Applying the finish to my projects is either super-simple (clear finish on the bare wood) or agonizing.
Because tool chests are supposed to be painted, I knew I was in for a dose of self-induced agony. The first question with a painted piece is: what color? Tool chests run the gamut, from dark brown to dark green, pea (pee?) green to baby-poo green. And there’s blue.
I already own a blue tool chest at work, and I don’t need another. So my first instinct was to paint it red, which would make it look good in pictures. But when it comes to painted furniture, my favorite finish is black milk paint over red milk paint, which is what I use on many chairs. To do this you paint the chair red, then you paint it black and then you let nature run its course. The black paint gets rubbed through, and the red emerges in the areas that see the most wear.
This looks great.
So I decided to paint the tool chest red and see how it looked. If worst came to worst, I could always, in the words of the Rolling Stones, paint it black.
So I applied three coats of red milk paint. I love milk paint. It’s like a mix between a paint and a stain. It doesn’t have a lot of body, so it allows the wood’s texture to show through. That’s a good thing. Unless you left too much texture behind during the construction process.
As this chest was completed by hand, I left a number of tool marks behind. In truth, I didn’t think I’d had left a lot of tool marks, but the first coat of milk paint revealed some plane tracks and saw marks on the edges of the lid’s dust seal.
A couple coats of oil and varnish over the red didn’t improve things, so I prodded my wife, Lucy, to offer her opinion. If you have been married for at least a spell (18 years in this case) then you know how this conversation works.
“It looks great,” she said of the chest.
“It sucks,” I replied, wondering how many time I had put this poor woman through this. “I can see these tool marks and it makes me nuts.”
Lucy looked at the chest for an appropriate amount of time so that one would term it a “thoughtful” gaze. Then she looked me square in the eyes.
“I guess you should figure out how perfect an anarchist would want it,” she said.
— Christopher Schwarz