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How to Refinish Furniture with an Antique Look
When it comes to refinishing furniture, DIYers can quickly get lost amid the dozens-upon-dozens of finishing options. Stains and polyurethane, antique oil, varnish, paste wax—it can be tough to figure out what the right type of finish is for your particular piece of furniture.
If you’ve ever purchased an old piece of pine or poplar furniture from a yard sale or flea market that’s caked with layer-upon-layer of ugly old paint, consider stripping the paint and adding an antiqued milk paint finish. Milk paint is an age-old recipe dating back a few hundred years that can still be purchased today through suppliers like the Old Fashioned Milk Paint company. It’s safe and easy to apply, if you follow the right steps. Better yet, you can use multiple coats of different colors to add layers of history to your piece of furniture and achieve a beautiful antique finish. The basic premise is to build several coats of various colors, then sand back to reveal the older colors beneath. This mimics a piece of furniture that’s been re-painted several times over the years.
Here’s how to do it
1) Choose Your Color Scheme
Choose two to three different colors to achieve the antique milk paint finish. In this case, I chose a base coat of barn red and a top coat of black. You’ll want to apply two coats of each color for a more even, solid finish. Milk paint adheres best to raw wood, so don’t prime your piece of furniture. Use #0000 steel wool to smooth out the finish between each coat of paint.
Notice how dull the finish looks at this point. Don’t worry, though, we’ll tackle that issue in a later step.
2) Sand to Reveal Previous Paint Colors
With your color scheme applied, now it’s time to get down to the brass tacks and achieve the antiqued effect. Using some fine, 400-grit sandpaper, I first give the entire piece a light sanding and then use my sandpaper to scuff through that top coat of black paint in those areas that would naturally see more wear and tear; the bottoms of legs and lower rails, knobs on doors (fingers will wear the paint down over time), even the framing components that surround the lower corners of a door (this area typically gets worn out when the hinges begin to sag and allow cabinet doors to contact the framing around them. Just be prudent with your sanding. The key here is to tread lightly. Too much antiquing will scream FAKE. Little really is more in this case.
3) Steel Wool will Smooth it Out
After you’ve achieved a suitable amount of antiquing with your 400-grit sandpaper, go back and rub the piece down with some #0000 steel wool. This step just helps to even out any fine scratch marks left behind by your sandpaper.
4) Vacuum Up the Dust
Before proceeding on to the final steps, be sure to thoroughly vacuum your piece of furniture. The antiquing process will create a lot of dust. You’ll want a super-clean surface before continuing on.
5) Linseed Oil Deepens the Color
Here’s where the finish really begins to come together. Produce a mixture of 50% boiled linseed oil (you can find this at any hardware store) and 50% mineral spirits. Brush or wipe (I’m using a finishing sponge here) the mixture on and allow it to sit on the surface for a minute or two. Remember, you’re not painting a masterpiece here, just get plenty of oil onto the wood. Milk paint is very dry stuff, and your furniture will want to absorb a lot of oil.
6) Wipe Away Excess Oil
Using a clean, lint-free rag, wipe away the excess oil and allow it to sit for a few more minutes before wiping again with another clean cloth. Allow the oil to dry for a couple of days and add another coat
7) Paste Wax for a Final Finish
Allow the oil to cure for 5-7 days. Linseed oil takes time to fully dry and cure. You don’t want to rush this process. After the oil is fully dry, you can go ahead and apply a coat of clear paste wax using a lint-free rag. Just rub it on, allow it to haze over a bit (3 minutes or so) and buff it off with another clean rag.