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.
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.