There are several ways to make DIY plaster paint, and certainly some great brands of flat and chalky paint out there as well. This is the way I do it, and I find it covers well and stands up to the wear it gets in our house. I’m excited to share my DIY plaster paint recipe (it’s in the graphic below if you’d like to skip the details) with you, it’s taken a lot of experimenting to get it right. I’m also in love with my upcycled desk, I hope you like it, too.
Just a note – this paint leaves a matte, almost flat finish and the wax will determine the sheen. There is no gloss to it, even though it’s made with latex paint.
A Plaster Paint Safety Note
Regarding Plaster of Paris – I’m not making a recommendation to you to use it, and if you do, you work with it at your own risk. I am simply telling you what works for me, I can’t advise you about your own personal safety. I use a respirator and gloves when working with it, when painting with it, and when sanding something painted with it. The particles are small and as it mixes it causes an exothermic reaction so I don’t breathe it and I don’t put my hands in it. I found this MSDS helpful, and the package contains warnings, as well. I read and heed them and you should, too.
I wasn’t looking for something to turn into upcycled desks when I found this piece of a kid’s desk for $5 in a thrift store in Seattle. Two kind young men wrangled it into my van and I managed to get it home in two pieces. There was a large corner piece sticking out where it presumably attached to more desk, so I cut that off. (It’s still sitting in my garage somewhere because I have a wood hoarding problem.) It served as a desk for my son for a few years and when he outgrew it, it moved to the dining room.
Why Paint Solid Wood?
I don’t normally paint real wood furniture, I usually just clean it up and wax over it (see my vintage dining room chairs). This piece, though, had a paneling back and a corkboard, and I’d have to replace all of that to stain it.
Why Plaster Paint? Is It Chalk Paint?
I decided to paint it using DIY plaster paint which is my go to when I want a soft finish but don’t want to spend a lot of money. I don’t call it
How I Use Plaster Paint
- This paint is a bit thick, I do thin layers for maximum adhesion. I thin it with water as needed; the plaster will become thicker if I’m moving too slowly.
- I add glazing medium or similar (I use a bit of cheap hair conditioner) to be able to blend this paint, it dries super fast. If I want to do something artistic and need blendable paint, I use Annie Sloan chalk paints thinned with water.
- I don’t store the mixture, it doesn’t keep well. I only mix what I’ll be using right away. If you work with it for more than a half-hour or so, you’ll want to wash out your brush and stir the paint well. If you go past an hour you’ll have to thin it with water, but I don’t recommend it. Just mix small batches, and know it dries quickly.
- If I see occasional pieces of dried plaster falling from the brush or surface, I wipe them away and clean the brush with water before I start again.
- If you’d like to see this paint in action in another color, I used it to dress up a canvas in our dining room as well.
Wax Vs. Polyurethane
I don’t typically polyurethane when I use this paint. I know that’s a contentious subject but I love the way wax softens color and finishes a piece and for that, I’m willing to rewax every year or so if needed. I sacrifice some durability, yes, but not as much as I thought I would. Minwax does a fantastic job.
My Plaster Paint Recipe
To make the paint, I thoroughly mix 2 tbs. plaster of Paris with 1 tbs. cold water (I know it’s counterintuitive, but don’t use hot water). Thoroughly = no lumps, so if you need more water, add 1 teaspoon at a time. I stir the mixture completely into a Valspar (my preference, their latex satin works for me) sample pot. I can’t say this will work in other types of paint because I don’t use it in gloss or flat.
I use plastic forks and disposable bowls or glass jars for this process. It works best when fresh and thins and cleans up with water. It’s pretty forgiving overall and the coverage is amazing. I think I could probably use a water mister to blend and keep it working if needed.
I cleaned the desk then sanded the pieces lightly with fine grit paper. To clean, I use a bottle of water and a tiny bit (a couple of drops) of Dawn on already-finished wood. I just dampen a cloth and scrub, then come again with a clean cloth to remove it all and dry. I don’t use vinegar, I find it raises the grain (so if you’re looking for that it’s great but if not, not so much). You can skip the sanding if you like, I just did it lightly for maximum adhesion. Don’t skip the cleaning, though.
I brushed on the Valspar “Tornado Watch” plaster paint full strength with a cheap Harbor Freight or similar chip brush then let dry (in our climate it was about half an hour). I repeated for a second coat.
For the last coat, I mixed paint with white latex to get a lighter color I liked. I brushed that on very lightly with a dry chip brush then immediately wiped it back with a dry cloth, leaving it mostly in the detail work. If any place got too dark or light, I adjusted with paint and wiping until I liked the look.
I’d love to see pictures of furniture you’ve upcycled or refinished, it’s one of my favorite things and one I wish I had more time for.
To see where I get a lot of DIY inspiration, check out my DIY Pinterest board. I’ve been working on it for years, it’s got a LOT of great stuff.