A few months ago, a very generous customer offered to donate their Grandfather’s piano.

It was a beautiful piece of furniture. The color and wood grain was gorgeous and the piano was even in tune…for the most part.

My dad has really enjoyed having the piano in the shop for the past few months because he likes to play it while my mom works and there isn’t anyone in the store.
I was really torn on whether to paint it or leave it; whether to sell it or keep it. I like having a piano for special events but it takes up a ton of merchandise space. It’s been a bit of a battle for me.
Until I had a brilliant idea. I would paint it and keep it…
…as our new life size demonstration of the differences between  Chalk Paint® decorative paint and Milk Paint.

The left side of the piano is painted with Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint in Tricycle Red and the right side is painted with Chalk Paint® decorative paint by Annie Sloan in Emperors Silk

If you look at both the color charts, Tricycle Red and Emperors Silk are comparable shades of red. 

How do we answer the most frequently asked question in the store, “what’s the difference between Chalk Paint® and Milk Paint?”
  • Milk Paint comes in powder form. Each bag makes about one quart of paint, depending on the consistency of your mixture, however you mix it as you go because leftover paint will only keep for a few days until it either hardens or spoils. 
  • Milk Paint is the oldest paint on the market and will give you a truly authentic, primitive look even if you painted with it yesterday. It’s tendency to chip and flake makes it look naturally aged rather than manufactured.
  •  Because you control the consistency of Milk Paint with your mixing process, the paint is incredibly versatile. You can have a watered down version which will act more as a wash and absorb into the wood and grain rather than cover it or you can thicken your mixture with extra powder creating a denser “paste-like” mix that has great coverage.

  • Milk Paint takes multiple coats for adequate coverage (usually). As in the case of the piano, three coats of Milk Paint was applied. 
  • The colors and shades of Milk Paint will look different on different finishes. Therefore, you could paint three pieces in a room the exact same color, but if the original finishes vary from natural wood to a painted finish to a dark wood finish…high gloss versus unfinished…the same batch of Milk Paint will have slight variations in color. Personally, I think that is one of the coolest things about Milk Paint.
  • I always tell customers Milk Paint probably isn’t the paint for you if you are a control freak. It is a paint that demands flexibility because it has a mind of its own and may or may not chip…and it may chip a lot…like really, a lot!!! 
  •  There is no other paint that will give you the natural aged, chippy look. I’ve looked. I’ve tried to manipulate other paints to get that look with no success.

  •  Chalk Paint® comes in traditional quart size cans, ready to be used…no mixing involved.
  • The colors are highly pigmented and (usually) require only one coat of paint. The exceptions are for the whites and brights, you almost always need two coats. But, the mid-tone, warm colors rarely require more than one coat of paint…even over red…even over high gloss dark cherry wood. 
  • What you pay for in product, you save in time. There is no sanding, stripping or priming required.

  • Chalk Paint® is water based, making it extremely easy to manipulate and clean up. Distressing furniture is as easy as using a wet washcloth, damp sanding blocks, baby wipes or fine sand paper. 

  •  Chalk Paint® with a proper wax application is highly durable, water resistant and able to be applied to ANY surface….really! Any! Metal, wood, concrete, laminate, tile, glass, veneer, fabric, leather, drywall…and so on. 

So, when do I differentiate between which paint I should use for a given project?

I use Milk Paint on very old pieces of furniture that have a rich history. I want that old piece to look like it sat in an old farmhouse and was exposed to years of weathering, light exposure and life.

Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint in French Enamel

Vintage Pew in Tricycle Red

 I also use Milk Paint on pieces that I want to have a lot of chipping or a multi-color layered look. 

5-Color finish with Hemp Oil Resist between coats-Lucketts Green, Linen, Shutter Gray, French Enamel and Flow Blue

Chalk Paint® is my go to paint for pieces of furniture that I want to have more control over the finished product.

Provence with no distressing

Chalk Paint® is ideal for decorative finishes…like two-color detailing and stenciling. Because it is so easy to manipulate, you can’t mess it up.

Coco and Old White with Stencil Finish, two-color distress and light distressing

I also use Chalk Paint® when I do an Image Transfer on furniture with Michelle Black. The superior adherence of Chalk Paint® is ideal when transferring the image without having paint chip in the wrong places.

Metal Cabinet in Provence and Old White with Image Transfer Treatment

So, that’s my pitch in regard to the basic differences between Chalk Paint® and Milk Paint and when/why I choose one over the other….in a nutshell. There are always exceptions. It would just take me too long to write about all of those exceptions. 

Feel free to comment below with any questions! I will happily answer any of your paint related questions. And, you can join our knot too shabby painters group on facebook to share projects, ask questions and receive paint-related support.