For the last 20 years I’ve used mostly milk paints and acrylics on my furniture. I have reservations about both kinds of paint.
On milk paint, I find it inconsistent and a lot of work. When it works, it’s great. But it takes significant effort and time (for me) to get good results. And just because you know how to use red milk paint doesn’t mean you can use the same methods for black or blue.
That said, the paint has a lot going for it. It’s non-toxic. It is hard-wearing and looks better after a lot of wear. And it doesn’t create a plastic film over the wood like other paints do.
From the perspective of someone who sells furniture, however, I need to charge more for pieces that use milk paint because of all the extra time and steps involved.
Acrylics, on the other hand, are consistent and fast. I can spray a chair in the morning (about 45 minutes of work total) and have it sittable by the end of the day. The major downside is that it is a plastic finish. I’m not a fan of plastic – full stop. Nothing about plastic makes me happy. Acrylic wears fairly well, but it hasn’t been around for all that long (only since the 1930s). So the jury is still out on it (as it is on plastic glues such as polyvinyl acetate – aka yellow glue).
About seven years ago, we started working with the Canadian distributors for Allbäck, a Swedish finishing company that makes excellent linseed-oil-based finishes. The distributor also became our Canadian distributor for Lost Art Press for a time (we parted on amicable terms).
As we got to know one another, the Canadians sent us a bunch of their products for us to try. I became a huge fan of the Allbäck linseed oil wax. So much so that I sought to make our own variation on it for our shop (which we call Soft Wax 2.0).
They also sent us some of the Allbäck linseed oil paint. I’d made my own linseed oil paint before, and it’s a bit of a pain to get the pigment mixed into the oil. And then the paint takes a long while to dry. So I was a bit skeptical.
But I decided to give the Allbäck paint a try because everything else the company made was really good.
I painted it on our chopping block outside. The next day, the paint was still wet. Three days later, it was still wet. It took a full week for it to dry to the touch. At the time I remember saying: “I can’t wait a week for a single coat of paint to dry. I’ll starve.”
However, I was amazed by how good the paint looked, even after it was subject to our Midwestern climate with its extreme heat, humidity, snow and ice.
I set the stuff aside until I started work on “The American Peasant.” After much thought it became clear that linseed oil paint was the right paint for all these projects. It looked right. It was simple. It was low-VOC. Natural. I decided to give the paint a second go.
This time I read up on the paint a lot before using it. I experimented with adding a thin coat of oil on the wood the day before painting – this seemed to really help. And after applying the paint, I kept it in a room with low humidity. Plus I exposed it to lots of sunlight (a tip from Jögge Sundqvist).
The coat of oil before painting made the paint go on very smoothly (like I was applying a second coat of paint). Controlling the drying conditions reduced the paint’s drying time to less than 24 hours.
And the linseed oil paint looked great with just one coat. You could still see the wood’s grain, the paint was fairly matte and there was no plastic feel.
It’s a little more expensive. Allbäck is about $2 an ounce. (Quality acrylics are about $1.70 an ounce.)
But the quality of the Allbäck is outstanding. In fact, now that General Finishes is reducing its acrylic offerings, I’ve decided to try linseed oil paint on my chairs to see how much time it adds to my process. I suspect it won’t add much labor. But I will need to be patient and allow the paint to dry.
— Christopher Schwarz