This is the story of how I made my own chalk paint, painted a (free, re-purposed) nightstand, learned a great secret for stenciling and finished it all up with wax.
It is not necessary to justify an end table purchase, but the piece of crud that showed up in our house deserves some explanation. Our dearth of furniture became obvious after we moved into our house last November. We actually had never owned an end table because our couches could both access the coffee table and since we moved literally every year for 7 years, end tables (especially those grad students could afford) were pretty much dead weight. However, our new house has a rather long living room so only one couch can use the coffee table conveniently. Plus, I have spent way too much time looking at blogs and I see that end tables help make a house feel homey. And Tilley seems to chew the furniture less*.
Anyway, time to buy an end table. I tried to take one step up from Ikea and bought this little number from a fairly large store online:
Lesson #1: Cheap furniture not from Ikea can actually be much, much worse than that form Ikea. It doesn’t look so bad in the store’s photo does it? [Because I’m not saying very nice things about this store I don’t want to name names.] However, when it actually showed up, the white part was yellowish, creamy MDF and the top was veneer that was about 1/16″ thick. The whole thing smelled worse than cheap Ikea furniture and wasn’t easy to assemble. But, the worst part was that there was a 2 inch chip out of the front of the veneer and the stain was splattered all over the top. I do not have a picture of this tragedy since I didn’t really expect much to be come of it.
Fortunately, the large store has a phone line that is manned 7 days a week and has an excellent return policy. Phone call #1 basically went as follows:
Me: My thing arrived. It’s messed up, as in blah blah blah.
Customer rep: Can you fix it or would you like another one?
Me: No, definitely not. I don’t know how to fix veneer. I don’t really need another one since this has been disheartening. [Read: because it is a piece of crud.]
Customer rep: Ok, that’s a bummer. We will give you a full refund and send you a USPS label so you can send it back. Just package it all back in the original box, then schedule a pick-up when you have the label.
Me: Great, thanks.
I guess they must do this a lot. Anyway, after about 10 days, the label hadn’t arrived so I called the store back and asked. It turns out they had already refunded my credit card and weren’t going to pay for me to ship it back. The lady this time said, “Just donate it.” Ok then. So, to donate it, I had to put the thing together. Next time I want to assemble furniture, I am going to Ikea. It was much more logical and the crummy pressed wood doesn’t completely fall apart. Eventually I got it together and queued up to donate, but then, I remembered that I knew someone who needed a nightstand. And a car-themed gag nightstand would be a great gift for this person…but you can’t buy those so what better way to use this stupid thing than for a gag gift?! I filled the gap in the veneer with wood filler, let it dry a day and evened it out with a sanding block. This removed the as-received hill-billy styling of the piece after I got some paint on it.
I decided to try out chalk paint on it because I like flat finishes, as I learned from my last furniture painting attempt. I understand that chalk paint can typically be used without sanding or priming, but since this was sketchy, smelly Chinese MDF, I opted to prime before painting. Sanding wasn’t an option for this finish. Off came the hardware and I primed the now-nightstand with Zinsser BIN primer, which I have been assured is an excellent odor blocker by a Kelly-Moore rep that I met in Home Depot. A Benjamin Moore store employee also told me that it is a good bonding primer, meaning that it should stick to shiney stuff. It is shellac based, so it needs special brush cleaner (or disposable brushes). Truthfully, I haven’t seen anyone else on the internet use this stuff – they all seem to prefer the oil based. I have yet to find out why since this seems pretty stuck when I tried rubbing or scratching or sanding it off. I already had a can on hand and it also cleaned off my hands without mineral spirits, so that was appealing for me.
Painting the end table with primer was already a step up. Again, no photos, but just imagine the ugly thin in the photo up there all white. I primed everywhere, including the inside of the drawer.
Since this is a low-budget project, I refused to buy full-priced, hard to find chalk paint and decided to make my own after cruising the internet. I found my favorite list of recipes here and went with a calcium carbonate option, but created my own recipe. I had no trouble finding this on Amazon. This site used a 2:1 Paint: Calcium: Carbonate, which I assume is by volume. I never follow recipes and this seemed a little thick to me. I opted for about 8 tablespoons of the calcium carbonate, then added just enough water to stir into a paste. The total volume of this mixture was roughly 4 oz. I then poured in 16 oz of Behr Premium Plus Flat Enamel in Polar Bear White and stirred with a mixer that attached to my drill – probably meant for cement. This type of paint said acrylic, not latex, on the can which may be useful for making homemade chalk paint. The paint was a nice consistency, fairly close to what actually came out of the can. All in all, I was very pleased with this recipe. It went on smooth, did not dry with brush strokes and covered the primer with a single coat. I did opt for two coats on the top for durability. After it dried, the paint felt chalky, but not loose. I was not interested in sanding the edges. Now picture a white nightstand. The photo is coming below.
I was interested in putting a stencil on top of this car-themed nightstand. This is the emblem found on first-generation Pontiac Firebirds:
Whether or not it is politically-correct today is NOT the point of this post. Let it suffice to say that the recipient of this nightstand is a fan of the first-gen Firebird, so I had an appropriate stencil made here on Etsy. I was using previously-owned Martha Stewart metallic paint in Thundercloud, which may or may not be good paint for stenciling.
Lesson #2 (very important): Not all sponges for stenciling are created equal. Typically one dunks the sponge in the paint, then blots off the excess paint until the sponge is basically dry. I first tried a piece of just a plain old sponge, but couldn’t get it dry enough to not leave bubbles without making it so dry that it would not leave paint at all! So, I drove over to Michaels and bought something like these. These worked just as badly as the plain ol’ sponge! But, I decided to plow ahead with too much paint on my brush…and got this mess:
All of the bumps are because of the bubbles that formed in the brush. The edges were also pretty far from clean since the paint leaked over. I still had to do two coats to eliminate actual holes form the bubbles and so the whole Firebird logo was raised off of the nightstand. Technically, it got the job done, but it bugged me. Surely, there is a better way to do this!
I used my trusty friend the electric sander again and erased the Firebird from the top. Then I put 2 coats of chalk paint back on. The paint has kept perfectly for 2 weeks now in a plastic container with tight-fitting light (think large yogurt container).
Lesson #3: Makeup sponges make EXCELLENT stenciling applicators, especially when there is a lot of fine detail. I actually learned that from here. These are phenomenal and far and way better than anything else I tested. Fortunately, I have a package of these for the foundation that I never wear. The holes are so fine that the paint doesn’t bubble up and I could blot off the paint until they were dry, but still stencil paint with clean lines and no bubbles! I end up going over the pattern 3 times to get the color to my liking. Here she is:
Lesson #4: Bleed through can be sort of cleaned up. For those areas where I was impatient and didn’t blot of enough paint, there was still bleed through. This was a particularly persnickety stencil since it had a lot of connected pieces, as you can tell. It slipped around a lot and I was nervous about adhesive over my chalk paint. If I did it again, I really now understand the importance of blotting FULLY EACH TIME no matter how annoying it is.
I used paste wax to seal the paint. I used CeCe Caldwell‘s wax since it is all natural and I had to drive someplace special to get either this or Annie Sloan on the day that I wanted it. I didn’t really want to pay for this for this project, but I have another project queued up that will benefit as well.
Lesson #5: Minwax paste wax in “natural” is not acceptable for white furniture. I’m not the first to say this and I won’t be the last. Fortunately, I tested it on the bottom just to see what would happen. 1) It was hard and didn’t blend well and 2) it was orange. It is much much cheaper though, so I still would use it on a darker furniture item.
I painted the handle (spray Zinsser BIN and the Martha Stewart paint again) and screwed it back on. Here is the whole thing in a room:
Yikes, iPhone photos are not good for decorating photos. Note my clever off-set positioning of the stencil so the lamp wasn’t smack in the middle of the stencil.
Fortunately, I already owned a lot of the supplies (and those which I did not are mostly reusable for other projects), otherwise this would have been quite expensive to dress up a free nightstand.
Anyway, the project was fun, the recipient is happy and I learned that homemade chalk paint is great and there are some tricks to stenciling. The end table shall have a lovely new life as a nightstand!
*This totally looks like a sane dog who doesn’t chew furniture, right?