Chalk Paint: Do’s, Don’ts & Everything In Between
Let’s begin by setting your mind at ease. There are no real rules with chalk painting because there is no one look to achieve. We’ll call them “guidelines”. You can’t ruin a piece because you can always add another coat (or get out your sander!) Feeling better already? Good! haha….remember to keep that relaxed feeling as we explore the in’s and out’s! Our goal is to give you plenty of confidence to BEGIN. We want to supply you with everything you need to start (but not too much to get you so confused you don’t know what to do 🙂
That being said, not all chalk painting projects are created equal. We highly recommend “getting your feet wet” by choosing your first projects well:
- Don’t start with the piano. (I probably didn’t need to say that, but just in case)
- Choose a small piece.
- Play around with practice items that you don’t care about if they don’t turn out the best.
- These might include a small frame, a small piece of home decor
- Once you’re familiar with how it applies and how fast it dries etc. you’re ready to move on to furniture.
- Your first piece of furniture should be something you are not currently happy with…in other words, it can only be improved.
- Don’t choose something with a lot of detail or challenging aspects.
- Stick with one color to begin.
- Don’t choose an antique as your first piece (more on this later).
- And now…time to have some fun!
Chalk paint (just making sure you’re awake!)
Finishing wax, clear, light, or dark (optional but recommended)
Paint brushes, one for painting and one for applying wax
Moist cloth for dusting/accidental drips
Screwdriver or paint can opener
Sand paper, several grits, 240-400 for in-between coats and general smoothing, have some more coarse if you are planning on heavy distressing
Cheese cloth optional (for dusting and buffing wax)
Music (to keep you singing)
What is Chalk Paint Anyway?
- It is an incredible product specifically designed for furniture, and it can be used on walls and in painting leather, vinyl, exterior surfaces such as doors and shutters and more.
- It has a chalky finish and is often used to achieve a shabby chic or aged look because it is easily distressed.
Reasons Why We Like Chalk Paint? (vs. regular oil-based)
- You can paint indoors because there are no harsh odors.
- No painting in cold garages or sweltering heat in the summer
- You don’t have to get your hubby to agree to move furniture (again) and make him crabby…that means you can ask him other tasks later 🙂
- You can paint on the spot…just pull away from the wall, lay drop clothes, and you’re ready to paint!
- For most pieces there is no prep work. Just dust off and begin to paint (exceptions are below)
- Dries super fast. You can paint your 2-3 coats in a day (if you’re not too tired!)
All of the above equals LESS TIME AND LESS WORK…I’m in!!!
Before you begin:
- Gather your tools. See the list above.
- Clear your space, whether you choose the garage or decide to paint right in the room where your furniture sits (always my preference)
- Lay a generous drop cloth to protect your flooring, and create space so you have room to work.
- Wear clothes you don’t care about. (Unless your sister is taking photos of you for the blog 🙂 No matter how careful you are expect a small amount of splatter.
Prep your piece
What? I thought you said no prep! Easy, Girl! No worries…as promised, very little to no prep is needed.
- Use a moist cloth and remove all dust and dirt. Dry.
- Make sure there is no oil from treatment products like furniture oil.
- If your piece has loose paint you should do a little sanding. Otherwise, there is no need to remove old paint. In fact, if you will be distressing later these other layers of paint will add fun character to your piece.
- VERY IMPORTANT: If your piece is over 40 years old you will need to prime. If you don’t you can expect bleed through…and no amount of coats will stop it. (I learned the hard way with my piano! Shhh, no one is supposed to know this!!!)
Ready, set, paint!
- Shake your chalk paint WELL. Because of the thicker consistency you will need to stir every 15 minutes or so. Some folks like to paint from a small dish or paper plate while the bulk of their paint remains sealed. I like to put my paint in a larger Tupperware container to allow for easier stirring and resealing.
- Use back and forth quick strokes. Paint in all directions. Work in a small space and move quickly. Why so quick? It dries that fast!! Don’t go over an area you just painted. You will want to! Stop yourself! As Jodie says, you’ve got one chance per coat due to the quick-dry factor. Don’t worry if you see paint strokes or if you “see through” on your first coat. The second coat will take care of this, promise! Be extra careful of drips…if they sneak by you they dry so fast that you’ll have to sand them away.
- Catch the drips but don’t be tempted to “touch up” what you’ve painted…wait until the next coat. (Am I repeating myself? OK, I know I am. It is the hardest thing for me every time…maybe you’ll be better than I am.
- Do not apply heavy coats! (also totally learned this the hard way, so you don’t have to haha!)
- Let your first coat dry minimally 2 hours. Take a nice lunch break, rest your arm, and go back for coat #2.
- Follow the same for your second coat. Watch for drips and make sure your coverage is good.
- For most of my chalk painting projects 2 coats have been enough.
- The piano took 3 because it was a) so dark and b) I didn’t know about the potential for bleed through and didn’t prime it.
Prevent Bleed Through
If you’re working with new, untreated wood, you’ll need to apply clear shellac to wood knots and open grains. This will block tannins that can bleed through the paint. This is unless you want to see them, which is also a choice.
If you see a yellow or pink stain coming through the paint on older furniture – typically from the 1930s and 1940s – apply clear shellac. One or two coats of shellac applied with a cloth pad will stop this happening. It dries in minutes, and then you can get on with your painting! (This is what happened with my piano and I was all “WHAT???”)
Which Paint do We Recommend?
I choose mine based on availability and COLOR. We usually use Amy Howard but have also used CeCe Caldwell, Annie Sloan, and The American Paint Company. We haven’t seen too much difference between the brands. Each project feels like a new adventure because each piece presents a different set of perimeters. They all run about $36.00 per quart. Pricey we know, but a little goes a long way, and when you consider you are repurposing old pieces instead of buying new furniture it’s a STEAL!
There are two main types of distressing, wet and dry. Wet is done with a moistened lint-free cloth, and dry is done with sandpaper.
Which should you choose?
Depending on the brand of paint you use and the surface you paint you may or may not have a choice. We usually try wet distressing first. If your project isn’t suited for wet distressing you’ll realize it almost immediately. Here are the differences. Wet takes less elbow grease, so if you suffer from carpel tunnel like I do you might want to try wet distressing. Also, wet distressing is less mess!
Note: Sanding can take you down to the raw wood if you aren’t careful. Use a fine grain to avoid this. You can’t get the beautiful old wood finish back if that happens. Wet also gives you a smoother finish. You can easily create any level of distressing simply by controlling the amount of pressure. To do the wet distressing technique get your lint-free cloth, put it around your finger in a tight hold, dip into water and rub.
If you accidentally remove more paint than you like you can touch up with paint again. This is easily done and not nearly as tricky as with other painting materials. Honestly.
After you are done painting and distressing, take a small piece of 600-grit sandpaper and pass over your piece lightly, as if you were dusting. (No back and forth) This is for smoothing only and makes a big difference in the look of your final product.
Final Step: Wax
Waxing is not essential, but we recommend it.
Without wax, your piece will be:
- slightly more rustic, with an unfinished look
- chalkier look
- chalky feel
I definitely think there are pieces that this is fun and desirable.
With wax your piece will be:
- protected from wear and tear
- slightly more finished look
- smoother, chalk-free feel
- and it can be used to add a fun finish (more below)
Any surface that will be used like tabletops or cupboards, you’ll definitely want to seal with wax. You may even want to reapply a coat of wax every 6-12 months depending on use.
Which Wax Should I Choose?
There are also all kinds of special waxes you can find in the market place:
- Tinted light antique
- Tinted dark antique
- with more being invented every day.
These will add a variety of different looks and are fun to play around with. You might choose light or dark antique if you want to add some aging to your piece. You can control the amount of color by wiping it off. I suggest you look at inspiration pieces to help you get a feel for the variety of looks you can achieve and to help you see how accent colors are added to corners and details to get an aged, enhanced look.
The tinted waxes are more for when you are ready for more advanced fun. If you are a beginner I suggest starting with clear. But don’t rule out future experimenting. If you are using a tinted wax I highly recommend playing around with the color on a small piece before adding it to your painted furniture.
- Apply with a regular brush.
- If your piece has a lot of detail a round brush can be very useful. Otherwise, there’s really no need to invest in expensive brushes.
- Brush it on.
- Wipe it with a lint-free cloth.
- Buff it. Buffing is my least favorite part because it requires a lot of elbow grease. How much you buff will depend on your commitment level and how much you want it to shine.
- Let it dry (cure) overnight before you add decor (impatient me always needs reminding of this!)
Note: You will want a dedicated brush to always use for wax. To save cleaning time, put your waxing brush in a Ziploc bag and store in the freezer.
Get Ready to Take on The World 🙂
Why use Chalk Paint? When you have a vision for a unique distressed, weathered, or multi-layered look….or when you just want an easy option with little to no prep time.
As with all endeavors there is a small learning curve. After you accomplish just one piece you will jump up to new heights in the curve that will make you want to JUMP FOR JOY! Who cares that there’s more to learn! You’ve transformed a piece of furniture! Hooray for you! (Trust me…you think I’m exaggerating, but just you wait…you are going to think I understated this when you’re done!)
You are going to feel so empowered you’ll most likely start to look around your house for your next “challenge”. So I should warn you right now: Chalk Painting is addictive. There, I said it! But it’s great. You will feel empowered, productive, economical, and creative all in one fell swoop! Haha!…Look out world…here we come! Here’s to being UNSTOPPABLE!
Want more chalk painting ideas? Head to Pinterest. Speaking of Pinterest, Jodie and I would love you to pin any of the pictures and pins you find throughout our blog…this is not only a huge compliment to our work but also is like a gift to us. It helps spread the word that our blog is here.
With Love and Gratitude,
Julie & Jodie
The Design Twins