Windsor Chair Painting

Article - January 13, 2011

After seeing the chair go together, many inquired about the finish. You know I wouldn’t leave you hanging! So here’s a quick look at the very simple painting process.

Historically, American Windsor chairs were colored using milk paint (a mixture of milk, lime and pigments). This painting recipe is thousands of years old but you can still buy the stuff today from sites like MilkPaint.com. Over the years, as different colors came into fashion, chairs were painted and repainted, which is why many old chairs show a multi-layered color effect as the chair experiences wear and tear. This is also what many folks are trying to replicate when doing a multi-layered distressed finish. After playing with a distressed painted finish recently, I was pretty confident that a straight simple paint job was in my future. And instead of using real milk paint, I decided to use more of the material I had on hand: General Finishes “not so real” Milk Paint. This modern acrylic mixture produces a dull finish that mimics the look of Milk Paint. Mom picked Somerset Gold as her color and off I went. Sorry purists….

I applied the paint using a decent quality synthetic bristle brush from my local Home Depot. Since the paint is water-based, I first pre-raised the grain with a spray bottle of water. Once dry I lightly sanded with 180 grit, sucked up the dust with the vacuum, and began applying the first coat. The first coat went on smooth with good coverage, although the denser/smoother maple was not absorbing the color quite as readily.

I let the first coat dry overnight, mostly because I had other things to do, but returned the next day to give the piece a nice light 220 grit sanding. Some folks are surprised to learn that you can sand paint. Now you don’t want to sand too aggressively, but just enough to smooth everything out and remove some of the more noticeable brush strokes. The second and third coats went on with no surprises with very little sanding required between the coats. This particular paint is very forgiving and incredibly easy to work with.

After a day or two, the paint was dry and the chair was ready to be used. Now if I wanted to, I could protect the paint further with a water-based topcoat but I decided to let it be. I really like the matte look of the “milk paint” and if the chair shows its age at some point, so be it. I can always repaint it later if mom insists. But I think the chair will become more and more charming with a natural patina.