Replicating A Shaker Finish

The Shakers painted their furniture in a variety of colors, including red, orange, yellow, blue, and brown. Virtually all of these pieces were coated with thin paints in a wash that allowed the wood's grain to show through. To replicate this effect, you can use milk paint or latex paint. Milk paints leave a flat finish that can be stained, oiled, or waxed once the surface is dry. Although milk paint is available as a powder that is added to water, you can prepare your own by blending the ingredients shown in the chart below.

Some Shaker pieces were finished with varnish. To tone down a finish that was too glossy—and showy—Shaker furniture makers rubbed down the surfaces with pumice. The oil-varnish recipe presented below will impart a deep, rich finish without too much gloss, and offer good protection for the wood. For best results, apply the solution with a rag, let it sit on the surface for a few minutes, then rub off the excess with a clean rag. Allow 24 hours for the coat to cure, sand lightly, and repeat, building up the finish in layers. Complete any finish with a coat of good-quality paste wax.


  • 1 part linseed or tung oil
  • 2 parts satin varnish
  • 3 parts steam-distilled turpentine MILK PAINT

Basic formula (yields about 1 quart):

  • IV2 cups skim milk
  • 1 oz. slaked lime
  • 8 oz. plaster of Paris or calcium carbonate Procedure
  1. Sprinkle the lime into the milk and mix for 3 minutes. Stir in the plaster of Paris._
  2. Add coloring, such as artist's pigments or earth pigments used for coloring cement; test the solution on a scrap piece and let it dry.
  3. Let the paint sit for 1 hour, then brush it on, stirring frequently.
  4. Add a thin layer of varnish or shellac to protect the finish. LATEX PAINT

Procedure _

  1. Apply a thin first coat in the desired color to seal the wood and let dry.
  2. Rub the surface with very fine steel wool.
  3. Apply another thin coat of paint and rub with very fine steel wool.
  4. Add a light coat of orange shellac.





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