just have to be patient. Focus on the results 😛

Applying Bees wax polish

The last step is sealing the paint as milk paint is very porous. My recommendation is to use Bees wax for furniture polish as I believe this has a more rustic finish rather than polyurethane.

What do I need?

  • Bees Wax – Try to buy one that is natural. You can immediately smell the difference. I bought the porter’s bees wax after trying a cheap version at Bunnings. It had a much more pleasant eucalyptus smell.
  • Fine steel wool (eg. Superfine grade: 0000) – It is not recommended to go finer, as the wool will easily fall apart.
  • Old pair of stockings.
  • Old t-shirts. You you don’t have any you can buy a bag of recycle rags at Bunnings.

Super fine Grade 0000 steel wool

Steel wool

Stocking stuffed with old t-shirts

Steps and hints on using Bees Wax on furniture

  1. Using the steel wool, apply the wax evenly in the direction of the wood grain. For large or uneven surfaces you can apply in small circular movements however always finish off in the direction of the wood grain. The circular movement helps you distribute the wax. See important notes below.
  2. Allow min of 6-7 hours to dry. Yes, wax does dry. When the wax dries it feels hard and is no longer sticky.
  3. Buff using stocking stuffed with clothes. The stocking just gives it a nice finish and shine.

Tips / IMPORTANT notes:

  • “Even” is an important keyword in step (1). At the stage of buffing, all you are doing is providing the shine. Don’t be mistaken that excess wax can be removed at this time. By then, it’s too late as the wax has harden.
  • Apply in small quantities at a time as this assists to create an even spread.
  • Similar to painting, start from the center and spread towards the edges. Getting excess wax in corners will be hard to remove.
  • If you are using a light coloured milk paint, I’ll recommend going with a more course steel wool or even using an old T-shirt. You do not want steel wool or lint getting stuck in the wax.
  • Light coloured milk paint (eg. white) will have a tinge of yellow after waxing. Colours will also appear darker after waxing. Keep this is mind when selecting the paint.

Left side - No wax, Right side - Waxed however when it drys it should lighten in colour. The effect remains darker with more contrast

Have you used milk paint? Any additional tips you can add? Would love to hear about your experience here. Was it different to mine?

PS. More photos is on the way in Part 3 to my post on “My custom bookshelf”.

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8 thoughts on “How to apply milk paint & Bees Wax polish

  1. Hello – my name is Ronnie and I plan on painting a dresser with milk paint, I’d like to make the real thick looking paint, I saw a piece of furniture on a Porters Paint card and fell in love with it. Every picture I see now is almost a stain look. Is there a problem with having a thicker milk paint. I’d really love your opinion, also what sort of undercoat would you recommend? or is it just a standard undercoat?
    Hope to hear from you soon.

    • Hi Ronnie, sorry for the delayed response. There is no problem with having thicker milk paint however you will find it is much harder to work with ie. harder to spread. It also creates a gluggy (ie. rough not smooth look), so it depends if this is the look you are after. Personally I found this too rough. And emphasise, it will be a PAIN to work with. What you can do is try a small batch. As the paint is in milk powder format, you can trial. Then decide whether you want to mix all the paint. A word of caution though. The paint drys really quickly so we created only what we needed. It’s a bit of a pain but the look is worth it. As or undercoat we used the white knight Tile and Laminate primer. I find that this has been one of the best undercoats. We found that some undercoats are quite smooth. Hope this helps

  2. I painting a book case with milk paint and used a beeswax as a polish however the if I rub the case the paint still stains a cloth so I am concerned the paint may rub off on the carpet or books I store on it. will I need to take the wax off (how do you do this) and seal the paint better. what went wrong?

    • Milk paint takes a significant time to dry ie. 12 hours. Could that be the reason? Being Winter may even be more. As for taking the wax off, best to check with someone like Porters as it’s been a while since our reno and I don’t want to give you the wrong info. Testing on a small surface is always good. Hope this helps.

  3. Hi Pingheng. Love your blog! I just wanted to say hi and let you know I have just released a range of all Natural Milk Paint here in Australia and our website has just gone live. We have 26 beautiful colours and over 100 customized shades. Come have a look at: http://www.youngandmay.com . Would love to hear from you….Kind regards, Giovanna Mazzella. Young & May, Australia

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