If you’ve ever been in my house, you might notice that I have a little hobby of painting furniture. And if you look closely, you might think that it’s bordering on an obsession. I can’t help it! I really love color, and one of the ways I like to add color in my house is through furniture. In fact, there is pretty much nothing left that’s just wood anymore. I even painted my piano!
Unfortunately for me, most of these projects were done before the amazing invention of chalk paint. I had to go through the long, miserable process of sanding, painting, sanding, painting, sanding, painting, you get the idea. Projects used to take me at least a week and my poor husband was relegated to parking in the driveway forever. So when I first heard about chalk paint that didn’t require sanding, I was ecstatic! Plus, it was quick drying! Hallelujah! I headed to the store to buy this magical paint only to discover it was only sold in a few stores, the color selection was limited, and it was very expensive.
Not to be deterred from my quest to retire my sander for good, I started researching how to make my own chalk paint. After several trials and several errors, I now have a chalk painting process that I love and have used to paint everything since then! While it’s true that chalk paint has become easier to find and has more colors than it used to, I still prefer to stick to my method because it’s cheaper and I can use any color of paint that I want to! So let’s get to painting!
- Paint: I have found that 1 quart can last me for at least two projects. Any brand of paint is fine, EXCEPT for Valspar Paint and Primer. I have no idea why, but this paint will clump and harden as soon as you stir in the Plaster of Paris. Valspar without the primer will not do this. Someone who’s a chemist please enlighten on this phenomenon. I typically use a flat finish because it seems to work the best and I like how it looks waxed.
- Plaster of Paris: You don’t need much for each project. I have a large carton that I’ve used for 5 projects and it’s still more than half full.
- Drop cloth
- Brush: I like a medium width with an angled edge
- Finishing wax: I use the natural finish. This can has lasted me through several projects.
- Stir stick
- Small plastic container: Unless you plan to finish the project in one sitting, I recommend something with a lid so that your paint doesn’t dry out and you don’t have to mix more every time you restart. Plastic cottage cheese tubs work great!
- Lint-free cloth: You can use cheesecloth or even an old t-shirt
Step 1: Prepare Your Piece
Even though chalk paint doesn’t require sanding, you do need to clean your piece. Take a wet cloth and wipe down every surface that will be painted. Tiny cobwebs and dust mites can really ruin that smooth finish! Also remove any hardware, cloth, drawers, anything that is attached. I put the hardware from my dresser in a baggie so that I didn’t lose any important screws!
Step 2: Mix Your Paint
I’m going to apologize in advance to all of you Type A personalities out there. I do not have an exact mixing recipe for you. I know, what good is a DIY post without explicit instructions! But this is actually a good thing, I promise. I have found that adding more or less of one ingredient really doesn’t affect the paint much at all. So go ahead and give yourself permission to be flexible and do what I do – estimate!
As a general rule you want to have 1 part Plaster of Paris to 2 parts paint. I start by pouring about ¼ cup Plaster of Paris into my paint container. Then I add water a little at a time and stir. (The box should tell you some more exact measurements for mixing if you really aren’t comfortable with guessing.) You want the consistency to be liquidy, not clumpy or thick at all. Once it’s mixed I see how much volume it takes up in the container. Then I (gasp!) estimate the 1 part to 2 parts ratio and add paint. I stir it all together and I’m ready to go!
If you notice that your paint is gritty or clumpy when you brush it on, add more paint. If it’s seems too thick, add more paint. If the paint seems very runny, add a little more Plaster of Paris. You want the paint to go on smoothly and dry quickly. If it’s not drying quickly you need more Plaster of Paris.
Step 3: Paint!
Now that your paint and furniture are ready, it’s time to paint! Choose a spot on your piece that is less conspicuous to start. That way any kinks in the paint or brush technique can be worked out before you paint the top of your dresser. (I have no experience with this at all. None whatsoever. Every piece I have ever painted has been perfect. This is just a hypothetical of course.)
While brush lines won’t be very visible in the finished product, you do still want to brush all in one direction and follow the lines of the piece. For example, my brush strokes go horizontally across the top of the dresser and vertically down the sides. When you paint your first coat you will be able to see all of your brush strokes and it will not look pretty! Don’t worry! It’s not supposed to look pretty yet. Make sure you paint everywhere that will be visible from all angles. Get down on the ground and look too. You would be surprised at what can be seen when you’re sitting on the floor. And when in doubt, paint it!
By the time you finish your first coat, the place you started should be dry or close to it. If it’s dry, go ahead and start the second coat right then. If it’s not quite dry, go get yourself a drink and a snack and wait a few minutes. You really don’t want to paint over wet paint, because it tends to either be clumpy or actually remove some of your first coat. With each coat your brush strokes will be less and less visible, and your piece will look better and better. Most things I’ve painted take 2-3 coats. White paint like I used on this dresser does take more. I ended up doing 4 coats of paint on this one.
Step 4: Finishing Wax
When your piece is completely dry, it’s time to wax! I like the way the wax looks, but I mainly use it to protect the paint. Grab your cloth and scoop out a generous clump of wax. Rub it on your piece in the same direction as your brush strokes. Make sure you cover the entire surface with a thin layer. It should look shiny when the light hits it. After everything has been waxed, go back with another cloth and use some elbow grease to buff it and remove any excess wax. The wax only takes about 10 minutes to dry, so usually by the time I’ve finished I can go back to where I began and start buffing.
Step 5: Hardware
If your piece has hardware, you can either put it right back on, replace it, or paint it like I did. I wanted my drawer pulls to have that oil rubbed bronze look, so I bought some spray paint. I put all the pieces upside down on my drop cloth and sprayed them, let them dry for half a day, and then flipped them over and sprayed the other side. They were still sticky to the touch a few hours later, so I decided to wait a full 24 hours before putting them back on.
And that’s it! You now have a custom piece of furniture that you painted yourself! Bring it inside to a place of honor, sit back, and admire your work. And start surfing Craig’s List for your next project.