I have 4 easy to remember steps to help guide you through a General Finishes Milk Paint makeover! Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the painting process. These steps will help keep you on track.
The best news is that they all start with the letter “P”!
Step 1 – Prep
Let’s begin by saying that this step should never be skipped.
Neglecting prep work makes your project vulnerable to potential issues that may require troubleshooting. This will cost you time and money. It may not happen every time, but I guarantee you that skipping prep work will eventually catch up to you. The 5-15 minutes you’ll spend prepping may save you HOURS of work in the long run.
Prep Even if Your Paint Says You Don’t Have To!
Many popular paint brands on the market today boast that prepping and priming are not necessary with their products. This is very misleading and does not provide consistently desirable results. While my opinion may be controversial in the paint world, I speak from direct experience. I’ve gone through the frustration of getting bleed through, chipping or staining from using a paint that advocates a no-prep policy. It’s not something I want my customers to deal with, so I always teach proper prepping technique.
You rarely know what contaminants lie on the surface of your piece, unseen to the human eye. By prepping your piece properly, you greatly increase the chances of your finish standing the test of time. Do it right the first time, you know?
Besides, the 5-10 minutes you’ll spend prepping your piece may wind up saving you HOURS of troubleshooting in the long run!
To start, remove the hardware from your piece. Take off knobs, pulls, hinges and remove doors if necessary.
If you’re prone to losing things like me, keep your hardware in a zip-loc baggie.
Next, it’s time to clean. The best product to use to prep clean your furniture is a 50/50 mix of Denatured Alcohol and water.
Denatured Alcohol is a product that you can buy in the paint aisle of any hardware store and it’s commonly used to clean glass. This product is great to use for prep cleaning furniture because it does not contain phosphates, is inexpensive, readily available and does not require extra rinsing.
TSP requires an extra rinse after use. Denatured Alcohol saves you that step!
Mineral Spirits is a petroleum based product that is incompatible with water-based finishes. Do not use this underneath water-based paints!
Here’s a quick video showing what that Denatured Alcohol cleaning process looks like:
That’s not so bad, is it?
For extra dirty pieces, kitchen cabinets, or other surfaces that have experienced high use, you should clean with blue Dawn dish soap and a Scotch Brite scrubbie pad. Spic and Span or Krud Kutter are also great cleaners to use to help get rid of extra dirt and grime, but you’ll need to rinse those off with clean water and follow up with Denatured Alcohol and water.
Here’s another quick video showing you the extra step process. The piece that’s being cleaned is the door to a cabinet.
After your piece is cleaned off, you may need to fill in gouges or holes with wood putty.
The drawers of this poor empire dresser had so many gouges in it that the wood putty started to look like zit cream after awhile!
Sand your filled spots smooth. You can read more about that process along with the products I recommend here.
Once your holes are filled in, it’s time to scuff sand. Use 400 grit sandpaper and do a gentle once over.
When you’re using General Finishes Milk Paint, the purpose of scuff sanding is NOT to help the paint adhere. GF Milk Paint has excellent adhesive properties and it doesn’t need extra help to stick like a traditional powdered milk paint does (such as Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint).
When you’re using General Finishes Milk Paint, the scuff sanding is an extra cleaning measure. It’s not necessary for adhesion.
Vacuum and Dust
After sanding, vacuum the dust off to get rid of the powder. Use a shop vac or your household vacuum. I turned our old household vacuum into my workshop vac a few years ago!
Use Painter’s Tape if Necessary
Give your piece a look and see if you need to tape anything off with painter’s tape. What you tape and where depends on the shape of your piece. I rarely use it with the exception of taping the glass on mirrors and wooden casters that may get paint on them. That’s about it.
Prime if Necessary
Once your piece is taped (if necessary), it’s time to get out your white tinted primer if it’s needed for your makeover. Primer is a must if you’re painting with white paint over dark, red, or orange stained surfaces, pine wood, mahogany or other wood species prone to bleed-through and staining.
You can read more about the primers I recommend here.
If you’re using darker colors like mid-tone grays, red, navy or black, then priming is not necessary.
Step 2 – Paint
This is the step that everyone wants to do right away, but as you read above, you should always prep before you paint. General Finishes Milk Paint glides on easily and lays down quickly.
This modern pre-mixed acrylic based paint is self-leveling, which means you don’t need to worry about brush strokes. You should still smooth out the paint as best you can and watch for drips, but for the most part, the paint will do the rest. It’s an incredible product if you’ve never used it!
Use A Quality Paint Brush
I like using Cling On! brushes with General Finishes Milk Paint. The bristles are soft and they act like 1,000 little fingers working to smooth the paint out to a silky smooth finish. 2020 and 2021 Update: As COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on manufacturing and production for many companies, I have not been able to update my inventory of Cling-On! brushes. I have started suggesting Zibra brushes instead, and may begin carrying them.
Adhere to Proper Dry Times and Climate Conditions
The painting stage is pretty straight forward – apply 2-3 coats of paint, allowing ample dry time in between each layer of paint. Don’t rush dry time! You run the risk of trapping moisture in between the layers. GF Milk Paint is thicker than traditional milk paint, so it needs a bit more time to dry. The manufacturer recommends 1-2 hours of dry time, and 2 hours to recoat under ideal temperature and humidity conditions (70 degrees F and 70% humidity).
Once your paint is dry, you can smooth sand in between each layer using 400 grit sandpaper. Do not sand your final layer of paint.
Once that step is done, it’s time to add an extra ounce of pizzaz!
Step 3 – Add Some Pizzaz!
This is the stage where you can get fancy with your project. Once the paint is dry, you can enhance it with Glaze Effects, metallic accents, decoupaged paper, etc.
I like to use Glaze Effects to add a bit of extra depth and dimension to my pieces. You can learn about glazing here:
In the video, Chris Adams (wife of the founder of GF) mentioned that you should apply a layer of High Performance Topcoat over your GF Milk Paint before you glaze. This protects the paint and adds a barrier between it and the glaze. It helps the glaze glide on easier and keeps your finish crisp and clean. Glazing without this layer of topcoat is certainly doable. It simply yields a different result – one that looks a bit more rustic and heavy.
Here are examples of some pieces that I have glazed:
This dresser was painted in Persian Blue with Winter White Glaze Effects.
You can see how the glaze settled into the recessed areas on this piece and gave it a lovely soft whitewashed look.
This dresser was finished using Java Gel Stain and Coastal Blue Milk Paint. I added depth to the blue by glazing with VanDyke Brown Glaze Effects.
The effect is really subtle on this piece, but there was a definite darkening in the recessed areas along the top, sides, and bottom.
You can see the glaze a bit better here.
This dresser was painted in Driftwood Milk Paint. I actually used glaze on the top of this one.
There are several layers of product on the top including Java Gel Stain, Gray Gel Stain, Winter White Glaze Effects and High Performance Topcoat.
The Winter White Glaze got stuck in all of the grain and added a lovely whitewashed effect.
You can top GF Milk Paint off with metallic accents too such as gilding or metallic waxes.
Once your piece has enough pizzaz, it’s time to protect it so the finish will last for years to come.
Step 4 – Protect With A Topcoat
General Finishes Milk Paint is durable enough to withstand low to medium use without a topcoat, so if you’re going to paint a piece with one color and call it a day, you may not need this step.
If you used a glaze, stain, or have a piece that will be used frequently (especially table tops and cabinets) then protecting your finish is a must.
There are several oil and water based topcoats in the General Finishes line. I pretty much only use one of them.
High Performance Topcoat
High Performance Topcoat is a water based product that can go over General Finishes Milk Paint, Glaze Effects and their oil based Gel Stains.
This product is milky white in the can and dries clear on the surface.
It can be sprayed with a HVLP sprayer, rolled with a 3/4″ nap roller, or painted on with a regular brush or foam brush.
High Performance Topcoat comes in 4 sheens – Flat, Satin, Semi Gloss and Gloss (in order of increasing shine). It’s recommended to apply 2 coats for average use and 3-4 for high use surfaces like kitchen tables and cabinets. You can gently smooth sand with 400 grit sandpaper in between each layer of topcoat to create a buttery soft finish. Do not sand your final coat.
Watch this video to learn how to apply it:
Cure Time vs. Dry Time
Once your topcoat is applied, it’s important to realize that your entire finish needs 20-30 days to completely cure. Be gentle with your piece during this time. Don’t place anything heavy or scratchy on it and always use coasters and trivets to protect against heat and water.
Felt feet are good items to have on hand if you’re a furniture painter and you sell your pieces for profit like me. Pop them under your staging props to protect your finish while its curing on the sales floor.
These vases had tiny foam feet under them so the ceramic wouldn’t scratch my freshly finished surface.
I hope the 4 P’s will help you remember the steps you need to take during your next furniture makeover!
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You can always purchase General Finishes products from my display at Morgantown Market or in my online shop. Visit General Finishes’ website for product information, answers to FAQ’s and tutorial videos. Make sure you check out their Design Center for inspiration as well!