Windsor Chair Resources

Windsor chairmaking tips-tools


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Straining Milk Paint: Straining is an effect I use for final coats. I lay down base coats mixed pretty much as advertised with a little bonding agent(white glue watered down to "sizing"). After scrubing base coats down I smooth with the appropriate pads, I like to apply a top coat. IE: red base with a black top coat. It gives you a black finish but it has a tortise-shell effect when you follow up with oil. I can achieve similar results by adding more water but then the top coat is too light,sometimes it remoistens the base coat. and it doesn't have the texture I like. I can't take credits for originality on this, I picked this up from another guy who's chairs were stunning. I'm still perfecting the technique. All in good time. DO 3/2/04

Glue as Bonding:  In the earlier response/discussion I mentioned that I use white glue to increace the adhesion of the milk paint. The paint suppliers sell bonding agents for roughly 10 dollars for a pint. When you smell it and play with it a bit I think you'll find it very similar to white glue and some of its properties. Alphatic glues make very good "sizing" solutions. I used it years ago outside on brick prior to painting and applying a stucco material. Simply stated it seals and increases the surface tack. With milk paint I have had some surprises when applying it on top of anniline stains/dyes from time to time. One of the finish effects I like is to create a see thru appearance without cutting thru entire sections of the paint and going to the next layer outright. In the process of rubbing layers of milk paint, I have gone down to the wood (maple) on my legs and revealed a bright white spot. Personal taste: I don't like the way that looks. So I have gone to a brown dye for the times I go thru the paint. I think it looks like the wood is aged a bit.

Back to sizing: I have had good luck watering down white glue. At 12 dollars a gallon, I use this stuff with reckless abandon. Give it a test. Put some right in the 1:1 milk paint (base coats) cut back 5:1 water to glue and spread your paint on. It will improve the adhesion and it also helps if you put it on a surface theat is not bare wood. Get some scraps and give it a try.DO 3/5/04

Sizing: Sizing. Yes I put the watered down glue right in with the milk paint. When I use this, I reduce a little of the water for the standard mix. Why do it on a clean piece of wood? Most of the time I have my new chair covered with a medium brown anniline dye. I rub my finish and sometimes I rub thru the milk paint on the sharp edges of the leg features or the arms. This is nice, but, I don't like the look of white maple peeking thru a black/red finish. So I have found the dark water stain makes the wood look older when it shows thru. In that pursuit, I have found the addition of a sealing/sizing agent works very well to bond the paint to the chair when applied on top of the dye. I rarely get paint chipping off and an added bonus is it really reduces the bleed thru from pitch pockets and knots when using pine. This alone prompts me to use it in my finish. If you have seen the tell-tale signs of latex filler under milk paint, you might appreciate the addition of a sizing mixture. DO 3/5/04

Milk paint can be uneven. I mix mine thoroughly and then strain through cheesecloth. Even on woods which are somewhat harder than pine, like the basswood I use for my seats, it shows blotchy after a couple of coats. If you don't mind darkening the color a bit (sometimes a lot depending on the color), spray or brush on a satin poly, that's what I do. If you don't want to do that, I'd try a spit coat of shellac on the seat either before the first coat or before the last coat. WKG 8/2/98
Milk paint  is often blotchy after the first coat, seldom after the second and I can't imagine it after the third. Milk paint should be mixed to the slightly creamy consistency, brushed out well and sanded lightly with fine paper, steel wool or scotchbrite pad before a second coat. I've never had to do a third coat. I've also had great luck with boiled linseed oil instead of Watco, it's cheaper, does a great job and doesn't have the all the noxious stuff in it Watco does. You can also add to the finish by rubbing it out with 0000 steel wool and furniture paste wax. JT 8/10/98

Staining vs. Painting Chairs

Question: I am a Windsor Chairmaker's wife/helper. I try to work on the finishes. So far we have only used milk paint finishes but several clients ask about stained finishes. Any recommendations what with 3 different woods being used? (Does the final piece have different shades?) Appreciate any comments. Just found the site thru e-mail and am pleased. Thanks. LC 4/12/99

Reply: I've often had the same requests from customers and in almost every case when I told them all the many good reasons why windsors were painted the understood and go with the paint. Mike Dunbars article in the recent issue of Early American Homes does a great job in telling why chairs were painted, I've made copies and give them to potential customers. Anyway I have stained a few chairs. I was never really happy, the best results were with a dark red or brown mahogany aniline dye and shellac. The stain needs to be so dark you may as well paint anyway. The chairs I was happiest with I used different woods than my painted chairs and just oiled the chairs. Cherry instead of birch or maple for turnings, butternut instead of white pine for seats and the same red oak for bents and spidles. JT 4/16/99

Reply: I agree with everything JT said. After struggling with several orders for stained chairs to reach a minimum level of acceptability, I now tell potential customers that I can no longer be "bribed" to stain a Windsor chair. My experience has been that they usually change their mind and go with the painted chair. I would only add one thing to JT's comments. If you use the traditional woods for the chair, you might consider rubbing on a light wash coat of shellac before staining to even out the absorbancy of the woods, especially the seat. WKG 4/18/99

Using Shellac over Milk Paint

Question: I have a sack back I've just made. Milk paint with a 5 to 1 linseed oil and paint thinner sealer. I've heard about putting shellac over milk paint for a finish coat. Can I use shellac over the oil finish with good results? If so.....what sort of shellac are the chairmakers the flake, or from a can? Thank-you. MT 1/24/00

Reply: I would never use shellac from a can. I always use the flakes. Shellac is dissolved in alcohol. After a few months, it is dissolved so completely that it changes its chemical composition and won't dry. Its impossible to know how long ago the shellac has been mixed when you buy it in the can. I buy the super blonde flakes (the super blonde is de-waxed so it will adhere to just about anything) and mix it up in small batches. It takes about 24 hours to dissolve the flakes. If the oil on your chair is completely dry the shellac will probably stick to the chair. Personally, I wouldn't use shellac as the final coat on a chair for 2 reasons: It will gloss up the appearance of the chair, and since it is dissolved in alcohol, it will re-dissolve in alcohol. So if someone spills a drink on the chair, the finish is dissolved. I do use a thin cut of shellac as a first wash coat on the seat. I wipe it on with a rag. It helps seal the wood and even out the absorption of paint. WKG 1/28/00

Stripping old finishes:

I have had success in refinishing old pieces using denatured alcohol. I put the alcohol in a spray bottle and squirt it on where it is needed and that reduces the waste.It works great on old shelac and varnish. Allow the denatured alcohol to "work" a little bit then rub it with 0000 steel wool , squirt it again and wipe off the residue with a soft cloth. The denatured alcohol will not hurt the old wood and does the least damage to the "patina" of the old pieces. JGH 5/17/00

Sticky Linseed Oil:

I used Laquer Thinner after mineral spirits alone did not help. The solution to this problem is clearly Laquer Thinner. The sticky linseed oil came up beautifully and very easily with just a light rubbing down with laquer thinner on a grey scotchbrite pad. 4-0 steel wool seemed to be OK too but the Scotchbrite leaves no metal in the finish. This dried very quickly and i applied my usual boiled linseed oil/turpentine 4/1 mix and the color came out uniform (very splotchy after the laquer thinner though!)."3/7/01

Antique Wear-through Finish

QUESTION:  I am attempting an antique see throught finish using wax over walnut stain. I've applied the wax to the wear spots, then applied the first color of milk paint. At first I wasn't sure if I had to rub out the wax prior to the paint so my next layer went a little different. I'm unsure of this rub out step in between layers or if the wax needs to be reapplied between each coat. Possibly some people simply apply the initial wax then do 3 coats? Any ideas that can be shared? Thanks, JDG 2/19/03

REPLY:  This is an area where there is no right or wrong. Try it both ways on a some test pieces and see what you like. It's easy, fun and rewarding to come up with your own methods. JT 2/19/03

REPLY:  I don't use the wax method to achieve an antique look. I, as you stain the whole chair. After it's dry I go ahead and apply two coats of milk paint to the whole chair, usually giving it a light buffing between coats to smooth the paint.

After the last coat dries a bit, around an hour or so, I take a Scotch Brite pad and rub down the areas I want to show through. If you're having trouble cutting through the paint coats, dip the pad in water and its easier to achieve the desired affect. Be careful if you have used a water based stain, its easy to remove it exposing bare wood. Generally, I coat the chair after a day or so with boiled lindseed oil and turpentine mixed about 4 to 1. Let sit an hour, wipe off the excess with a rag, let dry a day or so and wax and polish with sucessive coats until you're satisfied or decide to start another chair. Careful with the lindseed oil soaked rags, they can self ignite if left in a pile. BG2

REPLY: This is the method I use to cover the milk paints and stain. Difference: I use naptha or japan dryer with the warmed linseed oil. It will accelerate the drying time and leave out the lingering turpentine smell. DO 2/20/03

QUESTION:  Right now my formula is:wet the piece, sand it; stain with a waterbase stain (which I still haven't found a color I really like), light sanding again then a few light coats of shellac,sand again then the 3 coats (green,red,black) of milk paint-rubbing out inbetween with Scotch Brightpads to cause the "antique" wear I want to show then a few coats of Robsons Tried and True danish oil.I have also tried putting wax on the anticipated wear areas then painting,or use a torch to crinkle the paint (didn't have much sucess with the antique crackle finish from the milk paint company).When it's all done it looks good but not GREAT- what more can I do? KT 3/7/03

REPLY: Before the danish oil and wax, try dying the entire piece with a walnut colored water base dye, wiping it off immediately as you go along. That will give the bare wood areas, as well as the entire piece, a nice patina. Then I'd skip the danish oil and go straight to wax. BG 3/7/03

QUESTION:  What kind of stain would take if wood is first coated with linseed oil. That is to say would a dye show the grain better than if you would use pigments. I experimented with a piece of maple ie gave it one brush coat of linseed and allowed it to dry several days. The analine dye doesnt seem to take to the wood like when the wood is bare. It appears ok but can easily be scraped off or rubbed off. I should then probably use a sealer? LF 7/2/04

REPLY: Why wouldn't you put the stain on first? Any kind of oil will act as a blocker. If you want color, first apply the dye (I prefer analine dye) then put the oil on top of it. Just on FYI...when the dye dries it will look HORRIBLE! It will all come together when you add the oil. Prepare for the smiles! Then you can use additional coats of oil as a protective layer and/or shellac on the top. SS 7/2/04

REPLY: You're off on the wrong foot. Ultimate finish your trying to achieve is unclear.Are you to use Milk paint? Common knowledge here is Water base Aniline dye on new wood,(dark walnut)... seal with Shellac if you like.2 coats of Milk paint, and a finisher of shellac or what-ever,lindseed oil, urethane. I no longer use lindseed oil at all in the finish, at any just doesn't have a protection factor what-so-ever.And really doesn't have any "reproduction value".I am a particular fan of setting a piece on fire though. MWT 7/3/04.

REPLY:  I have spent at least a decade on learning how to dye, stain and finish, and I'm still learning. You need to inform at to what you're intending to finish. Is it a chair? or something else. By the way, even though I am a fan of shellac, I quit using shellac before milk paint. It seems that the milk paint needs raw wood to really attach well and and stay that way. BG-WKG 7/3/04

REPLY: On your sample piece of maple, you might want to try a Transtint die, available from Highland Hardware. It mixes with oil, alcohol, or water. There are just a few Transtint colors but they can be mixed to offer a wide range of color. You might want to try the die with linseed oil and turpentine - 50/50 - or even more turpentine than oil, if you want the color to penetrate. It will also work with shellac (I'd use superblond dewaxed so you have continuing finish options). I also like it with lacquer and lacquer thinner - sprayed on. Haven't used it with water, but it should be fine, but not over linseed oil. Oil and water don't mix unless you use water first, and then oil. Linseed oil is not a strong protective finish over the long term, but it is oil and it will prevent water and probably alcohol from penetrating the wood surface. BG_WKG 7/6/04

Rather than sanding try this technique. Apply the first color and let dry as you normally would (over night?) then apply a good wood wax in the areas where you would want to show wear. Apply the second color as you would normally do to the whole chair. Let dry. Go over the chair lightly with a scotch Brite pad; this will knock off the second layer of paint giving a worn appearance. If you want to have bare wood show through put some wax on before the first layer of paint. If you want bare wood to show through it is recommended to stain the whole chair first with a dark stain (walnut) so the exposed would looks old.


REPLY:  When one of my chairs gets waterspotted, I just use more linseed oil with some fine steel wool or scotchbrite pad. There is no reason that you can't varnish over milkpaint. Ive done that and shellaced over to also. i still prefer the oil in general it doesn't hide the subtle varitations in the milkpaint like varnish or other ropcoats do. JT 10/3/02

REPLY: I recommend a brushing lacquer made by Deft. You can brush or spray it on. It comes in satin, semi-gloss,and gloss. Satin provides a very good protective coat but is still soft to the touch and does not look "plastic" like polyurethane. Alternatively, I'd use a good past wax, like Goddards, over the linseed oil after I made sure the oil was dry. It is my experience that it takes a long time for oil to dry over milkpaint, likely because the paint doesn't allow the oil to penetrate into the wood pores. If the oil isn't dry, the wax will just float over the oil. If you use the steel wool like JT says that will help, but I only use oil over raw wood. Shellac is another option but it is dissolved by alcohol, so if somebody spills a drink on your chair you've got to refinish. BG10/4/02


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