Update Old Furniture With Milk Paint and Gel Stain
One of my favorite furniture makeovers so far has been the transformation of an antique hall table with white milk paint and gel stain. My local Habitat Restore put this gorgeous table on their Facebook page. I quickly called them up and asked them to hold it for me. If I remember correctly I paid around $90 for it, but I knew I would keep it for myself so I wasn’t as worried about the cost as if I was trying to paint it to sale.
When I saw this table I knew it would be perfect for a makeover. My favorite way to refinish used, tired, old furniture is with a DIY furniture paint, like chalk paint or milk paint! In my opinion, DIY paint is the perfect product for revitalizing old furniture. Another of my favorite products for furniture refinishing is gel stain. Just like peanut butter and jelly, gel stain and DIY paint are meant to be together!
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Project Supplies List
General Finishes Milk Paint here – I used a 50/50 mix of Antique White and Snow White
General Finishes Java Gel Stain
Cling On Brush S50 here
Dixie Belle White Lightening
Dixie Belle Boss here
Dixie Belle Clear Coat In Satin
Dixie Belle Gator Hide
Quadruple zero steel wool
Gel Stain Applicator Pad
Sanding Block 220 Grit and 400 Grit
Orbital Sander with 80 and 120 grit papers – I love the Ryobi 18-Volt One+ Cordless Tools including their orbital sander available at Home Depot . You do have to purchase the One+ rechargeable battery and charger but the cool thing is the batteries fit all their cordless tools.
This Tack Life orbital sander on Amazon also gets good reviews
Rust-Oleum Universal All- Surface Metallic Spray Paint and Primer in One in color Champagne Mist
Fabric from Joanne’s Fabric or Hobby Lobby
Mod Podge For Fabric
Making A Small Change In The Tabletop
This table was beautiful as it was however, on the back of the piece at that top there was a decorative edging. The edging was attached with two boards and screws. The first thing I did that was remove that edging to give it a simple flat top. And boy what a difference this small change made! I know some folks get upset when we furniture painters talk about painting or changing antiques. But honestly removing that piece made a huge difference in my opinion!
Furniture Makeover Prep For Milk Paint and Gel Stain: Sanding
The next step was to sand some rough spots. You may say, whoa “I thought chalk and milk paints do not require sanding”? And you would be correct. Chalk paint and most milk paints typically adhere to furniture well even without sanding. But General Finishes recommends sanding before applying their milk paints. There are also a few different reasons why you may choose to sand your piece first, even with chalk paint.
Firstly, you can sand in order to completely remove a finish. Second is to sand to rough up a finish slightly to help the paint adhere even better. And, lastly, to buff out rough spots and scratches to even out the surface. This table had a few dings and scratches so I sanded those out. However, for the tabletop I sanded all the way down a raw wood surface using my orbital sander. I opted to do this because I wanted to apply the gel stain to a fresh raw wood base.
For more information on sanding for a smoother finish with chalk paint or milk paint in this case, check out https://simplyrefinished.com/how-to-get-a-smoother-finish-with-chalk-paint/ I also have cheat sheet of tips for getting as smoother finish to make it easier for you!
Furniture Makeover Prep For Milk Paint and Gel Stain: Cleaning
Next up was cleaning this old piece of furniture. This is honestly one of the most important steps in a furniture makeover! You need to remove the grime, dust and dirt before you apply the paint. If you don’t you may have problems later with your paint not adhering well. And, truly when you get a used piece of furniture, you usually have no idea where it’s been. And, who wants to put that in their house without cleaning it? Yuck!
To clean my furniture pieces I typically use Dixie Belle White Lightening. White Lightening is a combination of TSP and other cleaners. It comes in the form of little crystallized particles and you mix it with warm water. A jar of White Lightening literally lasts forever! And it is top notch at removing grime, oils, and just general grossness! But, if you don’t have White Lightening you can make your own cleaning solution. Use a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar and add a drop of Dawn dish soap. And lastly, don’t forget to do a final rinse using a rag and plain warm water to remove the cleaning residue with either method you choose.
Furniture Makeover Prep For Milk Paint and Gel Stain: Priming
After cleaning comes the fun part! Painting! But wait, what about a primer? Whether or not you use primer really depends on the piece of furniture you are painting. Older furniture often has tannin in the original stain and this tannin will bleed through and discolor you paint if you are using a light paint color, such as white. I planned to paint his table white so I needed to prime to prevent bleed through. My favorite primer is Dixie Belle Boss, which comes in clear and white. I only had clear Boss on hand so I applied two coats of Boss, letting each coat dry before moving on.
Furniture Makeover Prep For Milk Paint and Gel Stain: Painting
After the priming, finally comes the furniture painting! This is where it gets fun friends! To see the transformation when you put on the color is so amazing! For this project, I used General Finishes milk paint. I almost always use chalk paint nowadays but I wanted to give this paint a try. I made a 50/50 mix with General Finishes Antique White and Snow White Milk Paints.
For chalk painting tips, which also apply to milk paints check out https://simplyrefinished.com/how-to-chalk-paint-furniture-makeovers-made-simple/
What Is Milk Paint?
There are different brands of milk paint and they are not created equal! General Finishes Milk Paint is different from other brands in that it’s consistency is more of a cross between a chalk paint and a latex paint. Whereas other milk paints are truly very thin and “milky” giving a very rustic finish to your project. A few brands of milk paint come in powdered form and have to be mixed with water before use. General Finishes Milk Paint comes in a can and feels very similar to latex paints but has very low odor and is safe to use indoors like chalk paints.
How To Apply Milk Paint
I applied three coats of milk paint to this table. Milk paint is applied with any brush you would use for chalk painting. My favorite brushes are Dixie Belle Synthetic brushes, Cling-On Brushes, or my good old Annie Sloan Chalk Paint brushes. If using a white primer, such as Dixie Belle Boss in white, just two coats of paint would work. But covering a dark wood with white paint can take more coats, especially given that I used the clear primer.
I created a fun and easy chalk paint supplies checklist which you can grab below:
Milk Paint Dry Time and Coverage
General Finishes recommends a dry time of 2-4 hours between each coat. They also recommend a light sanding between each coat. For this, use a fine grit sanding pad anything from a 220-400 grit will work. Don’t worry, this light sanding doesn’t take much elbow grease, just enough to rough up the surface to allow the next coat of paint to adhere better.
Furniture Makeover Prep: Topcoat
After I painted the base I used a topcoat. I chose Dixie Belle Clear Coat in satin. This Clear Coat is a water-based poly-type topcoat. It goes on nicely with a good brush. Clear Coat also applies nicely with a sponge applicator pad. Topcoats are not required with some types of chalk and milk paints, especially if they are self sealing. The General Finishes milk paints are self sealing and don’t require a topcoat, but the the topcoat adds a nice protective finish.
For more info on how to choose a topcoat for your next DIY painting project check on this blog post https://simplyrefinished.com/choosing-the-best-chalk-paint-topcoat-wax-or-poly/
Furniture Makeover Prep: Gel-Stained Tabletop
Next up is the gel-stained tabletop! Yay! My favorite part! I just love gel stains. For this project, I used General Finishes Java Gel. Java Gel is a deep rich dark brown color. It pairs gorgeously with neutrals, including grays, pinks, whites. I love the contrast that it provided in this makeover with a white table base, giving it that farmhouse finish I was looking for. My other favorite gel stain products are the Dixie Belle No Pain Gel Stains.
I wrote a post on how to apply gel stain to a tabletop and I hope you’ll find it helpful: https://simplyrefinished.com/how-to-use-gel-stain-for-a-beautiful-tabletop-finish/ and to make it easier here’s a cheat sheet to help you get a better finish with gel stain:
Gel Stain Application
Since I had sanded the tabletop down to basically raw wood, I first applied a coat of odorless mineral spirits. This is an optional “slip coat”. Then once dry I went ahead with my first coat of Java Gel. Java Gel stain is super thick and rich in pigment! It is a truly a gel consistency and covers so nicely. Gel stain is best applied with a foam brush or synthetic brush or a staining pad. However, you will want to work in small sections and continue applying the gel stain in one direction along with the grain of the wood. And wipe away excess quickly before the gel stain starts to dry. You want the coat to be thin. Keeping the coat thin will allow it to dry thoroughly and not be sticky or tacky.
Gel Stain Dry Time
Let the first coat dry for 12 to 24 hours. You can then apply a second coat in the same manner. General Finishes recommends maximum of two coats. Next, you apply a topcoat to protect your finish. Because Java Gel is an oil based product, allow 72 hours drying time before applying a water-based topcoat.
Gel Stain Topcoat
For this tabletop I used Dixie Belle Gator Hide to topcoat over the Java Gel Stain. I like to apply Gator Hide with the Dixie Belle Blue Sponge. I typically buff between coats with a quadruple zero steel wool, but just a light buffing to take away any streaking. What you will be left with is beautiful shine. Two to three coats of topcoat is recommended. I applied 3 coats of Gator Hide letting each coat dry about 2 hours. Gator Hide is the bomb for providing great protection for your furniture from water, stains and scratches. But if you have some other type of water-based clear topcoat you can use that certainly over your gel stain.
Furniture Makeover Prep: Finishing Touches
Now, to add a few finishing touches to this antique hall table, I lined the large flat single drawer with a colorful fabric. At my local JoAnn’s Fabrics, but I found a sweet Kelly green and white flower print in the bargain fabric bin. It was honestly just the right pop of color for this piece. I cut the fabric piece to fit the drawer and applied it with Mod Podge Fabric. It was my first time using this product and it worked really well to adhere the fabric to the drawer!
I kept the original drawer pulls. They are simple and elegant and fit the piece perfectly. I updated them with Rust-Oleum Universal All- Surface Metallic Spray Paint and Primer in One in the color champagne mist. Champagne mist is just a beautiful shiny, shimmery color that is somewhat in between a gold and a silver color. Here’s a link to the Champagne Mist spray paint also available at Home Depot in the stores or online at https://fave.co/3faXJgT
Using Gel Stain and Paint To Transform Your Furniture is Fun & Easy!
This was one of those pieces of furniture that I fell in love with as soon as I saw it and it turned out beautifully. Gel stain is one of my favorite products to use to update a table or dresser and the combination of gel stain with chalk paint is just perfecto! Some folks are afraid of using oil-based stains because they seem a bit more cumbersome, but once you try it, you will be likely be hooked! Just remember to follow the product manufacturer’s instructions on ventilation during use and disposal of soiled rags and towels.
If you haven’t tried gel stain, I encourage you to go ahead and give it a try. I”d love to see your gel stain and furniture DIY painting projects in the comments below! And if you have any questions about using gel stain shoot me an email or message!