DIY Chalkpaint Tips

DIY chalk paint scratching off
DIY chalkpaint is a fabulous thing, it lets you get creative without breaking your bank. But like a teenage crush, DIY chalkpaint can be a little heartbreaking at times. If you are an anal type like me, than you are always striving for things to be as perfect as they can, and sometimes, DIY chalkpaint can throw a wrench at you.  I have found over the years that DIY chalkpaint can sometimes be a pain in the watootsie and easily scratch off - and if you plan on selling your piece, well that just isn't going to cut the mustard. 

Never fear, I have devised some strategies and done some (very scientific) testing, and have come up with a few tips on how to get your DIY chalkpaint to hold up and do you proud.

1. Sand - I always sand. I know it’s about as fun as poking darts in your own eyes, but it really is important to rough up the surface. Now, I realize the 'beauty' of chalk paint is that you don't have to sand, but it really does produce a better result, particularly with the DIY stuff. Plus, if you are anything like me, you are buying pieces that need a little TLC anyway, and sanding is necessary to help get rid of some of the gouges and scratches.  I have done OOOODLES of paint / primer experiments on furniture with loads of different paints, and SANDING always makes stuff stick better to it than if you don’t. I even tested a patch on a dresser where I sanded a section, and didn’t sand a section, I then painted on some Zinsser BIN on both sections.  Two days later I did my ‘fingernail’ test, and the sanded section would not scratch off, the unsanded section allowed me to get my fingernail into it in a couple of areas where it wasn’t able to form as good a bond with the surface below.  That’s with BIN – probably one of the best adhesion primers you can find, so it just goes to show, sanding is always a smart idea.

2. Prime – this is particularly important if you don’t really want a distressed look and you want your chalk paint to really hold up. If you are going to do a fair bit of distressing, than I find its fine to skip this step. Also, if you use a high adhesion paint, than I also find its ok to skip this step.  But if you are using a cheapie sample pot of paint, then I would give it the best chance-at-life by priming first (have a good dig and Im sure you can find an old can of primer kicking around).  You can tint your primer to be a similar shade to your paint, but I do find when you distress with primer underneath you get a great peekaboo technique of the different coloured primer underneath showing in places – it makes for a great layering technique.

3. Use a paint that has good adhesion.  I think this is the most important step in creating DIY chalkpaint.  I used to just get sample pots of Behr from Homedepot, add my plaster of paris or grout with some warm water and get painting.  Even after two days of dry time I could scrape my fingernail across the painted surface and it would easily scrape off.  I painted an entire piece once with Behr self leveling paint ($36 a gallon) turned into DIY chalkpaint  and it did not adhere whatsoever.  It would scratch off easier than sunburnt skin.  Use a paint that has good sticking power because no, they are NOT all the same.  I love Dulux Diamond (Im not sure if it is available in the USA but it is made by Glidden).  Its more pricey at $68 a gallon, but they frequently have buy one get one free sales making it as affordable as the big box store paints. If you turn a better quality paint into DIY chalkpaint, you will have a better quality chalkpaint.  Plain and simple.  Even with the additional cost, you still save money over the brand name chalkpaints and have greater colour freedom.  I actually get tint directly from the paint store and I tint my own paint freeing me up to not have a gallon of paint tinted one colour.

4. Wait to wax.  I know this is the hardest step to follow, because after you have finished painting and you see that light winking at you from down the tunnel, you just want to be done so you can stand back with a cup of coffee and admire your own amazingness.  But I urge you to wait.  Allow that paint to fully dry and cure a bit before you moisten it back up with wax.  Whenever you put something wet on uncured paint (such as another coat of paint, or a coat of wax) you re-add moisture to the surface and essentially make the paint below vulnerable and soft again.  Of course it re-dries, if it didn’t, we would only be able to paint one coat on anything, but, I find with wax, it seals the paint below a little bit and makes it more susceptible to staying softer.  If you give the paint a little more cure time (say two days-ish at a minimum) it stands a better chance of being more durable.  Annie Sloan would disagree with me, ahem, however, I even tried this with her brand.  After I finished painting and let the paint dry overnight (about 10 hours) I tried the fingernail test and it wouldn’t scratch off (yay).  So I waxed.  Well, after I waxed, even 24 hours later, I could still scratch the paint off.  This is all goes to the heart of how important good cure time is. Cure time is not the same as dry time.  Most paints are dry to touch in a few hours. But most paints take 30 days to fully cure and be ‘durable’.  So it is always important to be as patient as possible! This included being patient with putting your object back into ‘use’. So because of that, I always try and give my paint as much cure time as I can before I topcoat it (wax or poly).

5. Sand Between Coats.  With the DIY versions, most of them dry a little sandpapery feeling (I know both the grout and the plaster of paris do).  This is easily rectified by taking a 220 sanding sponge and quickly smooth things out between coats.  I guarantee you will notice the end result looks way better than if you skip this step.  

I hope all my experiments and experiences help you get the most out of your DIY chalkpaint! Id love to hear from you with questions or comments. Feel free to leave me some love!

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  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for such great info. I have been lucky so far with my DIY chalk painting efforts but I also sand, sand, sand. Even though its not my favorite thing to do! Because I work full time and only have time to do partial projects, I let my pieces cure by accident! Now I know why I haven't had any scratch off issues like some of my friends and family. I will make sure they read your post. I always enjoy your blog. Thank you again.

  2. I'm really new at this. I suppose you could call me 'a chalk paint dummy'. I've never given it a second thought when it came to painting walls, cabinetry or even a still life. I've been characterized as being relentless when it comes to any type of panting project. That's probably the school teacher coming out in me. I've bee reading for weeks now and really thought I'd learned everything there was to know about chalk and milk painting, pros and cons for each, tips and ALL the recipes for making it yourself. I admit to being somewhat hesitant on this one. I think it was because I was afraid to ruin a piece of furniture or accent piece. Since my husband of 45 years and myself have enjoyed many years of going to thrift shops and antique flea markets to purchase items for our home and to simply reminisce about items of yesteryear, I recently picked up some inexpensive pieces and try my luck. I certainly hope my trash becomes a treasure like the many people that have been kind enough to show the world their accomplishments. I planned to give it a shot this week but something told me to read your blog instead of the newspaper this a.m. I'm one happy dummy tonight that I did!!! Your tips and instructions inspired me to et this show on the road. Thanks a million!

  3. Thanks for your comment. Im sure your first foray into the chalk paint world will be a success! If you are using a DIY version, don't forget to sand with a 220 grit in between and after your final coat. Don't worry if the paint looks mottled or like it has flecks in it, it evens out once you wax it! Good luck!

  4. Help! I found out about chalk paint & decided to give it a try. I will admit the biggest draw was that I read I didn't need to sand first. So bought the paint & plaster of Paris & mixed up my own chalk paint & went to work. I waited two hours between coats & four hours before sanding & applying ploy. Looked great! Brought the desk back inside this morning & like you have said it scratched off very easily. My question to you is now that the desk is done what can I do to fix my mistake?

  5. Hi Brittina, I feel your pain! I had a similar situation happen to me back in the beginning. I ended up sanding back the non-sticking chalkpaint and redoing it. If the piece is just for you (and not for sale) then I wouldn't be as worried as you will probably treat it a bit more gently with that knowledge that it isn't as durable as you would like. I have an armoire I painted two years ago and I can still scatch off the chalkpaint (I didn't sand first), but it is holding up fine because we are careful with it. You might find that with more cure time (a few weeks) that the paint and poly will manage to get a bit more tooth into the surface and stick better and not scratch off as won't be perfect, but it might be a bit better.

    Another option is to build up that hard layer of poly by putting on a few more coats (especially on the areas that will get the most use like the top). Poly is quite hard, and although it isn't going to make the paint under it stick better to the surface of the desk, it will make it less likely that you will be able to dig through it to get at the paint.

    Apart from sanding the paint off and redoing the piece, Id say that is the best option. Realistically you aren't going to go around scrapping your nail across the piece, so if you build up the poly layers and treat it a bit more carefully, it should be ok. If it has a flat top (which I assume is the area that will get the most use), you could always redo that part pretty easily. Use an orbital sander to remove the poly/paint, make sure to scuff sand the original finish to remove the sheen, and then redo it...not fun, but an option to make the top more durable.

    I absolutely hate sanding because it is so time consuming to sand and then to clean all the dust off, but I always do it because I find that the paint always sticks better (despite the claims). Good luck, I hope I helped a bit!

  6. I have a couple questions, instead of buying an expensive paint and turning it into a chalk paint, would it be just as good or better to buy an already made up chalk paint like cece or annie sloan? is the BIN primer an oil based primer or waterbased?

  7. I have a couple questions, instead of buying an expensive paint and turning it into a chalk paint, would it be just as good or better to buy an already made up chalk paint like cece or annie sloan? is the BIN primer an oil based primer or waterbased?

  8. Hi Rhonda, Im super late in responding to this, but its a good question. I buy a lot of my paints as mistints. I also get my Diamond when they do the BOGO sales, so it is more economical for me. A quart of chalk paint is $45 for us here. I get two gallons of diamond for $80 with the BOGO. I also buy gallons of mistints for between $10-$20 and then I tweak the colours by adding tint which I get directly from the paint store. This way I can create lots of colours and keep my costs low at this same time. I only use chalk paint on certain pieces, so this way I don't need to buy two separate types of paint.

    The BIN is actually a shellac based primer. It is the best. Search any painters/wood workers forums online and you will see that most professional painters put their trust in this primer above all else. Don't be lured in by the Kahlua-esque smell - you really need to use a respirator. If you spray your furniture then you probably already have one on hand!

    Thanks for stopping by!