FPB – Furniture Painting Basics – Paint!

I get so many questions from people about what the ‘best’ paint is for painting furniture that I decided to compile a bit of a reference.  My stock answer always is… it depends! 

It depends upon what look you want to achieve, where and how the piece will be used, any allergies in the household… you get the idea.  This isn’t an exhaustive listing of the advantages and disadvantages of various paint types but it should give you a good reference point!

Chalk and Clay based Paints

To start, please know that Chalk paint is named after the textural finish of the paint when dry, not because ‘chalk’ is an ingredient in the paint!  That said, these paints are water-based and finish to a soft, matte look. 


  • Minimal prep work required (they may say ‘none’ but it really is ‘piece’ and ‘surface’ dependent.  Slick surfaces will need a light sand to help adhesion, old pieces or those with dark, red wood may need primer to block bleed-through stains… you get the idea
  • Low odor, low to no VOC’s (volatile organic compounds)
  • Fast drying, minimal wait time to re-coat
  • Colours blend easily and well giving lots of variations and options
  • Tends to be thicker than other paints allowing better coverage with fewer coats and can be used to create textures, distresses easily
  • Durable, cures to a hard finish


  • Numerous brands makes it very accessible (can make your own… but… why?)
  • Bit of a learning curve, especially if you’re looking for a smooth, modern finish
  • Fast drying.  I know this is also a ‘Pro’ but it does present issues at times, though using a spray mister of water while you work can extend this time

Note:  I pretty much exclusively use some version of a chalk or, particularly, clay based paint in my business.  For the styles and types of finishes I enjoy this is the type of paint that works best for me. 

Milk Paint

This is so-named because it contains milk protein.  This also means it does not keep indefinitely.  It comes in powder form and you mix what you need, as you need it. I’ve had a lot of fun using this paint when I’m looking for a farmhouse, chippy look or when I want to ‘stain raw or natural wood. My dining table is currently painted in multiple layers of milk paint, that have chipped to reveal layers of colour below and heavily sealed to protect the surface!


  • All natural, no VOC’s and has been around for hundreds of years.  Time-tested!
  • Typically this is a thinner paint, though you can mix it thicker for some textural variation (this may cause more chipping)
  • Distresses well
  • Obviously water based!
  • The way it’s pigmented provides great depth of colour and colour variation
  • Works great on raw wood and porous surfaces because it will soak in and act like a stain
  • Lasts indefinitely in its dry state


  • The mixing.  It can be a bit of a pain to manually get a ‘smooth’ paint.  Immersion blenders work great though!
  • It can be a bit unpredictable – when you don’t want a ‘chippy’ final look.  A bonding agent needs to be added to minimize this but… still no guarantees! Even top coating doesn’t prevent it happening later
  • Once it’s mixed you need to use it, there is no storing of this.  A couple of days at best, other-wise it will smell like soured milk

Acrylic Paint

I do use Acrylic, all-in-one, paints periodically – when I am looking to be able to distress down to a ‘colour’ rather than wood I will use this paint as a blocker, or if I am looking specifically for a smooth, durable, modern finish. My front door is currently painted in an Acrylic paint.


  • Good for both interior and exterior
  • Durable – even without a topcoat (though you can certainly add one for greater durability)
  • Smooth flowing and levels nicely
  • Also water based – easy clean up
  • Often advertised as all-in-one paints – primer, paint and sealer in one
  • Short drying times – can apply several coats in a relatively short period of time
  • Once fully cured it has a very durable, chip resistant finish


  • The shorter drying times makes it a little more challenging to ‘blend’ colours on the piece for certain looks. 
  • Although it can be distressed it is not as easy as chalk or milk paint.  Although you can wet-distress you have a very short window within which to do so, in which case you are generally dry sanding

Latex Paint

Full Disclosure – I don’t use latex at all in my business – personal choice more than anything. It’s not a ‘finish’ that works for my pieces and, due to people’s allergies I don’t like to limit the sale-ability of a piece.


  • Readily available just about anywhere in just about any colour – think… all hardware stores!
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Water based
  • Sprays easily
  • Durable once cured (think trim, walls…) – though prone to chipping with heavy use
  • Comes in different sheens for different looks – Flat, Satin, Semi-gloss, High-gloss


  • You definitely need to prep your piece before using this paint
  • Typically more of a smell to this one (okay… I’m sensitive to migraines so it does for me!)
  • Some people are allergic to latex (issue for resellers perhaps)
  • Doesn’t lend itself to distressing at all (peels)
  • A good brush is definitely an asset since brush strokes ‘stay’ behind (non-levelling)

Oil Paint (Alkyd)

And… another paint I don’t use in my business, mostly because of my laziness in cleaning (if it can’t be cleaned with water I’m not going there!) and the smell. I’m sensitive so… I’m out!


  • Extremely durable – the most durable of all the paints making it good for high volume use areas – trims, kitchens etc.
  • Adheres well and also tends to self-level
  • Cures more quickly than water-based paints


  • It stinks.  You want to use in a well-ventilated area or, if you’re sensitive to migraines like I am… never!
  • It has a long drying time between coats, made longer with each coat applied
  • Must be cleaned with solvent – which also smells!
  • Tends to be more expensive
  • Because of the VOC’s contained in the paint some places have banned its use making it a little more difficult to find than other options

Paints have come a long way over the years and there are a broader range of options available than ever before. If you are not painting a lot, or often, buy in small quantities. Paint can go bad or dry out on you so don’t count on a product being fine to use in the future if it is sitting around ‘forever’ before using it again. If this is the case for you consider Milk Paint.

There are numerous brands and types to choose from and, though they will all claim to be the best, they all have slightly different properties. Try and test them in small batches to see which ones seem to work the best for you. If you don’t like mixing colours yourself then you might want to consider a paint line with an extensive colour range. If you like mixing and blending custom colours this isn’t likely to be the deciding factor for you.

Try them out, play with them, feel them out, determine for yourself which works best for you, your budget and your needs!

Happy Painting!


Upping Your Moulding Game!

Making a Floral Mirror

I had been scouring local Restores and Resellers looking for a small round mirror for quite some time.  Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to finally stumble upon just the one I wanted for a particular project I had in mind.  For this project consider using any mirror or picture frame for a similar look but also think outside of this scope a little – what about updating a tired old plant pot or urn?  What about an old teapot? Perhaps a decorative plate?  Options are endless!

Old mirror or frame
Creative Paper Clay
Floral Moulds from IOD
Wood Glue
Paints (Modern Masters Metallic Bronze, Annie Sloan Old White Chalk Paint)
Brushes (chippy brush, wax brush)
Cotton Cloth
Wax for sealing

NB:  some of the moulds I used are older and not readily available but consider using any moulds that fit a theme… florals, butterflies, seashore, wings…

To start, make sure your mirror is clean and free of dirt and oils.  For this you simply need a little soap and water, even a wet wipe would do.  This was my mirror, washed and ready to start!

I like to apply my moulds when they are still soft and somewhat malleable – important when applying to a curved surface such as this mirror. I will therefore only make a dozen or so pieces at a time, glue them in place and then begin making more. 
Take out a small amount of the paper clay and knead it slightly to soften and smooth it out.  Press firmly into one of the mould designs, ensuring that you fully fill the cavity. Smooth the back off since this is the side you will be adhering to your piece.  (I will often use an old credit card to ensure the back of the mould is level).
To remove your design from the mould flip it over so that you are able to slowly peel the mould away from the clay.  If you find your clay sticking to your moulds at all brush a little cornstarch into the moulds first, which will make removal easy!
Brush on some wood glue (usually what I use) or even some white craft glue, ensuring that you take it right out to the edges of your designs to ensure there is no curling of the clay as it dries.

Lay your moulded pieces around the frame ensuring that you are alternating shapes, and working them fully edge to edge.  As you can see in this picture I leave a number of gaps that I go back and fill later with smaller flowers and leaves, typically laying larger flowers and leaves first, spacing similar flowers around the circumference of the mirror to create interest.

Continue to make and add more moulded pieces until your design is as full as desired. For this piece I knew that I was planning on distressing back to a base colour.  In this case I wanted a subdued metallic look for the base so I used Modern Masters Metallic paint in Bronze. Use a small chippy brush to dab the paint down into all of the crevasses in and between your moulds.  I did one full coat and then, once dry, used a smaller brush to touch up edges and areas I missed on the first pass.

Allow to dry fully.  The Modern Masters Metallics dries to a hard finish, allowing you to distress back to the metallic finish without risk of removing that layer of paint.  If you are using a different brand of paint and do not want to risk distressing back to the paper clay layer then you should consider doing a light single coat of a Polyacryllic to form a protective barrier prior to the next paint step. 
I also chose to highlight some of the raised aspects of some of the florals and leaves with some gold metallic paint I had (Americana Décor Metallics) but it proved unnecessary – it’s too subtle to see in the final product!

Once your metallic layer is dry it is time to apply two coats of the Old White layer.  Because we will be wet-distressing these layers I strongly suggest using a chalk or clay-based paint for this.  The water will reactivate the paint allowing you to remove it, where you choose, with ease. 
Take one of your cotton cloths, dip it in water and rub gently on some of the high points of your flowers and leaves, exposing the metallic paint below.  The white paint will remain in the ‘low’ spots, while you will reveal the metallic in the ‘high’ spots, creating a lovely contrast. 

Remove as much or as little as you want, revealing the details of your moulds.  If you feel that you removed too much of the white paint you can simply repaint that area, allow to dry and distress again… no worries!
Once you have settled on the final look and determined it is distressed ‘enough’, allow it to dry and then apply your wax with a wax brush (I used Annie Sloan clear) to get down into all of the crevasses.  Dry overnight and then buff lightly with a cotton cloth.

(Links have been provided to help you access some of the more specialized products used – using them will not cost you anything more but I might make a few pennies!)

Adding Moulds Guide

Adding embellishments to pieces is a great way to dress up an otherwise plain or somewhat lacklustre piece.  Large flat spaces can be given new interest, providing you with areas that allow for more techniques to be used. 

For this little piece I created interest by layering paint colours and distressing back to reveal the hidden colours beneath but you could choose to use glazing, washes or waxes to create interest and highlighting the crevices.

Moulds (such as IOD, I used Escutcheons 2)
Paper Clay
Wood Glue
Painter’s Tape
Desired Paint
Fine Sandpaper

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A simple piece

The Paper Clay is extremely malleable but does dry out quickly.  When not in use keep the rest of your clay covered to prevent it from drying out on you. Choose which mould shapes you are interested in adding to your piece, bearing in mind the size or your piece and the area you want to apply the moulds to.  You want things to be in balance. Know that you can use small moulds in a large space when you are adding a number of them – visually this will be the same as if you used a large mould and may prove more interesting, depending upon the finish you choose.

For the above piece I chose to add moulds to the front facing panel of the Demi Lune table – above each of the three legs.  I used a combination of two separate moulded shapes – a circular floral medallion and an Escutcheons 2 to frame the medallion and to make it larger.

To form the moulded shape take your paper clay and press into the desired mould, smoothing out the back to ensure that it is level and flat. I will often make use of an old credit card to scrape across the back of the filled mould to remove any excess clay. 

To unmold your clay turn the mould upside down and ‘peel’ it back and away from the clay.  If you find your clay sticking to the mould at all then lightly brush it with some cornstarch before applying the clay – it will help the clay to release easily.

I will generally apply the moulds to a piece before they have dried.  Although they shrink slightly when drying, I find it easier to shape them on the piece while still malleable. You can bend them around corners if needed and ensure they fit closely upon a surface with no gaps.

Apply wood glue (you could also use white craft glue if desired) to the back of your moulds and place them in the desired position on your piece. You could choose to lay your piece flat so the mould doesn’t slip from its desired location, or you could use your painter’s tape to hold it in the right spot!

Allow the moulds to dry overnight. Remove the tape and paint as you desire!

It’s that easy!    

Ultimately you are limited only by your imagination and, perhaps, the moulds you have available but know that any interesting shapes you have at your disposal can be used as moulds also.

The paint finish below was achieved by first painting in two coats of an olive coloured paint (I used Annie Sloan here) and a custom mixed mid-tone grey colour (a blend of Annie Sloan Chicago Grey, Graphite and a little touch of DIY Bohemian Blue) watered down to create a wash.  Using an extra-fine grade sandpaper, the grey layer was sanded back in places to reveal the olive undertone, which adds a depth to the grey that can’t be achieved with a flat grey paint alone.

Clear wax was applied and then polished to a sheen which creates an almost marble-like finished texture that I love!

Use a light hand when sanding the top layer of grey smooth – because it was applied in a wash it doesn’t take much to reveal some of the olive paint beneath.  Even where the grey paint remains the olive paint will echo through the grey, giving a richer finished colour.

(Links have been provided to help you access some of the more specialized products used – using them will not cost you anything more but I might make a few pennies!)