10 Tips for Using Chalk Style Paint

Woman painting a chair with chalky finish paint

 The Spruce / Jordan Provost

With its supple texture and seductive colors, chalk paint transforms ordinary items like thrift store furniture into eye-catching art pieces. Odorless and naturally free of VOCs, chalk paint is a joy to work with and helps to revive old items or make new ones look fabulously old.

Chalk style paint behaves differently from conventional paint since it has a mineral content that places it closer to lime wash than to latex paints. With a fast drying time and the option of a final wax finish, chalk paint tends to operate under its own set of rules. With these tips, though, you can easily create unique refreshed furniture with a stunning look—and with that signature chalk paint velvet texture.


How to Transform a Piece of Furniture With Chalky Finish Paint

Go Easy on the Prep Work

Paint guides typically stress the need for extensive cleaning and other prepping of surfaces before applying paint. Yet if there's one aspect of painting that most people don't like, it's the prep work.

So, you might be delighted to learn that chalk paint is remarkably good at sticking to problem surfaces. Sanding, cleaning, and priming can be avoided in most instances—especially helpful with old, antique pieces that you may have picked up along the way.

Clean and sand when you have surface-threatening issues like:

  • Heavy grease
  • Wood sap
  • Moss or dried moss
  • Mildew or mold spots

Use Different Brush Strokes for Varied Effects

Be creative with your chalk paint brush strokes for entirely different looks. For all stroke techniques, complete a local area before moving to the adjacent area. Be sure to work rapidly.

  • Cross-hatch: For a faux linen effect, brush an area vertically and follow on top with horizontal strokes.
  • Stipple: To create low peaks and valleys, lay down the paint thickly in a small area and follow by dabbing with the bristles.
  • Feather: For a smooth surface, brush the paint in a small area and quickly follow with additional delicate parallel strokes on top.

Distress Carefully With Fine Sandpaper

Distressing is a technique that creates the illusion of age on wood surfaces. Avoid distressing all areas of the furniture equally. Instead, think about authentic vintage furniture and these pieces would have been used.

Consider the areas that would receive the most amount of wear and tear: 90-degree edges, handles and pulls, high spots, horizontal work surfaces; chair seats; chair armrests, and corners.

Wrap fine-grit sandpaper such as #220 around a wood block or purchase a foam sanding block. Apply light pressure when sanding these areas, since you can always go back and intensify the distressed areas with more sanding. This looks especially nice on items like candlesticks and dressers.

Distressed wood furniture
Photoboyko​ / Getty Images  

Apply Thin Coats of Chalk Paint on Slick Surfaces

Wood's open pores are ideal for capturing paint and helping it firmly stick. Slick, shiny items such as honed stone, metal, and ceramic tile lack pores, so you must apply the chalk paint with a different technique.

After thinning down the chalk paint with water, apply a thin coat to the work material, brushing in all directions. Make sure that the entire surface is covered.

After letting the paint dry for several hours, thin down the paint in the can if needed and apply a light feather coat to the surface. Smooth away brush marks by feathering lightly with the top of the brush.

Create a Two-Color Distress for Greater Depth

Chalk-painted furniture with eye-catching depth is often achieved with the two-color distress technique.

Sanding sections of single-layer paint reveals only wood underneath. Yet by laying down two different colors and delicately sanding down key sections of the top paint layer, you will expose that lower color layer, not wood. Using a darker color for the bottom layer will produce maximum depth when contrasted with a lighter top layer.

Apply Wax for a Supple Texture

Chalk paint alone results in a texture that, true to its name, feels chalky and dry. An application of special chalk paint wax protects the finish and gives it a pleasing soap-like feel.

Apply the wax with a brush or lint-free cloth. Wipe off excess wax with a fresh lint-free cloth. The wax will look white in the container but it applies clear, so do not worry about its initial appearance.

Dry-Brush to Blend Top and Bottom Colors

When the piece has an existing lower color that you would like to blend with an upper color, use the dry-brush technique.

Touch the tips of the bristles into the chalk paint. Remove from the paint and hold the brush away from the workpiece for a few seconds to allow the chalk paint to reach a drier consistency on the brush. Then firmly brush over the work surface.

Since the chalk paint is fairly dry, it is virtually impossible to ruin the lower level with too much paint.

Obtain an Ultra-Smooth Finish by Sanding

Though chalk paint is often associated with a heavily textured, weathered look, it can also go in the other direction and produce a sleek appearance for surfaces such as cabinet doors.

Chalk paint's mineral content makes it easy to sand down, and this is key to producing a smooth finish. The idea is to sand the chalk paint with gradually finer grits of sandpaper until the final grit is relatively smooth.

  1. Paint a thin coat on the item with a high-quality brush or low-nap foam or velour paint roller.
  2. Let the paint thoroughly cure. While chalk paint dries to the touch within an hour or two, you'll usually want to wait a full day before sanding.
  3. Sand lightly with fine-grit #220 sandpaper. Your aim is not to sand through the paint layer (as with the two-color distress technique) but to flatten the brush strokes or stipples.
  4. Brush or roll on a second coat.
  5. Sand again to a smooth finish. An even finer grit of sandpaper, #320, will help to produce a smoother finish.
  6. Final sanding of the chalk paint can be with something other than sandpaper: the scrubbing side of a sponge, white paper, or undyed cloth.

Easily Thin or Thicken Chalk Paint

Chalk paint is water-based, rendering it easy to thin and thicken.

Thin the chalk paint with small amounts of cool water. Slowly stir the paint while adding the water.

Unlike latex paint, which develops a skin when the paint can lid is left open, chalk paint has no such properties. This means that you can thicken it simply by leaving the lid open, then stirring. During this time, water evaporates from the mixture, slightly changing the ratio of chalk paint mix to water.

Another way to thicken chalk paint is to add more dry mixture. This isn't possible if you purchased pre-mixed chalk paint. But if you bought it as a dry mix, simply tap in a little extra dry mix while stirring.

Consider All Brands of Chalk-Style Paint

In 1990, Annie Sloan created Chalk Paint in part because she needed a paint that would dry extremely fast. Even though her company is the only one that makes the product called Chalk Paint, other paint manufacturers have since developed similar chalk-style paint products.