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.

um, what is this stuff?

Several months ago Prima Marketing sent me a box full of goodies.  Included in the box were several jars of this stuff …

Chalk paste.

It sure does come in some pretty colors.  This pale blush pink is called Hubbard Squash.

And it has the most deliciously creamy, thick consistency, sort of makes me want to spread it on a cake.  But I’m pretty sure that’s not what it’s for.

So I wondered, what exactly is this stuff?

I’d never heard of chalk paste and had no idea what to do with it.  So I did some googling and it seems to be a sort of cross between chalk paint and a texture paste.  I found that a popular option is to use it with a stencil to create a raised design.

It was time to do some experimenting.

I happened to have this pair of oval wooden plaque thingies that my picker found at a garage sale for 25 cents each.  Perfect for experimenting.

Experiment no. 1 – I painted the oval in a pale blush color that sort of matched the Hubbard Squash chalk paste.  Then I pulled out Prima’s Lenore Corners raised stencil which is .04″ deep.  These thicker stencils are perfect for this technique.

Next I used a putty knife to smooth the Hubbard Squash chalk paste over the stencil.  I made sure that the openings in the stencil were fairly uniformly filled in with the paste and then pulled the stencil away.

I let the chalk paste dry overnight to be sure it was good and set up.  Then I sanded it lightly to smooth out any rough edges.

Next I pulled out some of Prima Marketing’s Decor Wax in a color called Diamond Dust.  The Diamond Dust is a pale, iridescent gold.  I used a q-tip to lightly apply it just to the raised sections of the stenciled chalk paste.

It accented the raised stencil just enough and I thought this might be a very pretty look on the right piece of furniture.

Experiment no. 2 – For  the 2nd oval I painted the base in a medium shade of greige and then used the off-white Vintage Lace chalk paste with Prima Marketing’s Madelia Gardens stencil.

In this case there is more of a contrast between the color of the base coat of paint and the color of the chalk paste.  As you can see, I did get some seepage from the chalk paste under my stencil.  I didn’t especially like the look of that, so after sanding the dried chalk paste to smooth it out, I painted over the entire oval with some Dixie Belle paint in Drop Cloth which improved the look.  Then I added a segment of Prima Marketing’s Endless Story transfer to the remainder of the oval.

From this experiment I concluded that chalk paste stenciled over a contrasting color of paint is probably not a good look for me.  The look of that seepage under the stencil is too messy for me.  However, I really like the subtlety of a uniform color over the entire thing.

Experiment no. 3 – I pulled out the last two wooden plates I had from Prima Marketing for a third experiment.  This time I first painted the plates using Dixie Belle’s Gravel Road.  Then I used the Iron Gate chalk paste, which is a dark charcoal grey similar to the Gravel Road.

Again, once the chalk paste had set up, I sanded it to smooth out any rough spots.  Then I painted over the whole plate with Dixie Belle’s Vintage Duck Egg.  Once that was dry I sanded it back to reveal some of the original color of the Iron Gate chalk paste.

As you can see, each of these techniques gives a slightly different look.  None of them are right are wrong, it just depends on the look you like.

I can’t really say I have a favorite, although I tend to prefer more subtle looks like the white paint over the white chalk paste.  It’s just enough to provide a hint of texture without being too much.

How about you?  Which one is your favorite?  And have you ever tried chalk paste?  If so, what did you do with it.  I’d love to know, so be sure to leave a comment.

Thank you to Prima Marketing and Dixie Belle Paint Co for providing the products used for these projects.

your choice of toppings, on the lighter side.

On Monday I shared my favorite technique for using a dark wax over bare wood.  Today I thought I’d focus on using other colors of wax over bare wood (or white washed wood).

Once again, all of my favorite wax brands make a version of white wax.

Starting at the top and moving clockwise that’s Miss Mustard Seed White Wax, Homestead House White Wax, the Real Milk Paint Co Soft White Wax, and Fusion Liming Wax.

That brings up the first question, are white wax and liming wax the same thing?

I don’t have a definitive answer from the experts, but I’m pretty sure they can be used interchangeably.  One may have a slightly different color, or maybe a little more or less pigment, but as you can see all of the white waxes that I have are slightly different in color anyway.

You can apply white wax to bare wood in just the same way as the dark waxes that I talked about on Monday.  If you need a refresher you can refer back to that post.  However, I often choose to apply a coat of clear wax before applying the white.    The purpose of that is to soften the look of the white wax and allow it to blend a little bit more.  But if you want that cerused or lime waxed look to be more pronounced and you really want to see those streaks of white that catch in the grain of your wood, go ahead and just use the white wax right over your bare wood.

The tabletop below has a coat of clear wax followed by a coat of white wax.

As does the top of this washstand.

These days I almost always apply my wax with a brush and then remove any excess wax with an old t-shirt.  The large Miss Mustard Seed wax brush is a favorite of mine (you can find it online at Carver Junk Co if you need one).  Mine is well used …

Another favorite light wax of mine is grey wax.  I used to make my own grey wax by mixing black and white wax together.

But now when I want grey wax I just use Dixie Belle’s Best Dang Wax in Grunge Grey.

I used this wax on a coffee table last winter.

It gives that sort of driftwood appearance.

Finally, there is always the option of just using a clear furniture wax over bare wood.  That’s what I did on this buffet top.

Just keep in mind that clear wax won’t alter the color of your wood like the tinted waxes will, it also won’t help blend any discolorations that your wood might have.

But if you love the natural color of the wood on your piece, try just using clear wax.

Before I let you go I want to mention that besides being an incredibly easy and relatively foolproof technique to use, I think wax provides the most natural looking finish for beautiful wood.

It isn’t the most impervious finish, nor is it the shiniest.  If you’re looking for a perfect looking finish, maybe wax isn’t for you.

But if you like to embrace the imperfections in old furniture and bring them back to life just a bit, definitely give this a try!

Also, if you’d like to learn more about lime waxing or white washing, check out this post …

your choice of toppings.

I can still remember that ‘eureka moment’ when I realized it was possible to strip the old finish from furniture and then just use wax to refinish it.  Prior to that I had no idea that it could be just that simple.

I thought that you had to stain wood and also then finish it with some sort of poly topcoat, but I was wrong.  You don’t have to do it that way.  You can choose to just strip off the old finish and then wax it.  If you use a colored wax, the wax itself will give a beautiful color to the wood, so there’s no need for stain.

This is pretty much the most fool-proof method for refinishing a wood top that I’ve found.  No need to worry about your stain not taking evenly, or your poly topcoat looking streaky.  Anyone can wax.

And it doesn’t matter if your piece is solid wood or a wood veneer, this technique works beautifully for both.

Solid oak:

Burled walnut veneer:

Step 1:  Strip off the old varnish using Citristrip (or your stripper of choice).  Clean the piece well and sand it smooth using 220 grit sandpaper.

Step 2:  Apply the wax using a brush or a lint free cloth.  Remove any excess wax using a clean cloth.

Step 3:  Wait 10 or 15 minutes and then buff to bring out some shine.  If you prefer a more matte or rustic look, you can do very little buffing or even skip it altogether.

Are you wondering which wax product to use?  Here are my favorite dark waxes …

As you can see, they are all very well loved.  They are also all non-stinky and safe for indoor use (to read more about wax safety, be sure to check out this post).

All of the various wax brands that I use have dark and/or brown versions and they are all just slightly different in color.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to show you some options so you can compare.

First up, Miss Mustard Seed Antiquing Wax.

MMS Antiquing Wax is the color of dark chocolate.  I’m not a fan of eating dark chocolate (give me milk chocolate or white chocolate every time), but I love this wax.  It’s very creamy, has almost no smell, and it works beautifully.

Fusion also sells wax under their brand name.  Keep in mind that Fusion and Miss Mustard Seed are both from Homestead House Paint Company, so their waxes come from the same wax manufacturer.  As does the Homestead House brand wax.  It’s all museum quality, safe for you and the environment, non-smelly and I think it’s the creamiest wax out there.  It’s a bit softer than some of the others which makes it much easier to apply.

I’ve included the Cece Caldwell Aging Cream in my line up today because that was one of the first dark waxes I used over stripped wood.  I don’t tend to use it anymore mainly because the local shop where I used to buy it went out of business.  It has a bit more of a reddish tone than the others, so if you’re looking for that color this wax is a great choice for you.  Here it is on a dresser top …

I’ve only recently started using the Dixie Belle Best Dang Wax.  Their Brown wax is perfect for finishing bare wood tops.

It is just a bit harder (more firm, less soft and creamy) than the others.  So it takes a little more elbow grease to apply.  However, I think I’m also less prone to wasting product because I don’t accidentally get too much on my brush.  I also think it buffs up to more of a shine than the others.  I have a feeling that there is a relationship between how soft/hard the wax is and how much shine you can get out of it, but that might just be my own perception.

  One caveat regarding wax, it should be reapplied periodically to maintain the finish.  The good news is that wax is super easy to refresh, simply clean the surface and then apply more wax.  If you get a water ring or a scratch or two, just spot sand lightly, clean and re-wax.  It couldn’t be easier.

Personally I would not choose to use wax on a surface that is going to get a lot of wear, be exposed to a lot of moisture or require regular scrubbing such as kitchen cabinets or a bathroom vanity.  For those surfaces I would opt for something more durable like a poly finish or Fusion paint (which is very durable and washable once cured, even without a top coat).  However, I think wax is quite durable enough for a dresser or desk top.  I even have a wax finish on my dining table that has held up very well (although we do use coasters for sweaty glasses).

So if you haven’t already tried refinishing some pretty wood with wax, give it a go next time.  I’ll add a link for this post to my ‘how to‘ page so you can always find it for future reference.

And in the meantime, be sure to check back on Wednesday to learn about more choices in toppings!

brrrrrr.

In the past I know that I have been able to continue painting in my unheated carriage house workshop well into October.  Usually October is one of my favorite months weather-wise; cooler, but not too cold.  Perfect for painting outside.

But for the last two weekends in a row we haven’t made it out of the low 50’s.

Despite the temps, I had some pieces out in my workshop that I really needed to get painted.  Since I planned to use Dixie Belle paint on them I reached out to my contact there to find out if it was OK to use their paint in the cold.  The official answer is yes, you can apply the paint outside if the temps are in the 50’s.  However, it will take longer to dry.

And of course, I’d have to pile on the fleece to be comfortable myself too.  Plus keep in mind that Dixie Belle paint should not be allowed to freeze.  Freezing and thawing again may affect the integrity of the paint.

So in the long run, even though I could have painted in my workshop, I opted to move my painting operations back indoors.  Luckily Dixie Belle paint is non-toxic and has zero VOC’s, so I’m perfectly comfortable with using it indoors with the windows closed to keep out the cold.

Since low temps below freezing are predicted for this coming weekend, I realized it was time to move all of my painting supplies back inside the house too.  This seems like a good opportunity to remind everyone of some cold weather painting tips for the three types of paint that I use most.

Milk paint is probably the most cold weather hearty paint that I use.  I’m referring to authentic milk paint that comes as a powder that you then mix with water when you’re ready to use it (Miss Mustard Seed, Homestead House, The Real Milk Paint Co and Sweet Pickins are all true milk paints).  General Finishes Milk Paint is not a true milk paint, but an acrylic paint, FYI.

Although I can’t find any definitive information about it online, I’m sure I could get away with leaving the milk paint powder packets out in the workshop in temps below freezing as long as I warmed it back up a bit before mixing it with water.  I wouldn’t choose to store it out there all winter of course, but if I forgot it out there for a few freezing nights I’m betting it would be fine.

Once mixed milk paint only has a shelf life of a few days.  Plus it is recommended that you store it in the fridge overnight if you aren’t going to use it right away.  So leaving mixed milk paint in a chilly workshop would be OK, but don’t allow it to freeze at that point.

Also, it’s OK to paint with mixed milk paint outside all the way down to freezing.  Just keep in mind that it will take longer to dry and you’ll freeze your butt off while doing it.

Fusion Mineral Paint is freeze/thaw stable.  It has been formulated to withstand freezing and then thawing up to three times without affecting the integrity of the paint.  So if you forget to bring your paint inside when the weather turns, you have three chances to get it inside before it starts to feel the effect.

Well, that makes sense eh?  Fusion is a Canadian company and they know cold.

Also, much like the Dixie Belle and milk paint, you can apply the paint in temps down into the 50’s but it will take longer to dry.

As for safety, all three of these paints are perfectly safe to use indoors with the windows closed.  Each one has zero VOC’s, and all three have very little odor.  Since I typically spend nearly six months out of 12 painting inside (more like seven this year apparently) this is an important quality to me.

This is a good time to remind you guys that not all waxes are created equal when it comes to safety.  If you didn’t see my previous post about that, you can find it {here}.  Please stay safe, especially when working indoors with little ventilation!

And if you’re wondering what I did get done last weekend, I finished up five pieces all painted with Dixie Belle’s Caviar.  I’ll be sharing them with you next week, so be sure to stay tuned!

 

how to polish your copper.

After I brought home the pretty little copper watering can from the Roseville garage sales, I decided that I should try polishing it up.

I’m not usually a polish-er.  I prefer my silver tarnished rather than freshly polished, for example.  But I wanted to see what this piece would look like all spruced up.

So I googled how to polish copper and discovered that you can just use a lemon and some coarse salt, no need to use harsh chemicals.

And you don’t specifically need Kosher salt, but it’s what I happened to have on hand at the moment.

The process is simple.  Cut your lemon in half, dredge the cut side in the salt and then use it to scrub the copper.

It took a little elbow grease, but not much.  As an added bonus the lemon smells fantastic, and your hands get a bit of spa treatment at the same time.

I found it a little hard to get into tight crevices, and it didn’t turn out perfect, but not bad for just using a lemon and some salt.

Since I had a watering can, and my gardens are looking quite fab at the moment, it seemed like I should take some photos in the garden.  Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that we don’t have a repeat of last year’s hail storm that shredded all of my hostas.

‘Cuz right now they are looking pretty fine.

On the bright side, that means none of the damage from last year was permanent.  But they never really did ever look good again last season.

Knock on wood.

Now go find some copper, lemons and salt and get polishing!

 

the ‘how to’ page.

Off and on this past winter I’ve been working on a new page for my blog, the ‘how to’ page.

I thought it would be convenient to have one spot where readers can more easily find posts on specific products or techniques.

Over the years I’ve shared lots of tutorial posts, but there wasn’t a convenient way to go back and find them.

Now you can just go to my ‘how to’ page and simply click on a photo collage (like the one above) and a link will take you directly to a post with all of the details about that product or technique.

Take a look at the page and let me know what you think.  If you have any requests for a specific how-to, leave me a comment and I’ll try to add it in the future!