Shellac Trick w/Milk Paint!

Ive been using shellac for a few years now, clear shellac works perfect for blocking bleed through on painted pieces and is also great for sealing in musty smells on furniture.  It goes on clear and dries super fast.  Its an awesome product with lots of uses.

BUT, about 6 months ago i was playing around as i like to do, and figured out some cool stuff that it does with milk paint.  It was purely by accident as all the best discoveries are!

I’ve been hesitant to post the info because im still experimenting with it – but i think i have enough info to share with ya now :)

DISCLOSURE:  For the most part my shellac trick has worked great on the things im going to tell you about.  BUT, milk paint still has a tendency to do its own thing even with the shellac and i cant guarantee that its going to come out like the examples that i have.  Like i said, ive been using it for about 6 months now and these are my general conclusions.  Please test on your own piece before doing the whole thing!!


K – this is what i use….

Zinsser clear shellac.  Its about $7.50 a can and is just in the stain isle at home depot or lowes.  You can also get it in quarts or gallons.

Sweet Pickins Milk Paint - Shellac trick w/milk paint

And this is what i have found….

1.  Using shellac as a “primer” for milk paint

If i have a piece that is really shiny with a smooth finish on it, then i use the shellac rather than using Extra Bond with my milk paint to get a perfect chippy and sometimes crackly finish.  It is normally recommended when painting over something with a high shine to use the extra bond to ensure adhesion, in this case im using the shellac as a “primer” for my milk paint.  The pic below shows an antique dresser with a thick lacquered (or shellacked?) original clear coat and it was pretty shiny.    I sprayed the piece twice with shellac and let it dry in between coats.  The shellac dries pretty quick, so this goes really fast.  I normally just do 2 coats so i can make sure that i have covered the entire surface.

I have found, if i let the shellac completely dry (only about 5 minutes depending on the outside temp) before putting on my milk paint, then i will get the “perfect chippy” look with the milk paint.  If i paint on my milk paint while the shellac is still a bit tacky (over a previously stained piece) then the milk paint will come off in bigger chips.  So it would just depend on the look that your going for.

Now why use shellac rather than just using the Extra Bond?  

 – Because with shellac the milk paint has a tendency to chip because its resisting the surface.  If i added the bond, i most likely wouldn’t get any chipping.  I have found with the shellac i get chipping almost every time when im painting over a previously stained piece.    The shellac also does really cool things with giving a crackly/alligatored finish.

Sweet Pickins Milk Paint - Shellac trick w/milk paint

How do i know i wouldn’t have just got this “chippy” if i skipped the shellac and the Extra Bond?

 – I don’t for sure.  Actually, i do know i wouldn’t have gotten this chippy with the bond because i rarely get any chipping when ive added the bond.  But i know from experience, if i had of just painted this piece with no shellac and no bond, then most likely the paint wouldn’t have adhered as well as it did and i most likely would have gotten bigger “chips” in the paint instead of smaller chipping all over.  I know this because the piece had a high shine to it and wasn’t porous at all, the old finish was in really good shape.  (to see a post about using Extra Bond, click here)

Sweet Pickins Milk Paint - Shellac trick w/milk paint

This pic below shows a piece when i was experimenting with the shellac and tried both ways on one piece.   I had started painting the piece with extra bond (and no shellac) on the right hand side and you can see that i didn’t get any chipping with the milk paint.  I then sprayed the left hand side with a couple coats of clear shellac and then painted milk paint over it (with no extra bond) and you can see that i got light chipping all over.    The paint still stuck really well overall, but i did get the chipping that i like.  This was a piece from the 70ies with a thick lacquered clear coat, im almost positive that if i skipped the bond and the shellac and just used straight milk paint, all my paint would have just flaked off.

Sweet Pickins Milk Paint - Shellac trick w/milk paint

2.  Shellac over metal with no Extra Bond

I have found that the shellac trick works well with metal too.  I don’t have a finished piece to show of this one, but i will post pics soon.  I just wanted to include this in my findings so far :)

Rather than using the extra bond mixed with milk paint, i sprayed the shellac 1st onto the shiny painted metal, then milk painted and the paint stuck very well, i was really surprised.    My hopes were that i would still get chipping with the shellac over the metal rather then using the extra bond and not getting any chipping.  I’m still experimenting with metal and i only did these couple of pieces.  I need to finish up the project and let you know if i get any chipping!

(piece on the left is sprayed with shellac 1st, painted with no extra bond.  piece on the right is painted with no shellac and no bond, clearly it didn’t stick!!)

Sweet Pickins Milk Paint - Shellac trick w/milk paint

3.  Shellac over a previously painted piece

When painting over a previously painted piece, i have found that if you spray shellac over the old finish before milk painting,  then you get this amazing crackling!  This has worked for me every time ive tried this so far and i love it!

So far when spraying shellac 1st over an old (or newly) painted finish, i haven’t gotten a ton of chipping, just a lot of crackling which looks really good, especially when dark waxed.

I’ve also noticed that when i spray shellac over previously painted finishes, it seals in that layer of paint and it keeps it from chipping up with the 1st layer of milk paint.  Otherwise, the 1st layer of milk paint if it chipped, would most likely take the old paint finish with it.  Again, it would just depend on the look that your going for.

Sweet Pickins Milk Paint - Shellac trick w/milk paint

4.  Shellac under milk paint with Extra Bond

I had one instance when i used the Extra Bond on a newer piece of furniture and i still wasn’t getting good adhesion on a couple of spots.  I ended up spraying some shellac on the spots and then going back over those spots with milk paint mixed with Extra Bond and the paint stuck really well.  I ended up finding out that my milk paint with the bond wasn’t adhering because there was a thick coat of waxy furniture polish over the whole thing – ugghhh!!!  But the bond in the milk paint along with spraying it with shellac 1st made the paint stick like crazy!

So im thinking that if you had a really “iffy” surface that you were trying to paint (plastic or a high shine laminate) that it may be beneficial to spray the shellac 1st in addition to adding Extra Bond to your milk paint.

5.  Shellac as your final coat over milk paint

One of the great things about milk paint is that you can use any top coat on the market to seal in the paint and protect it from getting dirty.  Shellac is perfect for a top coat and is super durable.  You want to be careful though about using it over whites as the shellac does have a yellow cast to it and can make your white colors look yellow.  I would most likely test in a spot over any color your using it over and make sure you are ok with the final color.  Shellac really deepens and brightens up milk paint and brings out all the multi-tonal qualities that are characteristic of milk paint.

6.  Shellac as a stain/bleed through blocker and odor concealer

Shellac works perfect for blocking bleed through on any piece your going to paint.  If you have a piece that has an old red stain to it that keeps coming through your paint, shellac works really well to block it from coming through.  Even if you have started painting your piece with milk paint and didnt use shellac, you can use shellac between coats of milk paint and the milk paint will still adhere fine.  Normally for strong bleed through, you might need to give it 5-8 coats.  But it dries really quick so it wont take long at all.

Shellac is also great for blocking smelly odors.  It works great for inside of old trunks or dresser drawers.  Just give it a couple coats and it should seal in those old odors and block them from coming through.


So, in conclusion, i love the shellac under milk paint because it really helps give me that overall chippy look on pieces that i normally would have used the Extra Bond on.  The shellac seems to get me the perfect chippy look but i still get good adhesion on most of the piece.  I will still keep trying it out and trying new things with it and let you know what i find out!!