Gesso/Chalk Paint for Furniture


gesso-hallrack1.jpgChalk Paint has experienced a popular revival in recent years, especially in Europe. The secret of the finish is that it's actually a traditional gesso coating. Traditional Gesso for furniture is a multi-coat application that produces a lovely, chalk matte appearance with material depth unlike simple white paint. Although traditionally white, Gesso or Chalk Paint can be tinted with any pigment color to produce soft shades.

This finish works best on new wood that is porous and soft such as pine or ash. It's excellent on furniture that has intricate detailing or carving as those details can be highlighted. A finish on top with our Roman Beeswax Polish can also add interest when pigment or mica is added to create a patina or accent carved details. It can also be sanded to produce a distressed look, built up or carved to create details. It also creates the perfect background for painted details.

We also have a quick and simple recipe for Imitation Gesso for Furniture using simple PVA glue and Whiting Chalk. It possesses different qualities, but it's still an excellent and strong finish.

Basic Recipe


  • 1 heat-resistant bowl
  • 1 saucepan large enough for the bowl to sit in
  • Hot water
  • Metal spoon for stirring
  • Kitchen thermometer
  • Fine sieve
  • Paint Brush
  • Fine Grit Sandpaper (300 or 400 grit)

Ingredients for Gesso

If you wish to pigment the gesso, here are some tips for mixing the color in smoothly:

  • Mix the dry pigment into the dry Chalk Whiting by shaking both in a jar, or stirring well in a bowl, (use a whisk).
  • Ratio of pigment in the Chalk Whiting depends on how strong of a tint you want. For example, 50 grams of pigment in two cups of Chalk Whiting will produce quite a strong tint, while much less will produce a lovely patina. Oxides will tint stronger with less pigment. Ochers and Natural Earth Pigments can produce lovely pastel shades or a natural patina.
  • If you want to produce a brown patina, try one of the Umbers in a small amount. If you want a yellowish white, try Dark Yellow Ocher in a small amount. If you want a brilliantly white gesso, add 1 tsp Ultramarine Blue for every two cups of Chalk Whiting. If you wish to use Mica, don't add it to the gesso as the particles will become buried. Use Micas only in the finish wax.
  • For darker tints or to enhance a patina effect, add additional pigment to your finish wax.
  • If you don't like the color on your first coat, adjust your ratio and cover it with subsequent coats.
  • When sanding pigmented Gesso, the color will become lighter. Once the final wax finish coat is applied, the color will return to its original saturation and appear as it did before sanding.

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Making the Glue Solution.

Be sure your bowl is large enough to accommodate the amount of gesso solution you wish to make. Fill the bowl with 10 parts water. Stir in Rabbit Skin Glue and allow it to soak for at least ½ hour to overnight. Place the bowl over a saucepan of water that allows the bowl to rest on top, but not touch the water. Bring the water to a gentle boil to heat the glue solution to 140º F while gently stirring to dissolve all the granules. It will be necessary to keep the gesso warm while working with it.

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Priming Coat

Using this glue solution, brush a priming coat over the bare wood. This first coat will dry quickly. Use the remaining glue solution to create the gesso.

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Add the Whiting Chalk

While gently stirring the glue solution (you don't want to create foam or bubbles) slowly add Whiting Chalk to the warm glue solution. Don't dump the entire contents in but add in small increments, making sure it is completely incorporated before adding more.

Continue adding Whiting Chalk until it reaches the consistency of thick cream. It may not be necessary to add the entire ratio of Whiting. Before painting, it can be helpful to pour the chalk paint through a fine sieve to remove any lumps. You are now ready to apply your first coat.

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Applying the Gesso

Keep your solution warm while applying. Keep it warm but do not exceed 140º F. If allowed to cool it will become thick and unworkable. If it does, simply reheat to achieve the proper consistency. It may be necessary to add a small amount of water during the application process if the solution becomes too thick.

Brush the Gesso onto the dry, primed surface and allow it to completely dry. Sand in between all coats. Brush each subsequent coat in the opposite direction of the previous one until you have applied 4 Gesso coats. Do a final sanding and remove excess dust.

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Applying the Wax Finish Coat

Gesso finishes must be waxed in order to protect them from grease and water stains. Our Roman Beeswax Polish is the perfect wax for both white and colored Gessoes. If pigment is used in the Gesso, you can add pigment to the final wax finish in order to prevent white wax from depositing in cracks, crevises and carving details. Use Micas and pigments in a ratio of 1 part mica or pigment to 3 to 5 parts wax for highlighting details, creating a patina or to enhance a colored Gesso.