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Thread: Help me fix my mistakes with shellac over milk paint

  1. #1
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    Help me fix my mistakes with shellac over milk paint

    Hey folks,

    I've run into trouble trying to topcoat a powdered milk paint job with shellac. I used three coats of milk paint on a dutch tool chest, with light sanding in between. My plan was to seal it all up with shellac to give it a little bit of gloss (correction--> I meant to make it less chalky) and then wax it. But I'd never used shellac before and I made the mistake of wiping on zinser amber shellac with a pad...straight out of the can.

    I thought I was using long even strokes but I definitely botched this. I ended up generating drips and streaks all over the place, which some frantic googling revealed to be the result of using this stuff straight out of the can instead of thinning it a lot. But the damage is done. My nice flat milk paint job now looks like semi gloss latex paint slapped on by a 3 year old. At least it was efficient: it only took fifteen minutes to ruin things! (See pic below.)

    IMG_5069.jpg

    I have tried rubbing the shellac with a cloth soaked in denatured alcohol, hoping to get rid of the drips so I could put on a second coat of shellac. But it only helps so much. I'm still concerned that a new coat of very thin shellac is still gonna look like crap.

    Before I spend hours trying to remove the shellac (and rubbing the milk paint off in the process) I'm wondering if I can just reboot the project: I'm thinking about rubbing the whole thing down with fine sandpaper and then just putting another coat of milk paint on top. Will the milk paint stick to the zinser? (I gather it would stick to dewaxed shellac no problem, but not sure about this stuff.). I feel like the milk paint is thicker and its brush marks (which I'm fine with) will hide the shellac streaks and drips without much work.

    Thoughts?
    Last edited by Sam Shankar; 01-22-2022 at 7:26 PM.

  2. #2
    It looks like the shellac has moved the milk paint around.

    A better choice for top coat would have been zinsser seal coat which is thinned and unwaxed. It is also better to spray it because alcohol dissolves the paint and moves it around. Spraying it deposits it more evenly and doesnít disturb the paint.

    What I would do is sand down the surface with fine sandpaper (220) to get it smooth. Then put on one more coat of milk paint.

    If you want a sheen, go atraight to the wax or wipe on an oil based topcoat like minwax Wipe on poly, or spray on a coat of defaced shellac.

  3. #3
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    I've used waterborne poly successfully on top of milk paint. Sprayed and brushed.
    Hobbyist

  4. #4
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    It seems like the whole point of milk paint is for the flat surface sheen & texture it provides. Once a clear coat is applied, all the milk paint is providing is color. So at that point you might as well just use a high quality modern paint of the desired sheen. It will go on better and be much more durable.

    Am I missing something?

  5. #5
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    Actually...

    Actually, I don't really want a sheen. I want it flat, but I want to avoid the chalkiness of the milk paint. So if I can get a coat of milk paint to go on cleanly and flat, I'm going to try some watco oil on top.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Pratt View Post
    It seems like the whole point of milk paint is for the flat surface sheen & texture it provides. Once a clear coat is applied, all the milk paint is providing is color. So at that point you might as well just use a high quality modern paint of the desired sheen. It will go on better and be much more durable.

    Am I missing something?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Shankar View Post
    Actually, I don't really want a sheen. I want it flat, but I want to avoid the chalkiness of the milk paint. So if I can get a coat of milk paint to go on cleanly and flat, I'm going to try some watco oil on top.
    That's likely to go from bad to worse. I would sand it down until the shellac is mostly gone, then apply another coat of milk paint. When that's dry I would apply a coat or two of flat or matte sheen waterborne clear coat. GF's Flat out Flat, or Enduro Clear Poly in flat/matte sheen should give you the protection and look you want.

    John

  7. #7
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    Thatís a easy fix just put on some latex rubber gloves soak a rag in denatured alcohol and remove the shellac.
    It will most likely pull some of the milk paint off.
    You might even like the look after your shellac is gone. Once you get the shellac soft it will come right off.
    Good Luck
    Aj

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Shankar View Post
    Actually, I don't really want a sheen. I want it flat, but I want to avoid the chalkiness of the milk paint. So if I can get a coat of milk paint to go on cleanly and flat, I'm going to try some watco oil on top.
    I uses some flat latex from Benjamin Moore on a wall cabinet because I wanted the milk paint look. It's almost a dead ringer, maybe not quite as absolutely flat as milk paint, but it's been very durable.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Pratt View Post
    It seems like the whole point of milk paint is for the flat surface sheen & texture it provides. Once a clear coat is applied, all the milk paint is providing is color. So at that point you might as well just use a high quality modern paint of the desired sheen. It will go on better and be much more durable.

    Am I missing something?
    Yes and no. If you can find exactly the color you want, with exactly the sheen you want, in a modern one step paint product, sure, use that.

    I have only mixed up my first tablespoons of milk paint, well, since sometime after Thanksgiving 2021. Two months tops, probably less. I got all overheated by Pete Galberts "A Chairmaker's Notebook," wherein he often does a base color with milk paint, then a top color with other milk paint, and then in final sanding and scuffing he can get the base color to show on like the edges of the seat or the edges of the comb. And then use oil or wax or shellac. Or oil and then wax. Or oil, fully cured; and then shellac. Or just oil. And there are forty'leven recipes out there for how much paint powder to add to how much water.

    There are tons and tons of modern paints out there. If you can find something that meets your needs in a one step product, awesome.

    On the other hand, if you can't find exactly what you want in a modern paint, fooling with milk paint and oil and wax and shellac can open doors. I can add waterborne poly to my list.

    Also, VOCs. I am buying and using the fewest VOCs possible for personal reasons. There are some petroleum distillates in my can of SC Johnson floor wax. I ordered some refined beeswax, and a lump of beeswax mixed with shellac flakes just tonight from Don's Barn on White Run. He probably hasn't processed my order yet. I am going to make a point to slather up the wooden screw and nut on my leg vise real good before I run out of floor wax, but that floor wax stuff is stinky.

    I do see your point that flat pigment plus clear coat kinda defeats the purpose of the flat finish of milk paint, but only to a point. I can't photograph it, I am sorry, but I have tried. On my current project I have some tongue and groove poplar boards running horizontally up the back of the casework. I arranged the boards with the green heart wood at the bottom, then one transition piece with green and white, then white boards with grey growth rings to the top. I used a single layer of milk paint mixed very thin and brushed out as far as I could brush it out. The grain still shows through, but the color variance of the green/white poplar is reduced a lot. I put a third coat of wax on it tonight and that should be the last one. Once the wax is buffed I am looking for one color milk paint at the bottom, then a natural transition line to a lighter shade of the same color, with some horizontal lines in a third shade of the same color via the original grey growth rings. I am kinda shooting for semi-gloss from the wax when I finish buffing it, that should age gracefully into more or less matte, but it just isn't the same "semigloss" or "matte" available with more modern products. If you are going to be in Fairbanks, shoot me a message. My shop is open to all registered users here, but advance notice is strongly preferred as my work schedule might charitably be described as tumultuous. I am happy for you to come see it, I can't show you what I am talking about with the camera on my phone.

    I haven't fooled with shellac over milk paint at all, can't help the OP with the original question. Of the extant suggestions, I would probably take the thing outdoors with a bunch of denatured alcohol to get the shellac off, and be prepared to sand and reapply at least one layer of milk paint. Sanding around the heads of the exposed fasteners will be a bother, but will add character to the finished piece.

  10. #10
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    Thanks for the explanation Scott, I was just thinking of a straight up paint job. I can see how the milk paint really would be a good product for applying a special effects finish. Trying to sand back a layer of latex to reveal color underneath would be much more difficult & the look wouldn't be as pleasing.

    I like the look of painted furniture and this makes me want to do some more experimenting with it.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Pratt View Post
    I like the look of painted furniture and this makes me want to do some more experimenting with it.
    One of the two main makers is currently offering 5 samples, three ounces each for pretty cheap plus shipping. That would be enough paint powder for you to love it or hate it.

    The other thing I have read several times, followed, and am glad I followed is choose one mentor and learn to do it that way before you strike out on your own. Pete Galbert has a pretty extensive chapter on finishing in "A Chairmaker's Notebook." I have at least two books by Chris Schwarz with entry level chapters about milk paint. There are probably 100+ folks on youtube using milk paint to flip furniture from found on a curb to for sale. Find somebody using milk paint similar to the way you think you want to use milk paint - and then learn that method inside out before you start blazing your own trail.

    One thing all these various mentors have in common is first thing out of their mouth is "throw away the manufacturer's instructions."

    Good luck and best wishes.

  12. #12
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    Great advice. Thanks.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Winners View Post
    One of the two main makers is currently offering 5 samples, three ounces each for pretty cheap plus shipping. That would be enough paint powder for you to love it or hate it.

    The other thing I have read several times, followed, and am glad I followed is choose one mentor and learn to do it that way before you strike out on your own. Pete Galbert has a pretty extensive chapter on finishing in "A Chairmaker's Notebook." I have at least two books by Chris Schwarz with entry level chapters about milk paint. There are probably 100+ folks on youtube using milk paint to flip furniture from found on a curb to for sale. Find somebody using milk paint similar to the way you think you want to use milk paint - and then learn that method inside out before you start blazing your own trail.

    One thing all these various mentors have in common is first thing out of their mouth is "throw away the manufacturer's instructions."

    Good luck and best wishes.

    Manufacturers spend a lot of time testing their products and advising customers how best to use them. Seems foolish to me to disregard their recommendations. To each his own.

    John

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by John TenEyck View Post
    Manufacturers spend a lot of time testing their products and advising customers how best to use them. Seems foolish to me to disregard their recommendations. To each his own.

    John
    Fair point. I almost came back and edited the post what ever day that was, but work has me by the short hairs just now. It would have been more accurate for me to have said the first time - the folks using milk paint the way I want to learn to use milk paint start out by saying "throw the manufacturer instructions away." It is a versatile, flexible medium.

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