When You Can’t Find What You Want …


My path to The Real Milk Paint Company began in vocational school being taught by Werner Duerr. (Yes, the same guy who taught Chuck Bender.) After I completed my woodworking training, I worked for a few different antique dealers and furniture restorers repairing antique furniture.

Fig. 1 – Frontise piece from the 1914 edition of Henley’s book. With this book, my journey began.

Many of those pieces had a painted finish that I was charged to fix or touch up. Working with available paints proved useless. If I made a paint with a shellac base, the results were too shiny. A couple of attempts using acrylic paints didn’t hit the mark, either. I needed something more in line with what was originally used on the furniture, so I began investigating other paints. That led to an in depth look at milk paints sometime in late 1993 or early 1994.

I was very close to my grandfather and I remembered him talking about lime-wash he used to paint barns, so at a family event, I asked if he could tell me how he made his paint. After mixing paint according to his recipe, I discovered that his lime-wash, over time, was chalky and that a powdered lime would rub off of the surface and onto your hands. I had more research to do.

I used his mixture as a springboard, and I picked up a copy of “Henley’s Formulas for the Home and Workshop” (Hiscox). In that book, I found a rudimentary formula, which included casein. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what casein did, but I knew it related to the binding of the paint. (Fig. 1)

At my local grocery store, I picked up powdered milk and experimented even more. I called manufacturers to ask questions and order materials. Slowly I developed a milk paint that had the properties I was looking for. It had to be easy to mix, easy to use and have a dull or dead-flat sheen when dry. After nearly a year of part-time work and 30 to 40 tweaks to the formulas – I’d adjust the casein-to-lime ratio and make other adjustments – I developed my version of milk paint. The recipe we use today is exactly the same.

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5 thoughts on “When You Can’t Find What You Want …

  1. I tried milk paint recently and love the way it made my project look.

  2. Can you spray milk paint, or does it need to be brushed?

  3. You can spray it, but I’ve found it depends on the orifice of the gun. You may need to thin the paint further with water or strain it for a gun with a small orifice (needle). It does spray well in a texture paint gun, which can be had fairly cheaply from an importer like Harbor Freight . The paint does tend to dry in the air a bit before it hits the surface so the sprayed surface may have some texture. This can be cut down quickly with a scotch bright type sanding pad.

  4. Do you use raw tung oil or polymerized? Any reason linseed oil wouldn’t work as well? I have used milk paint (from that other milk paint company, the one that packages in paper bags) and the advice I got was to use Danish oil natural for a topcoat.

  5. You can use polymerized or pure tung oil. It really depends on how you want the finished project to look. The polymerized will generally give a gloss or sheen over the milk paint, while the pure Tung will stay matte and flat. Both finishes deepen the color of the paint as the oils saturate the pigments making them darker.

    Raw Linseed is not a drying oil, so it will never dry. That’s why you buy boiled linseed, which is not really boiled at all. But that can be left for a different discussion. Also, boiled linseed is not very water proof, so it would be better for indoor projects. You do have to be careful to get a good quality linseed as some can become mold food and allow mildew. This is why I stick to the Pure Tung Oil. It has better water resistance and naturally resists mold and mildew. I also like the matte look, too.

    Danish oil are just a manufactured varnish, linseed oil or Tung oil blend with thinners. Every brand is different and will have different ingredients, levels of sheen and other properties. Danish oils can work over the milk paint, if they give you the look you want. I encourage scrap-wood testing of all the finishes. At times I failed to take my own advice then ended up stripping the project too many times !!

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