THE ANTIQUE PAINT LOOK: Watch and Learn About This Great Wood Finishing Option

Chalked paint and it’s close cousin milk paint are easy to like.  They’re both safe, fast drying and when used in a particular way they deliver a kind of vintage beauty that only gets better with the bumps and dings imparted by everyday life. It’s this classic, old-time beauty that really makes chalked paint worthwhile. You can see one of my own antiqued projects below.

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This pine chest is finished with chalked paint and distressed to look old and worn in a nice way. The plain steel hardware is intentionally rusted to look aged, then coated in boiled linseed oil to seal the metal and prevent rust stains from rubbing off. Linseed oil works very well on steel.

Chalked  paint has been around for a while, and I first experienced authentic milk paint (similar to chalked paint) in 1988. I was working as a cabinetmaker in a shop where we built traditional kitchen cabinets from solid wood. What struck me at the time was not just the look of antiquity created by chalked paint (there really is nothing like the effect that it creates), but also what you could do to make this finish look old and wise by distressing it. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Sanding is necessary to smooth the surface after chalked painting. Exact effort put into corners and edges removes enough paint to expose bare wood, creating a worn, aged look.

As you’d guess from the name, chalked paint is based on natural binders, enhanced with pigments, lime and clay. It comes in a can, then you brush it on. Chalked paint can be applied to clean, bare wood, though you can also brush it on over an existing urethane finish if you use a bonding agent mixed with the paint. I’ve applied it to furniture that had been lightly oiled in the past and it worked fine too. All colours of chalked paint offer these same benefits.

One way to use chalked paint begins by staining your wood to simulate that antique, golden patina imparted by age. Any medium brown stain will do. Let this stain dry for a couple of days, then apply a medium-thick coat of chalked paint. One reason I like this stuff better than milk paint is avoiding the trouble of mixing. I’ve tried mixing milk paint by hand with a stick, but it leaves lumps. The instructions recommend a blender for milk paint, but I’ve had good luck using a large, old spade bit in a cordless drill as a kind of workshop egg beater. The best part of using a spade bit is that I don’t have to sneak the blender out of the house past my wife’s vigilant eye.

Brush on the paint and let it dry on top of the stained wood. I applied one coat to the blue bookcase you see here; two coats may be necessary in other cases. As with any finish, chalked paint makes the wood a bit rougher as surface fibers swell, stand upright and harden that way. Let the paint dry for a full day, then grab a piece of 220-grit sandpaper and lightly rub the surface to knock down the raised grain. As you work, it’s time to apply some artistry, too.


Here I am using an abrasive rubbing pad to work through chalked paint in strategic places, simulating wear in an attractive way.

If you’re looking to create a distressed finish, sand slightly more vigorously on areas that you’d expect to be worn by age, working right through the chalked paint, though not through the stain you applied initially. Go easy at first. Take just a little paint off here and there, then stand back and look at the whole piece of furniture. Add more wear marks until the whole project sports the degree of antiquity that suits your taste. I find a fine Scotch-Brite rubbing pad works best for a final rub down. You can attempt distressing any kind of paint, but most resist the abrasion too well for best results. Chalked paint sands willingly, and that’s why I like it best for distressing.

When you’re satisfied with the look, vacuum off all dust, then seal the wood surface. I’ve used both water-based and oil-based urethanes for the sealing job in the past, but there are better options. One of my favorites is Minwax Wipe-On Poly. Apply one coat with a rag (a brush is a big help getting the product into corners), then rub off all excess. It dries in one day. A final rub down with the 3M pad creates a silky smooth surface.

Rust-Oleum Chalked Paint offers the most widely available option, and as I said it comes premixed and ready to use, it’s more widely available than milk paint. It’s easier to succeed with because there’s no chance of lumps of uneven mixing.

Chalked Paint is similar to milk paint but easier and less risky to use. Both types are very soft and easily sanded and distressed when dry.

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– Steve Maxwell, Manitoulin Island, Canada