{diy with style} My First Time Using Chalk Paint - Challenges but Ultimate Success

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Let me start by saying that I am no expert when it comes to painting furniture. In fact, that is an understatement! I had a bad experience back in law school when I cluelessly painted a cheap wood-laminate bookshelf using latex paint... the first coat went on ok, but when I tried to paint the second coat, each brush stroke just peeled up the paint from the first coat. It was a hot mess and I vowed that I would never paint furniture again!

Fast forward ten years and I had gained a lot DIY skills and understood how silly I was to ever think I could paint a laminant surface without sanding or priming! But sanding and priming sounded like an awful lot of work, so I continued with my vow to not paint furniture. 

Around this same time I started reading blogs and learned about a new {new to me, anyway} product called chalk paint. It seemed to be all the rage and everyone was using it to paint gorgeous pieces of furniture. It looked cool, but I was always confused about why people would want chalkboard paint on their dressers and chairs. It was one of those questions that always lingered in my mind, but that I never asked out loud because somehow I knew that I was missing something and that asking the question would draw attention to my naïveté. 

Finally, I took the time to do some internet research and figured out that chalk paint and chalkboard paint are NOT the same thing! Even more importantly, I learned that with this amazing product called chalk paint, you can actually paint without the dreaded sanding and the extra step of priming. And just like that I no longer had any excuse not to try painting furniture again. 

I now have one successful project under my belt, and while I am definitely still not an expert furniture painter, I am not longer so intimidated, and I can even share a few tips for other newbies out there. So here's my chalk paint story of challenges but ultimate success...

We purchased a Hemnes dresser in black-brown from Ikea for Beckett's "big boy" room because both the size and the price were just right, but with so much other dark furniture going into the room, I wanted to do something to lighten up the dresser a bit. I thought about painting the entire dresser grey, but once we settled on a blue grey for the walls, I thought the whole thing in grey might not be the best choice. In the end, I decided to paint just the drawer fronts grey. I love way it looks, and it allowed me to dip my toes in the world of painting furniture with a small and manageable project.

I have heard wonderful things about the Annie Sloan line of chalk paint, but recently I had read a few positive reviews of a new brand of chalk paint by DecoArt called Americana Decor Chalky Finish. The price was considerably less than the Annie Sloan brand, and the color options similar, so I decided to give the Americana Decor chalk paint a go, and I selected a light grey color called Yesteryear.

I felt like I was doing something wrong by just sitting down to paint without any prep work, but the first coat went on like a charm and I could feel it gripping to the surface of the drawers. By the time I painted all 8 drawer fronts, the first ones were already quite dry and ready for a second coat. After three coats {over the course of 2 days}, the drawers were a nice solid light grey color.

I followed all of the instructions and made sure to work in long, continuous strokes from one end of the drawer to the other {rather than in short overlapping sections}. After 3 coats of paint, I had achieved good coverage, but I was distressed by the number of brushstrokes  I was seeing. I thought surely I must be doing something wrong, because I had read many tutorials saying that while brushstrokes may initially be visible, they will disappear as the paint drys. Unfortunately, after my paint dried, the brushstrokes were still there. Here's a close up so you can get a better idea of what I'm talking about.

I followed the painting instructions, applied thin coats, used an inexpensive chip brush {as was recommended by all the tutorials I read} ... but I wasn't getting that nice smooth finish I had expected. I thought maybe I was discovering the hard way why the Americana Decor chalk paint is so much less expensive than the Annie Sloan paint. Either that or I was doing something wrong {which I assumed was a good possibility seeing as how this was my first attempt with chalk paint}.

I grabbed out the computer and did some research to figure it out. I came across a great blog post by Emily of Decorchick {who I totally trust and respect}, and learned that she had the same experience - too many brushstrokes even though she had used the Annie Sloan brand! So maybe it wasn't the brand of paint after all. Emily shared that she had sanded between coats, and that the paint felt nice and smooth, but that the appearance of brushstrokes remained. The comments on Emily's blog post were enlightening, with several people pointing out that chalk paint is often used to achieve a distressed look {with the several colors of paint dry brushed over one another, edges sanded down and several coats of dark and light wax finishes used to add color variation and "age"}, and that perhaps the layering of different techniques goes a long way to minimizing the look of the brushstrokes. That makes perfect sense, but I was going for more of a modern look, so it was back to the drawing board for me.

I grabbed out my sandpaper and went to town on the drawers. After sanding, the drawers were going to need another coat of paint, but I wasn't about to reapply the paint with the same brush or I would end up right back in the same spot. All of the instructions I read said explicitly not to use a roller with this paint, but I am a rebel I was feeling desperate, so I grabbed out a small foam roller and went for it.

Imagine my relief when the paint dried and I was left with a perfectly smooth finish! I was thrilled, but a little confused.

Why all the fuss about not using a roller when I got such great results? I knew I'd be writing about my experience here, and I don't want to lead you astray with bad advice, so I wanted to find out if there was a reason I should be warning you off of using a paint roller. Here's the best explanation I was able to find - chalk paint is not cheap and paint rollers suck up {read: waste} a lot of paint. That makes sense, and is obviously more of a concern if you are using the Annie Sloan brand which is more than twice as expensive as the DecorArt chalk paint.

Despite my frustrations along the way, in the end I actually think I stumbled my way into an ideal solution... Step 1: apply two or three coats of chalk paint with a paintbrush to get good, solid coverage. Step 2: Sand down the brushstrokes. Step 3: Use a foam roller to apply a final coat of paint. By only using the roller for the final coat, I minimized paint waste, but still got the nice, smooth finish I wanted. Now if you are able to achieve a smooth finish with just a brush alone - even better, but if not, then hopefully my experience will help you achieve your desired result!

Ok, now let's talk about the final step in the chalk paint process - the wax. Because chalk paint has a dull, matte finish, it is recommended that you apply a wax after the paint is completely dry.

The wax can serve several purposes. If you are going for an antique look, a dark color of wax provides an aged patina. On the other hand, a clear creme wax simply eliminates the dull, chalky appearance and brings out the color of the paint - but more importantly it acts as a sealer that prevents the dry chalk paint from cracking or scratching over time.

I purchased the recommended waxing brush from Home Depot {by far the most expensive part of this entire project at about $22}. I don't know if this expensive brush was really necessary, but I was happy with the wax finish when I was done. Here's a photo of one of the drawers with wax on the back half, and no wax on the front half to give you a better idea of how the wax enhances {and slightly darkens} the color. You'll also notice in this photo that I opted to apply the wax in continuous strokes the short way across the drawers, rather than the long way.

While the creme wax takes away the "chalky" appearance of the chalk paint, it still dries with a matte finish. I was happy with this matte look, so I stopped here. But if you prefer a bit more shine, use a clean cloth to buff the wax after it is dry. The more you buff, the shinier the finish will become.

So, as the title of this post suggests, despite my brushstroke challenges, I am really happy with the way my painted drawers ultimately turned out, and I love they way they contrast against the dark dresser. Of course, the dresser wouldn't be complete without the leather belt drawer pulls - and I'll give you lowdown on those very soon.

Click here to see even more pictures of the dresser in the completed room.

Bottom line - would I paint with the Americana Decor chalk paint again? Without a doubt. And maybe next time I'll even be brave enough to paint an entire piece of furniture.

The links below include all of the other projects that went into the creation of the Vintage Preppy Little Gentleman's Lounge:


  1. I loved reading your experience! I've only used chalk paint a few times and did a first-time review too (http://craftivitydesigns.blogspot.com/2013/05/shes-got-curves-nighstand-makeover-with.html). I didn't buy the wax brush and used Annie Sloan, so it was great to hear your perspective on Americana Decor. I'd like to have a cheaper option than ASCP :) Your dresser looks great -- I love the leather straps.
    Lora @ Craftivity Designs

  2. Wow, there are so many great tips on here! Funny but I never realized you arn't supposed to use a roller with chalk paint {oops} and always use one when using my homemade chalk paint, but then that's not as expensive so I don't really mind. I mixed half of my homemade chalk paint with half regular latex paint on my navy dresser {I wanted a more modern look on that too} and think it turned out really well. This is such a great post, thanks for sharing it over at The Makers! Pinned :)

  3. Great tips! I'm starting a chalk painting tommorow, so it's good to find out sth new about it.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Bonjour,
    Quelle agréable surprise de découvrir votre blog,
    Ques de belles idées et de créations,
    Bonnes inspirations pour vos proc

  6. Bonjour,
    Quelle surprise de découvrir votre blog....que de belles idées et de créations,
    Bonnes inspirations pour vos prochaines réalisations

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Great post. It's very nice to chalk painting. I salute to the admin of this blog. I really like and I will surely recommend this blog to my friends.

  9. Just finished the 2nd coat on my kitchen table. Brush strokes are horrible. I am about to head to the store for a foam roller. I am over it. I'll brush the rest of chairs to eliminate the waste and roll the last coat in hopes of a smoother finish.

    The amount of money and time I have spent tells me I was far better off buying that already finished pc that was exactly what I wanted. I can't even find enjoyment in finishing furniture b/c it is such a hassle and so expensive.

    1. What brand of chalk paint are you using? I am painting a desk today and I'm using the Rust-Oleum Chalked paint for the first time. I am pleasantly surprised at how few brushstrokes I'm getting, and how well it covers! It says it's one coat coverage, and it looks like I'm only going to have to do a second coat in a couple small areas that need touch up. I know that doesn't help you this time around, but I definitely think it's worth a try if you decide to paint something else!

  10. Hi, thank you so much in making me want to finally decorate my home how i visioned it. I just came in from doing my first project. I want to paint my daughters small bookshelf in grape purple, so i primed it first. Is it normal to finish a WHOLE can of primer on a small bookshelf or did i go overboard?

  11. Hi Angela,
    Any advice on the sand paper grit type you might use, and also how thick of a roller to use?

    1. Good questions - I'll have to add that info to the post. I used an extrafine grit sandpaper (grit in the range of 240-400), and while the roller I used had a bit of nap to it, after using this method a few more times, I would instead recommend a high density foam roller because it will give you the smoothest coverage.

  12. Thank you for sharing great tips

  13. Thanks for sharing this! I was at my wits end painting a coffee table with the rust-olem and I've tried everything not to get streaks. Including starting from scratch and sandpaper in between coats. I was about ready to through my chalk painting brushes away. But before I did I came across this blog. I realized I had a foam roller in my garage, and I worked!!! No brush strokes! I haven't a clue to what other people are doing , maybe it is the paint...but I'll be sticking to the foam brushes as my final coat when looking for smooth finishes. Thanks

  14. Thank you so much for this... I too (like the commenter above) am working with the Rust-oleum Chalked paint and I was going to try sanding and using the roller brush on my top coat. I am painting my dining room table which has a pedestal bottom and incidentally, the curved pieces don't show the brush strokes at all! Go figure... So glad to hear that this method is working for everyone :)

  15. Another option is when you go to put down your last coat, water it down some and use a regular brush. The water really helps smooth it out! I used a regular brush, and then an artists brush for the details. I'm going to go today and get a slightly smaller brush as the 2inch that I was using (Rubbermaid Stubby angled) works great but stinks in the smaller areas. As for the waxing brushes, you don't really require them. You can get cheaper ones at Joann's, but every pro I know either uses a basic wax brush or just a dry cloth. Or even a cheapie foam brush! :D


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