DIY Weekend Project: Chalk Paint Table


A while back I did something I have been afraid to attempt for over 25 years - I repurposed a piece of furniture!  To understand what a big deal this was for me, you have to know that 25 years ago I spent an entire hot summer day with paint strippers and varnishes and my bad painting techniques (which have not improved much) and ruined a lovely little cedar chest of drawers with a horrible paint job.  But last weekend I painted a piece of furniture I love and I am so pleased.

The secret?  Homemade "chalk" paint.  Repurposing and distressing old furniture is a hot trend now and when I was in the Midwest I noticed my sisters were creating some really cute pieces out of old beat up furniture using Chalk Paint.  I did not use the branded chalk paint, but made my own.  I have heard wonderful things about Annie Sloan's Chalk Paint, but I just wanted my own specific color so I decided to make my own.

Here's the good news for people like me who are intimidated by this type of project:  There is little to no preparation time and you can easily finish a project in several hours (with down time in between).  Chalk paint is EASY to make and use - no special equipment and very inexpensive.  By making your own chalk paint you can create any color you want.  And, best of all, you need minimal skills!

Here's what you need:

Flat latex paint
Plaster of Paris
Danish Oil for wood top
Water-based Polyacrylic finish - matte or flat
Coarse and fine grain sandpaper
Paint brush
Cloth rags
Container to mix


For the flat latex, I used Behr Marquee in a sample size and had plenty left from these two samples. Buying the sample size was much cheaper than buying by the quart (and I didn't need anything close to a quart).  Make sure the paint finish is flat or matte.  Buy the smallest amount of Plaster of Paris because you won't need much.  I didn't want to change the wood top much, so I just used a Danish Oil in a Golden color.  

A note about furniture pieces.  This technique works with real wood, pressed wood, even laminate.  I have seen some of the cheapest pieces of furniture used in this process - they all look great because you're not relying on the wood grain, but the paint.  I used a table I bought at a yard sale for $10.

Before you open a container, clean and sand your furniture, especially if you want to work out some scratches.  Be sure to carefully wipe off any dust from sanding with a lint-free cloth.  There is no need to strip the finish before painting (unless there are lots of coats of paint on it or you really want to).

Before starting the chalk painting, I took the time to oil the top.  I made the decision not to paint the top because even with the acrylic finish, chalk paint does scratch easily.  I also wanted the keep the wood look on the top of the table, so I did a little more sanding and used the Danish Oil in a golden color.  Using a lint-free rag, I applied the Danish Oil to the sanded tabletop (after making sure to wipe off the sanding dust with a damp cloth). One of the major problems I had all those years ago was using too much product, so I would recommend using the oil (and the later step polyacrylic) sparingly.  I think it's better to put on multiple thin coats than big globs.  With the top oiled, it was time to move on to the main event.

To create your own chalk paint, mix 1 part mixed Plaster of Paris to 3 parts paint.  I mixed my Plaster of Paris with a little water first.  You're looking for a consistency slightly thinner than pancake batter for your Plaster of Paris/water mix.  After you mix it with your paint, stir well until is completely mixed.  Because your paint now has a plaster in it, it "sets" very flat and quickly.  Painting with chalk paint was just too simple.  I used small amounts and multiple coats, applying with the brush and making sure to allow each coat to dry in between.  Using chalk paint, the time between coats is pretty short because it sets up quickly.  Here's a couple of pictures through a couple of coats:


Once you have the color coverage you want, let it dry and then you can distress the wood.  I chose to do minimal distressing on the piece, but if you want to beat your furniture with chains, that works too.  You can use heavier grit sandpaper and do techniques that involve dark waxes and fancy brush strokes, but I chose to use a fine sandpaper and sand corners and edges.  That gives a bit of a worn look and allows the color underneath to show through.  I even purposely sanded the paint on the medallion and the drawer knobs to look more worn.  Don't forget to thoroughly wipe off any dust created by sanding.


Notice how flat the color is?  This is where the last step comes in.  With chalk paint, you will need to apply some type of finish or your paint will scuff easily.  The Annie Sloan Chalk Paint process comes with waxes for this purpose, but when you use waxes you need to periodically reapply.  I chose a water-based polyacrylic mixed with water and applied very thinly in multiple coats.  While I wanted to protect the paint and get a little shine, I didn't want to use a messy oil-based polyurethane.  Applying a watered down (1:1 polyacrylic to water) finish in thin coats gave me a lot of control to see the final finish without a yellowy glow.

Starting on one side, I gently wiped the polyacrylic finish on with a lint-free rag.  You need to keep moving in one direction with the grain without going back.  You can see in the above picture on the left side of the drawer what happens when you go back over a place you just applied - a bit of smear.  I used small amounts and 3-4 coats of the thinned polyacrylic to get the finish I wanted.  Once source I read about polyacrylic noted that the water-base pushes the wood grain out.  You can sand very lightly between coats of finish, but again, be sure to get any dust or dirt off before you apply more polyacrylic.  I also used the same finish on the top of the piece.  Take your time to get the exact shine you want. 

The great thing about this process is the ability to get the look you want because the materials are so forgiving.  I couldn't be more pleased with the final product and look forward to trying this again! I won't even have to wait another 25 years!



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