do as I say, not as I do.

I always joke that I like to learn things the hard way.  But really, that isn’t too far off the mark.  Over the years I have accumulated a fair amount of knowledge about painting furniture that was mostly acquired by making mistakes and then learning from them.

I know there are other (and most would say better) ways to learn, such as taking a class or workshop.  I’ve taken a couple of workshops in my day too.  They are absolutely great for learning the basics, but you can’t learn every last detail in the space of just a few hours.  Another way to learn is by reading blogs like mine.  We make the mistakes so that you don’t have to!

In the long run, experience ultimately comes from practicing, trying things out, and yes, making mistakes.

So today I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned by making mistakes.

No. 1 – Do not apply a furniture transfer over freshly applied wax.

I wanted to use dark wax over bare wood on this piano stool seat to add some color.  For some reason, I thought I needed to wax before adding the transfer.  Big mistake.  The rubbing motion that you use to apply a transfer creates friction, friction creates heat, heat turns freshly applied wax and the adhesive of the transfer into a sticky gooey mess.  I simply couldn’t get any more of that transfer to adhere to the stool.

By the way, this experience also taught me that it’s fairly difficult to remove a transfer too.  Even though parts of this transfer wouldn’t adhere at all, the parts that did adhere were stuck down good.  I tried using mineral spirits and a scrubbing pad and after lots of elbow grease I only got this far …

The fix.

I broke out the orbital sander and sanded the entire seat down to bare wood.  Then I stained the stool top to give it some color.  Next, I added the transfer, followed by wax.  It turned out beautifully.

A little sidebar:  I refinished that stool in March 2018, long before I painted my piano black.  Then I sold it.  Kicking myself now because this stool would be perfect with my now black piano!  I’ll be on the hunt for another like it while garage saling this summer.

q tip:  If you decide you simply must have a transfer on your piece but you’ve already waxed it, you will need to wait 30 days for the wax to cure before adding the transfer.  Or you could remove the wax with mineral spirits, but who wants to go down that road?


No. 2 – Do not use Color Change Wood Filler when painting a piece with milk paint.

This is the Elmer’s Carpenter’s Color Change Wood Filler.  It goes on purple and when it turns white you know that it’s dry.  The packaging says it is paintable and stainable.  So it seemed like a reasonable choice at the time.  The problem is, because milk paint is much thinner (ie. more watery) than other paints it turns the filler back to purple!  I suspect this might happen with chalk style paints too, but I’ve never tried it.

I used it on a desk that I was painting with Miss Mustard Seeds Marzipan.  Not only did the paint turn purple, but I then tried sealing it with Tough Coat and repainting, but the purple still bled thru that too (keep in mind that Tough Coat is not intended to seal bleed thru, I just thought I’d try it).

The fix.

Since it was summer, I used some spray paint primer to block the purple bleed thru.  Then I repainted the entire side of the desk with the Marzipan.


No. 3 – Do not use the Prima Marketing Décor stamps with ink over milk or chalk paint without a topcoat.

This pair of nightstands were perfect for trying out the Decor Stamps.  However, I had painted them with milk paint and hadn’t added a top coat yet.  Because milk paint is so porous it soaked up the ink like a sponge and the pretty stamp that started out looking crisp and fabulous bled into the paint and after about 10 minutes it ended up looking like a fuzzy mess.

After realizing the error of my ways, I painted a test board with several different treatments and then tried the stamp over them.

The fix.

I repainted the nightstands with Fusion’s Putty, and then tried again with the stamps.  This time it worked perfectly!

q tip:  If you want to use a Decor stamp with ink over milk paint, be sure to seal your milk paint with a water based sealer such as Miss Mustard Seeds Tough Coat or The Real Milk Paint Co’s Finishing Cream.


No. 4 – Even if you don’t see any stain bleeding through your piece before you apply a sealer, a water based sealer can pull the stain through your paint.

I painted this linen press using Rachel Ashwell paint.  I don’t think this product is even around anymore.  I’m guessing she tried the paint thing, found it to be super competitive, and it fizzled.  But you can get this result with any paint when you add a water based top coat.  It’s super frustrating because your piece looks amazing before you add the top coat.  Also, the bleed thru can take a while to show up.  So you might think you’re done, and then a day later start to see bleed thru.

It’s really hard to know when this is going to happen.  Over time, with experience, you’ll get a feel for judging whether or not a stain might bleed.  But sometimes it just sneaks up on you.

The fix.

I used Rachel Ashwell Clear Primer to seal the piece, repainted and then finished with the water based topcoat.


No. 5 – When all else fails, follow the directions.

I really loved that Rachel Ashwell brand Clear Primer, too bad it’s no longer available.  However, another great product for blocking bleed thru is Dixie Belle BOSS (blocks odors, stains, stops bleed thru).

However, be sure to follow the directions.  I used it to block an ink stain on the inside of a drawer and the first time around it didn’t work, even though I had used two coats of the BOSS.

So I went back and read the instructions which said to allow for a longer drying period.

The fix.

I added two more coats of BOSS and let it dry overnight and it worked like a charm.

Yep, my dad was right, when all else fails, read the directions.


No. 7 – Be sure to mix your milk paint really well, especially the shades of green.

True milk paint is made with just five ingredients; casein (milk protein, hence the name milk paint), chalk, clay, oxide (natural pigments) and limestone.  It comes in powder form and you mix it with water when you are ready to use it.

Some of the pigments used are heavier than others.  Because of that, they tend to settle to the bottom of your container as you’re using the paint.

As a result, if you paint most of your dresser one day and then paint the final bottom drawer on another day after your handyman has fixed it you can end up with an entirely different color.

Yep, not a good look.  That bottom drawer definitely has a lot more of the blue pigment compared to the others.

I learned a couple of lessons from this one.  First of all, when using milk paint, mix your paint before you start prepping your piece.  Let it sit while you prep allowing the pigments time to fully dissolve.  Next mix your paint well again before starting to paint.   Also, frequently give your paint a little stir as you are painting.  And finally, be sure to paint the final coat on your entire piece in one sitting and with one batch of mixed paint.  If you’ve painted the first coat and realize you don’t have enough paint left for the entire final coat, be sure to add more paint to your mix before starting the last coat.

For more milk paint tips, check out my Milk Paint Basics post.

The fix.

I mixed a new fresh batch of Miss Mustard Seeds Luckett’s Green and repainted the entire dresser in one go.

I hope you’ve learned a thing or two from this post.  I’m sure I’ll keep on making mistakes and I’ll continue to share them with you so that you don’t always have to learn things the hard way.  You can do as I say, not as I do.

If you have any lessons you’ve learned the hard way, be sure to share them with us in a comment.

25 thoughts on “do as I say, not as I do.

  1. This is such a great post. Recognizing making mistakes is part of the learning curve should help take the fear out of foraging ahead. Thanks for sharing your hiccups and your tips. It was also fun to see past projects. I remember that Luckett’s Green chest. Such a happy color but my favorite part is your staging.
    Love the tool box. Is that an enamel piece attached to it? Now I have to decide which I love most the transfer or the enamel. Goodness I love what you do.


    1. Yep, that’s an enamel number plate attached to the toolbox. From a financial point of view, a transfer is more economical. I think I spent around $18.95 for that number. So these days if I plan to sell a piece I’d choose a transfer over an enamel number. But if I’m keeping something for myself I’d splurge on the enamel number!


  2. I some times wonder why I keep plugging away after all the mistakes I’ve made, maybe bc when they don’t occur I love what I do> I always find it so humbling when professionals like yourself are willing to admit the mistakes and SHARE how to fix them! Thank you!


  3. This is such a good post. I was reading along and got to the part that said “yes, Dad was right”…and realized that is true for quite a bit of us. Lol. With age, you (sometimes) acquire wisdom. Thanks for sharing.


  4. I really enjoy your blog, and thank you for today’s post. I do have one question: maybe you addressed this and I missed it, but are you saying that the stain blocker should not be water based and if not, does that mean it should be oil based? I can not get the Dixie Belle primer you recommended, so I have to look for something else that is available locally. I am a novice painter, so sorry for the dumb question. Thank you for your help!


    1. Now that you mention it, I really wasn’t super clear on that was I? OK, to be clear it is the top coat/sealer that I’m referring to when I say ‘water based sealer’, not the stain blocking primer. A water based top coat will sometimes pull stain through your paint if you didn’t use a stain blocking primer before you painted. Examples of water based top coats are Miss Mustard Seeds (or Fusion brand) Tough Coat, Dixie Belle’s Gator Hide, General Finishes Flat Out Flat and The Real Milk Paint Co’s Finishing Cream. Personally I don’t use any oil-based topcoats, so I can’t really say whether they will do the same or not. So to answer your question, should the stain blocker be oil based?, the answer is no, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, the Dixie Belle BOSS (stain blocking primer) is also water based. If you can’t get BOSS where you are, you can use Shellac or B-I-N Zinsser Shellac-Based Primer, but that stuff is very stinky and difficult to clean out of your brushes (the BOSS can be cleaned up with soap and water).


  5. This was such a great post! Who among hasn’t learned lessons the hard way ugh! I know I wiggled my way out of a few paint disasters that seemed pretty hopeless at the time haha. So glad you discovered a way out and didn’t throw in the brush on these lovely projects. I am a huge fan of your work!


  6. Great information! I enjoy reading your posts and learning from you.
    I noticed in the last picture the #168 metal tag on the wooden tool box. Do you know where I can get those?
    I’ve been searching for them high and low. I purchased mine several years ago in Andover but I want more.


  7. Just found your blog and love your projects! I’ve been dabbling in upcycling furniture & have had a few near disasters too– good to know I’m not the only one !


  8. Some very good information here. I have always loved your “Q-Tips.” I have learned a lot from them. This post was great!


  9. Amazing post, Linda! And we’re like 2 peas in a pod. I’m horrible at reading instructions and learn the hard way by making mistakes! You’ve shared some super good nuggets here! XO


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