Painting Ideas: How to Make Chalk Paint (and Use It)

posted by Aby Garvey on August 7, 2014 8 Comments

How to Make Chalk Paint and Use It

This post could have been entitled My new obsession: chalk paint! So consider this fair warning. If you haven’t yet used chalk paint, proceed with caution. If not, you may find yourself wanting to paint every single piece of furniture in your home! (Like me.) Chalk painting is seriously one addictive and rewarding DIY project. (So on second thought, go for it! There are much worse addictions.)

How to Chalk Paint

I first heard about chalk paint via a simplify 101 community member. I had purchased some chairs for my kitchen table, and was chatting about how to paint them in the forum. For some reason, I felt like using chalk paint would be a much more complicated process than spray painting. Ha! Was I ever wrong!

I’m a horrible spray painter. (Truly horrible.) I’m not sure what I do wrong, but it takes me forever and I’m never happy with the result. So…after resorting to brushing on a final coat of latex paint to finish my chair project, I vowed to never spray paint again. And I vowed to figure out this whole chalk painting thing.

How did I do it? Well, I discovered this amazing store right in my home town. Restore Décor is a nonprofit resale and consignment shop for gently used furniture and home accessories. The furniture sold in the store is donated by individuals from the community, and then painted, rehabbed, and sold by a team of volunteers. All of the proceeds from the sales go directly to charity. So it’s like a win-win-win! A few weeks ago, I decided to get in on the fun and join one of the weekly painting sessions. As they say…the rest is history. I am now a chalk paint addict! 

Why Chalk Paint?

I’ve painted quite a few pieces of furniture in my days and frankly, in the past the idea of painting furniture tended to be way more fun than the actual process. With chalk painting, all that changed. The process and the results are both fun and rewarding. Here’s why:

  • Faster dry time. This means you can start and finish a project in a single day. 
  • You can paint over the existing finish. It’s true! Typically* when using chalk paint you don’t need to prime, sand, or strip before painting. This is so awesome! Priming, sanding and stripping are far less fun than painting, so avoiding it whenever possible is a good thing. (By the way, I said typically* because when I painted a nightstand last weekend, the original stain bled through the chalk paint. (More on how I fixed this later.) I asked about this at Restore Décor and in their experience, bleed through typically isn’t a problem. I guess I just got lucky. Ha ha.) 
  • Easier to create a distressed finish.
  • Levels better / less obvious brush strokes.
  • Easier to recoat while painting. You know when you paint with latex paint and all of a sudden it gets sticky. The more you go over the paint with your brush the worse it looks? If you know what I’m talking about then you also know how incredibly frustrating this is! That’s why it’s so exciting that you don’t get this with chalk paint! Seriously, if you’ve experienced this stickiness before, then you know how exciting this is! 
  • Imperfect is okay. If you want to create a distressed, shabby-chic finish, then you don’t have to worry about getting the paint on perfectly! This is so liberating if you tend to be a perfectionist when painting.

Alright, now that we’ve covered the why’s of chalk painting, let’s cover how to make chalk paint and how to use it!

Chalk Paint Supply List

Chalk Paint Supply List

Here’s a little checklist of all the supplies to gather together before you start your chalk painting project.

  • White powder plaster of Paris. I use DAP Plaster of Paris. I found mine at Lowe’s, but here’s a link so you know what you’re looking for.
  • Flat latex paint. 
  • Measuring cup.
  • Stirring stick. I like to use Popsicle sticks for stirring the plaster of Paris and water. Or you could use a paint stirrer.
  • Water.
  • Disposable container for mixing paint. 
  • Paint can opener. 
  • Hammer. To close the paint can when you’re finished.
  • Paint brush. I like Purdy brushes. Yes, they’re expensive but if you wash them out they’ll last forever! (I have two Purdy brushes that are nearly 16 years old!) 
  • A drop cloth.
  • Sand paper or sanding sponge.
  • Wax furniture paste. I use Minwax Paste Finishing Wax in Natural.
  • Rags. For clean up and waxing. 
  • Something to paint! The possibilities are nearly endless here. Furniture aside, you could chalk paint all sorts of wooden containers for organizing – crates, boxes, file boxes, card catalogs, trays, picture frames (to create memo boards or chalkboards), wooden in boxes, letter sorters, or pencil cups! I could go on…but instead, let’s talk about how to make chalk paint. 

How to Make and Use Chalk Paint

This is the recipe I have used to paint wooden furniture at home, and it is roughly the same recipe used at Restore Décor. Please note that there is a difference between this paint (chalk paint for painting furniture) and chalkboard paint (which would be used to make a chalkboard.)

Step 1: Mix up your paint. Here’s how.
Measure into your disposable cup:

  • 1 part DAP plaster of Paris, and
  • 1 part water.

Stir until smooth. Then, add

  • 3 parts paint.

Stir until mixed well. 

To paint this nightstand, I used ¼ cup plaster of Paris and water, and ¾ cup paint. I had enough for two coats.

Nightstand after chalk painting side shot

Step 2: Paint. One of the great things about chalk paint is that it dries fast. So as soon as your first coat is dry, if you don’t have the coverage you want, you can put on another coat. With bigger pieces on a not too humid day, you might be ready for your second coat as soon as you’re done with your first!

Step 3: Sand. Once you’re done painting, if you want a distressed finish, start sanding. Simply sand away paint along the edges of your piece, and on other flat surfaces (if desired), until you achieve the look you want. If you don’t want a distressed finish, you may still want or need to lightly sand your piece to smooth out brush strokes and other imperfections.

Distressing Chalk Painted Items

Step 4: Finish with wax. (I guess it’s called finishing wax for a reason.) Once you’re piece is sanded to your satisfaction, it’s time to start waxing. First, wipe off any dust left over from sanding. (I use a wet rag for this step.) If Once your piece is clean and dry, apply wax using another rag. Let the wax dry completely (the brand I use takes about 10 to 15 minutes to dry) and then, polish with another clean rag. To polish, simply keep rubbing until you see the piece shine.

Step 5: Stand back and admire your work! Or show your family members your masterpiece and share photos on Facebook or Instagram!

Alright, so that’s the basic process. Now for a few tips.

Tips for Chalk Painting

Tip #1: While you don’t have to sand when chalk painting, sometimes it makes sense. My first project was a wooden folding chair that I purchased at a flea market nearly 15 years ago. It has been sitting on my front porch ever since…and it had started to show it’s age. The paint was peeling, and while that can look really cool, I was ready to update the color. Because the paint was peeling, I decided to do a light sanding of the chair before painting it, just to make sure the chalk paint would be going on wood as opposed to the peeling paint. I didn’t sand it perfectly smooth because I was going for the distressed look, and in places where the green paint wasn’t peeling off, I didn’t bother sanding down to the wood. Assess the starting condition of the item you’ll be painting, and the final look you’re going for. Then decide if it makes sense to sand first or not.

Tip #2: When in doubt, do a test area. I mentioned earlier that you typically don’t have to sand or strip or prime a piece when chalking painting. But, sometimes you should. When I painted my nightstand, there were a few areas where the original finish bled through the chalk paint, creating an undesirable spotted effect. After doing a full coat of chalk paint on the nightstand, I grabbed a can of primer and applied a second coat. I could have saved a lot of time by chalk painting a test area and waiting to see if I got any bleed through.

Oops I should have primed

Tip #3: If you need primer, use the right kind. Instead of just grabbing any old can of primer you have sitting around, like I did, make sure you’re using a primer that is designed for the finish you’re painting over. After doing an entire second coat on the nightstand using the wrong primer and having more bleed through (albeit less than before), my third coat on my nightstand was Kilz, a primer that will cover just about anything, including furniture stain!

Chalk Painting Tip - If You Need Primer Use the Right Kind

Tip #4: Start with a piece of low personal value. Don’t make your first project a family heirloom like Grandma’s antique china hutch. Instead, make your first chalk painting project a garage sale or thrift store find, or a chair that has been sitting on your front porch for 16 years, like this:

Chair Before Chalk Painting

Make sure you like how chalk paint looks and work out the bugs in your own painting process before painting an important piece of furniture.

How to Chalk Paint

Tip #5: Have fun with it! This really is a fun process. Truly, I can’t wait to figure out what I’m going to paint next! Chalk painting is so much faster and easier than I thought it would be, and even though the nightstand took four coats of various paints and primers, I still finished the project in less than 24 hours, transforming the piece from this…

Nightstand Before Chalk Painting

to this.

Nightstand After Chalk Painting

And from this…

Nightstand Before Drawer Close Up

to this.

Nightstand Drawer After Chalk Painting

Do you chalk paint? If so, do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear them! And if you’ve never used chalk paint before, have I inspired you to give it a try? Thanks for sharing!

Happy painting!

Aby

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and coaching program

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  • August 7, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Aby I am so happy that you posted this! I just recently signed up to take a chalk painting class at a local resale shop. It’s being taught by Maria Price Designs. I have been painting stuff around my house like crazy this summer and wanted to take on some bigger projects this fall. I also have some Purdy brushes that I have had for probably 15 years. They are the best. Thank you so much for sharing your projects with us!

    August 8, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Ooh, I’d love to hear what tips you pick up at your chalk painting class! (And I’d love to see what you’ve been painting!) :)

    • August 7, 2014 at 11:46 pm

      Thanks, Aby. I have been so curious about chalk paint and this is so helpful. There’s one thing I’m still not clear on, though, about this type of paint: if you don’t want a distressed/shabby chic finish, but something comparable a regular paint, would it work, once the wax goes on? Or is it a bit duller/flatter? Thanks!

      August 8, 2014 at 7:25 am

      Hi, Nancy,

      Great question! At Restore Decor they have used poly urethane as a top coat on some of their pieces. That would give it more shine. But I didn’t really notice if it is as shiny and has the same look as regular paint. I’d try it out on something small and see if you’re happy with the results you get.

      Aby

      • August 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm

        Hi Aby – could I use this on melamine or would I need to prime first?

        August 11, 2014 at 4:50 pm

        Hi, Terri,
        I’m not sure – I haven’t tried it yet. What I think I would do is try it in a small area and see if you’re happy with the results. Sorry I don’t have a more definitive answer! Would love to know what you find out if you try it!
        ~ Aby

        • September 16, 2014 at 8:17 am

          The Annie Sloan chalk paint is awesome. No mixing needed and comes in lots of colors.

          September 16, 2014 at 8:56 am

          I’ve had my eye on Annie Sloan. Around here, anyway, it’s very expensive compared to other paint. Do you find it is worth it? Have you tried other chalk paints and is it a lot better?