FAQ about decorative furniture paints, finishes, brushes, and whatnot (And what is Chalk Paint®?)

faq-chalk-paint-milk-paintWhen you’re tackling a furniture painting project, there are so many options out there and a lot of truly bogus information. This all just makes a simple task so intimidating and complicated. Let’s cut through some of this nuttiness, shall we?


Surface Prep. Is it needed?
Yes and no.

When the answer is YES: If you’re using latex or oil-based paint. (But really, who uses oil paint anymore?) Sand it enough to give the surface a bit of a tooth, then do a coat of primer, then at least 2 coats of your favorite latex paint. Or you can do the primer-and-paint-in-one thing. The surface will take about 30 days to fully cure, or you can use a hardener. Curing is not the same thing as “dry”. It’ll feel dry, but have you ever sat a dish on a recently painted piece, then when you go to pick it up it sticks a little bit? That’s because it’s not fully cured yet.

When the answer is NO: If you’re using Chalk Paint® Decorative Paint by Annie Sloan, Milk Paint (for example, Miss Mustard Seed) with a bonder mixed in, or some of the other mineral-based paints, such as CeCe Caldwell’s. (Disclaimer: I do not sell any of these paints, but I’ve used them and sold them in the past.)

  • Chalk Paint: Just clean the surface and paint. 2 coats usually does the trick.
  • Milk Paint: Clean the surface, mix in the bonder (Miss Mustard Seed makes her own), then paint at least 2 coats.
  • CeCe Caldwell’s (and similar paints): If the wood has any oily residue on it (like pine knots) then touch those up with a bit of Kilz latex primer, then go ahead and paint your usual 2+ coats. Since these paints have clay in them, they tend to draw oils out just like a facial mask would. Most of the time they work great. If you do a coat and see some seepage coming through, touch those areas up with a little primer and then keep on painting.

Since we’re chatting about it, what Chalk Paint IS NOT:
It’s not plaster or grout mixed into latex. If you like that finish, that’s great and you should enjoy it. —But don’t consider this an even swap out for Chalk Paint®, which is a trademarked and proprietary product produced by Annie Sloan. It’s not latex, it’s not acrylic, it’s a different paint altogether. Ooh! And (just in case) it is also not chalkboard paint. You don’t paint it onto things you want to be able to write on with chalk. -But that’s pretty cute on projects, too!

Should you go the latex/plaster route, make sure you prep your surface as you would with the standard latex process. Sand, prime, paint, and if necessary, seal. If anyone tells you different, just keep on movin’. You know better than that! And what should you do if someone is selling that stuff and claims you don’t have to sand & prime? Yeah…you’re learning well, grasshopper. I’m so proud!

Why wouldn’t I just use latex paint from the hardware store?

You totally could! Lots of beautiful furniture is painted using plain ol’ latex paint. Even spray paint. But when you explore the world of decorative paints, man, awesome stuff happens. Magical little things that make your projects so much prettier. The colors are richer, the finishes have so much character. It’s worth giving some of the options a try. Still not convinced? Here’s the tie-breaker: IT’S FUN!

Topping it off

Depending on your end use, there are lots of beautiful ways to finish your project off, including just leaving it alone. If you’ve gone the traditional latex route, you may choose to just let it be. If it’s a tabletop or some other piece which will endure a lot of wear and tear, you might like to add a clear poly or soft wax finish for added durability. Just be sure to clarify that you are purchasing a clear, non-yellowing product or there’s gonna be some tears.

For Chalk Paint, Milk Paint, and other mineral-based paints you’ll almost always want to seal the finish. With CeCe Caldwell paint, you have to in order to get the true color to come back. I’ve painted outdoor pieces with Chalk Paint and skipped the wax, opting for a beautiful weathered finish. Most of the time you’ll go with a soft wax, which is the consistency of soft margarine. That goes on in very-very thin coats, just enough to moisturize the surface of the paint. You may choose to use a wax brush, I like to use wide strips of muslin. Let it dry (a couple of hours) then buff with a soft, lint-free cloth. Old shoe shine brushes are great for buffing the dry wax to a soft sheen. If it’s a tabletop or other high traffic surface, I’d do a couple rounds of wax. Or you can still just go back and poly, but that kind of defeats the beautiful chalky finish. Miss Mustard Seed makes a wonderful hemp oil that is easy to use, smells great, and leaves a lovely finish.


(You know who you are.) You just spent all this time and money on expensive paint and finishing products, but you’re going to put it on with a 75 cent brush? You deserve better than that! Be nice to yourself. Get yourself just one high-quality natural bristle brush. It’s your tool! The tool that’s going to make your project glow with happiness. At the very least go for a Purdee, available at most hardware stores. I love Annie Sloan’s paintbrushes. They’re round instead of flat, hold lots of paint, and aren’t drippy. Chalk Pro makes great brushes, too. Just about anything, including using your husband’s dirty old T Shirt, is better than a chip brush. (Really, there is a time and place for them, just not on your labor-intensive furniture project.)

Now you know lots more stuff about painting furniture. Go forth and make AWESOME happen! It’s fun! The best part is that it’s nearly impossible to mess up. Have faith in yourself and remember it’s supposed to be fun. I believe you can do it. 🙂

Here are some really cool products for you to check out:

Do you have any other questions about painting furniture? Please feel free to post them below. If I don’t know the answer, I will ask someone I respect for their expert input. I didn’t even get started on stains! That’s for another time.