Naturally Refinishing A table made from reclaimed wood

Reclaimed wood

When somebody says they're interested in reclaimed wood, they are referring to a process where lumber has been removed from an old structure or industry that is no longer in use and is recycled into home decor and furniture. This wood is generally naturally patined and the species of wood ranges from Longleaf Pine, red oak, redwood, American Chestnut, poplar, hickory, and others. There is large demand for reclaimed wood furniture and home furnishings but the supply of these once popular species of wood is quickly diminishing.

Milk, LIMe, & Pigment

Millennia ago, craftspeople used curdled milk, hydrated lime, and pigment to create their own natural paint. Hydrated or slaked lime is a basic substance (pH of around 12.4) derived from the compound carbon hydroxide.

The formula to make any paint is binder+solvent+pigment.

Lime is added to the dried milk curd as glue or binder to our paint formula. When the protein is separated from the whey liquid of milk via curdling (this can be done by adding lemon juice or vinegar - acidity - to milk), we use the protein or casein to mix with our slaked lime and dried pigments. It is important to use natural earth pigments for color with the lime due to pH compatibility. After this process of curd separation, we must use the product within days or the binder is no longer suitable for application. The final ingredient to our paint is warm water or the solvent to our formula.

The project

The interior designer and client of this Park Avenue apartment purchased a dining table made of reclaimed wood. They wanted the table to be finished to match the theme of the living room and surrounding artwork.

I suggested to use a natural finish as I did in the sunroom's blue and yellow striped plaster to follow the Moroccan theme. For the table, the idea of a natural slaked lime with milk and dry pigments would provide a natural and optimal finish for the design of the room.

The bone sculptures rest on the unfinished raw reclaimed wood table. We completed the Moroccan-inspired sunroom in the background prior to doing the table. For details on that project, check the link below.
Before photos of the unfinished table

Sample making: The client wanted heavily dispersed pigment to settle in the cracks, so we will make our paint directly on the surface

Pigment settling in the cracks

This is a sample for the client to decide. The options here are 1 coat of wet paint + rubbed dry pigment; 1 coat of wet paint only; and set juxtapose to the unfinished wood

After liking the rubbed pigment into the cracks, we continue the finish

Brushing on wet milk lime to the dry mix on the surface

Wet mix + dry mix completed

Since the designer and client wanted the colorant in the cracks only, using a wet rag in a taut ball rubbing the surface removes the lime

Notice the gloves for protection. With a pH of 12.4, lime will irritate and dry out your skin. It is best to wash skin in an acidic solution of lemon juice or white vinegar to counter the lime.

CompletIng first coat

Once the first coat was applied, we needed to assess the results with the designer and client. We made sure to apply a thin coat, rather than go more opaque, so we could always add more. If we started too opaque and the client didn't like it, the process of removing the paint would not be easy.

Another advantage of using a lime-based paint is the fact that it can be reactivated with water and somewhat removed from the surface. Had we used more industrialized or commercial paint products, adhesion is more permanent and difficult to remove and control translucency.

Completing the first coat

After assessing the table in the evening, the client dislikes the burn marks and darkened areas of the table and wishes for them to be whited out.

A second coat is applied to lessen the intensity of the burn marks and darkened areas of the wood as per the client's wishes.

After the second coat is completed, an application of dead flat protective coating to preserve lime and pigment.

Without the protective coat, the paint would be susceptible to removal in future cleaning treatments.

Gentle wiping of protective coating from the surface. The water still activates the lime and can be slightly removed before protective finish is dry.

Table after thin protective coating added

Final shots of completed project

Completed table with client's bone sculptures in place
Another perspective of completed table
Another perspective of completed table
Table from above chandelier
Visit our Spark Page on transforming the walls of this Morroccan-inspired sunroom by clicking link entitled 'Transformation' and please visit our webpage (links below)
Created By
Jeff Pollastro
All photos taken and owned by Jeff Pollastro of Inchworm Design, Inc.

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