Small Chest: Finished

My plan for the small chest project was to try to be like the cool kids and paint it with milk paint. I figured that it would just take a few days for the paint, then I could put down the varnish topcoats and maybe be done with it in, say two weeks. Since it’s now two months later, you can probably guess that it didn’t really go as planned.

I’ve now figured out that I need to either practice more with milk paint, or just not use it at all and use alkyds or acrylics, which I know a lot better. I kept freaking out about all of the weird stuff that milk paint does, and tried to use water in the same way that you’d use a thinner for varnish and oil paint. I did manage to get the chest body done in the first shot, but I screwed up the lid so badly that I decided to sand down and start again. That didn’t work out as planned, because although I knew that milk paint was really tough, I didn’t quite understand how tough. Eventually, I got it smooth enough and fumbled my way through the lid again. (Detailed descriptions of my sulking sessions have been omitted.) Perhaps I would have liked the lid to come out perhaps a little bit better, but this thing will wear anyway.

With that behind me, I attached the lid and loaded it up with my desk crap:

This includes rulers, shears, letter opener, a usb drive, and a screwdriver in the top till, most frequently-used camera stuff in the lower till, with chargers, cables, and who-knows-what-else in the bottom. In this respect, it is a success; this is exactly what this thing was supposed to hold, and my desk has a lot more space now.

I did not decorate the underside of the lid. I probably don’t care.

Closed, it looks fairly humdrum. Perhaps a lighter paint than “driftwood” would have made it pop out a little more (and made it easier to paint).

I haven’t bothered to put on any handles. This is small enough that you can grab it by the lower dust seals on either end without much difficulty. If this gets annoying, I’ll add handles. Also, no lock. I’m a little torn about this one. A lock would be traditional, but wouldn’t have much purpose, and I’d probably lose the key and have to watch a bunch of lockpicking videos to open it. A latch might be better.

It doesn’t have a stay chain or cord. However, keeping in mind that the built-in stops at the rear of the upper dust seal can get mangled with use (there’s a Fitzian blog post on Lost Art Press about that), I glued a cork/rubber pad to the impacted end:

This is just a leftover scrap of the “crubber” that came with my Benchcrafted Moxon Vise hardware. This might not actually work, but I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to try.

So that’s done and it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. Come to think of it, I recently finished my latest book and wrapped up a couple of other projects. But let’s not call it completion season just yet. I have at least three other active projects that are in the “overdue” category.

7 thoughts on “Small Chest: Finished

  1. I found painting with milk paint to also be stressful. Mine came out fine as well but wasn’t as simple as just painting a room.


    • I think that it might have something to do with the size of the piece and the shade, as well. The little shelf I made in the light milk paint was much easier to control. But I also might be talking out of my butt.


  2. I’m really, really wondering about your trials and tribulations with milk paint?

    The little I tested also was a bad bust. Outdoor, mixed with tung oil–bad and worthless waste. It was a milk paint company source that never worked as advertised. Tung oil curdled everything into unrepentant cottage cheese. Never got onto the project. Then the finish grew strange stains. But the finish *is* tenacious.


    • I’ll try. I’ll also talk about the tung oil thing at the end. This reply to my own post might be longer than the post itself, so that officially puts me in Crazytown, but here we go.

      Let’s start at the beginning with adhesion. When I first played around with it on a smaller project, I had problems getting it to stick in spots because I had some very minor defects. I solved this by adding the “extra bond” goop for the first coat. That stuff is basically an acrylic additive and does at least work.

      I had trouble getting the correct viscosity. The instructions (and others) say that it should be the consistency of “a melted milkshake.” Having never been a fan of milkshakes (much less melted ones), I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. In the quantities that I was mixing up, it seemed to go from “way too thick” to too thin very quickly. Too thick, and it’s next to impossible to spread. Too thin, and you can have a lot of cracks, crazing, and wacky things because there’s too much solvent, which dries too quickly to even out.

      And wow, did I have trouble with crazing on the lid and other surfaces that were horizontal while painting, because when I had too much water, it would pool up.

      There was the matter of the paint drying out quickly as I was working it. If you’re painting something big, you occasionally need to add water or it will get unworkable again.

      I had trouble covering the edges of my work because the water would tend to accumulate there, and when there’s too much water, the surface underneath absorbs too much and the paint won’t adhere until you let it dry and start again. In an oil-based finish, adding more finish draws out the solvent and the finish will mix with it. In milk paint, this just doesn’t seem to be the case.

      Mixing was tough. I had a lot of trouble getting it mixed up, and little clumps had a tendency to creep onto the brush. This also stemmed partially due to the small quantities that I was mixing. I had to be very careful dipping the brush in the paint due to this.

      One of the rules of finishing is that sanding between coats is an important step in getting an even surface and getting the next coat to adhere (though milk paint is weird in this regard). Because the paint was so tough, I had a hard time doing this, and it didn’t really work as well as I wanted. It turned out that the only thing I found sanding useful for was removing the little clumps that did make their way on.

      The smallest variance in brush strokes made too much different with a dark color like “driftwood,” and that drove me nuts. Also, it was basically futile to go back over an area that you might not have gotten good coverage on for a particular coat. It tends to result in an uneven look and you risk adding too much water. It took me a while to learn that you just need to try again with another coat after this dried. There’s so much of this with milk paint–“don’t freak out; and that first coat is going to look especially bad.”

      Now, regarding tung oil and milk paint, I never heard of anyone mixing those two to be applied at the same time. True tung oil (plus all of the things that call themselves tung oil but aren’t) has, as the name suggests, an oil-based binder. That means you can use mineral spirits, turpentine, and naphtha as thinners, and it can generally be mixed with other oil-based binders, such as alkyds and polyurethane varnishes. But milk paint uses water as its solvent and activator, and when it gets wet, chemically changes to a binder due to either the lime (much like in cement) or borax present, so that when the water dries, you get a hard coating of casein from the protein. That chemical reaction won’t happen if you try to dissolve milk paint in oil-based binders or solvents, and I can imagine that “cottage cheese” would result.

      However, after you apply the milk paint (with water, as intended, using several coats), once it dries, you can apply tung oil on top. I guess milk paint companies like to offer tung oil because it has no VOCs (and is thus hippy-friendly), but what they tend not to emphasize about tung oil is that to get a good protective finish with it, you have to do several applications, that you have to be careful to wipe off excess after each application, that it takes a long time to cure, and that it doesn’t really build a serious film. I personally wouldn’t use tung oil outside; I’d probably use some kind of marine or other outdoor-oriented varnish with good UV protection.

      Does this help?


      • Thanks, Brian. Yes, your comments are very useful. Twist and turn the above into a post article and you (we) won’t feel undue effort was spent here.

        And, they make it seem so easy!

        Your “concrete” analogy is on target. It is very easy to overwater concrete, and dry-wet blending the slurry is always necessary. Plus, this is pretty close to tinted stucco in ingredients.

        I have never found tung oil or boiled linseed oil a good finish on their own. In our damp environment the two are like syrup on pancakes for bacteria, mold and mildew. I am pretty sure I misunderstood, saw the wrong thing added to the paint mix, but it was a while ago.

        I have a couple cedar deck chairs that an earlier varnish experiment is nearly sluffed away from. I will test some home brew and commercial milk paints on them– and make my wife happy. BTW, Epiphanes was the best clear finish in that experiment. It’s just so costly, and not really appropriate for anything but really costly wood boat brightwork. Maybe, your front door.


      • I’ve had good results with both tung oil and BLO even without blending with varnish, but I probably wouldn’t use them outside because they are not particularly protective finishes. To keep it from getting all gummed up, it’s really important to carefully wipe off the excess and give it time to cure before reapplying. Pure tung oil can take days. And if it’s cool and damp… yeah, I can imagine.

        There are some surprising uses. I used tung oil on my wife’s beech rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking, and it was great for that.


  3. The only other thing I can add about viscosity, which I didn’t try myself, is an article by Elia Bizzarri (blog date 29Oct2017; I only know this because I write useful stuff in the Notes app on my iPhone and I thought this was useful). He uses a plastic Pepsi bottle and drills a 5/32″ hole in cap. He cut off bottom and puts half of cup of milk paint in it. Ideally the stream (not the last drop) flows for 10-13 seconds. It helps to define a spec we can more easily measure and test. Hopes this helps and please let me know if you ever use it.


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