Clear Topcoat for Milk Paint

A finisher looks for a clear topcoat that he can apply over milk paint on site. October 28, 2009

I have a customer who wants to use milk paint for her kitchen. She wants to use an antique white and the wood species is maple. I have used milk paint on furniture reproductions on several occasions and know how to get it to look good; however I would like more protection on a kitchen surface. So I plan to use the milk paint followed by a coat or two of tung oil varnish to even the color and blend everything together. The varnish would be wiped on and rubbed off with a rag. On furniture I follow this with wax but that isn't going to fly with a kitchen so I want to topcoat it with something. Normally I would just use lacquer but some of this has to be done in the house so I am thinking either a waterborne or a conversion varnish. I would like to use a Mohawk product if possible. Any recommendations?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Are you doing this time and materials?

From contributor B:
As you know, milk paint is a pretty sturdy type finish. I assume the lady wants the "brush on" type effect. An acrylic lacquer on top would give the protection needed for keeping food stains, etc. off unless you go back with wax. Is it a smooth finish she wants with milk paint?

From the original questioner:In answer to question 1, no, I am not doing it time and material, but I have the price high enough to make money.

In answer to question 2, she is looking for the look of milk paint but does want a smooth finish with a slight sheen, similar to wax, but with better durability. I really don't want to use lacquer because of having to spray a lot of the work in place. They are not living in the house as it is still unfinished but I still don't like the idea of spraying lacquer inside. This is why I am thinking of a waterborne or conversion varnish that won't cause so many fumes. I will take the doors and drawer fronts to the shop but I can't take the boxes. I have a local dealer where I can get the full Mohawk line and that is why I suggested their products. Up until now I have been using Sherwin Williams pre cat.

From contributor B:I don't understand why spray CV and not lacquer. Both have smell and overspray if that's what you are concerned with. Waterborne would be better probably on milk paint but takes longer to dry, and probably would cause more roughness on overspray so it would require rubbing that overspray out, with more time involved in rub out. Lacquer or CV one can spray without getting that rough overspray if product and spray technique is good. Mohawk has good products. I suggest getting a water clear product so it won't turn that milk paint yellow. Also, I suggest doing a sample to see what you will get before going full blast on everything.

From contributor C:I hope it's soft maple. Real milk paint (the powdered kind) doesn't adhere all that well to fine grained wood. I wouldn't sand beyond 150. I did a project using a darker green color (brushed), and the final appearance was really sensitive to the type of wood, how much sanding, the number of topcoats, etc. I spray topcoated with WB, Target, I think. Make sure your final finish is done exactly the same as your sample.

From the original questioner:I would prefer a waterborne for the lack of fumes, however the point about it going on rough is well taken. I usually only use pre cat or CV and don't have a lot of experience with waterbornes, hence my question.

A sample is definitely a must and will be done and signed off on by myself and the owner. It is soft maple and hasn't been oversanded. I know the pitfalls of milk paint as I have done it on a bunch of furniture. It is amazing stuff, when you first put it on it looks like crap but when burnished and oiled it looks great. I want to keep it looking great so I need to topcoat it with something. I may just go ahead and lacquer it anyway as it is summertime and I can open the windows and doors without worrying about the house getting cold. I'll check Mohawk's line and see what they have in a water white finish.

From contributor D:Some companies that have milk paint also have their own coating, usually an Acrylic as that doesn't seem to change the overall color as much. There is a big difference in the color when used alone, compared to what it looks like with a coating sitting on top of it.

From contributor E:If you have access to Mohawk products they now have a waterborne precat lacquer that is very nice. They have a whole waterborne line that they have just released including stains and glazes. The only thing missing from them is a pigmented waterborne sealer and topcoat, which is coming soon, so they tell me.

From the original questioner:I was looking at the waterborne precat in the catalog. How well does it spray and do you think drying time is going to be an issue (too fast or too slow being it is summertime and a lot of it will not be sprayed in a booth)?

From contributor E:It dries fast like lacquer but should not pose a problem. They make a retarder for it but I have never used it. It sprays great and makes a very nice, durable finish. It tends to look a bit like it has orange peel at first when you spray it but it levels out nicely as it dries. Call and get the area Mohawk rep's phone number. He is there to help you and will likely give you some free product to try. Your local supplier should have his phone number.

From contributor F:Why is the client determined to use milk paint? Why not just use a pigmented waterborne paint that is made for kitchens? If she wants smooth with a soft sheen and durability, Muralo Ultra would provide that and more.

From the original questioner:Her preference is milk paint. She has dumped a ton of money in this place and is big on antiques and also on history. I probably should have mentioned that the home is 120 years old and in a historical district. While they are not super strict with the local codes they do try to keep everything looking appropriate to the time period. In addition, I have used milk paint on a number of pieces of furniture and love the look of it.

From contributor B:Probably waterborne would be the way to go, but there's a learning curve with the spraying. Don't use your lacquer spraying technique. Waterborne has a different curing process. Water will eventually evaporate out and the film will lay smooth. Until then it looks like orange peel .Lay on light coats. I found in spraying pigment waters that the gun is held a little further away from surface. Practice on scrap until you get what you want. Some brands spray better than others due to solid contents, etc.