Crackle Paint Your Trim and Moldings for a Faux Antique Look

A little more than 15 years ago, I rented a house in Illinois farm country because I loved the living room, done up with barn board. Although the walls were all authentic barn board slats, unpainted and worn, the trim and moldings were all just dark stained. The look just wasn’t right in my eyes, so I had my Uncle Max take a look at it. Max had recently retired, moved out of the city, and built his own country house on a plot of land he bought with his savings. As far as carpentry goes, he always knew what he was talking about. He suggested a crackle paint job on the trim. I followed his instructions, and knew right away that once again, Uncle Max was right. Today, more than ever, crackle paint styles are popular and in demand, so I thought it would be prudent to share the steps I took to complete this job.

First of all, my Uncle Max didn’t believe in buying more than was absolutely necessary and going to scratch as much as possible, including cutting down the trees if need be. Although you can buy readymade crackle application, I will always respect Uncle Max by recommending that it never be used. You can expect to pay between $15.00 and $25.00 for a pint of crackle paint in the store or online. Amazon.com lists a pint of “Antique Crackle” for $22.50. A pint is good for 12-30 square feet depending on the amount of crackle needed. At the time, I did my job, I was still a college student and this was just way out of my budget. With today’s economy the way it is, I know a lot of people are in a financial bind, but this doesn’t have to stop you from redecorating and keeping your life fresh.

My Uncle Max gave me this recipe to make your own crackle mix inexpensively using nothing more than plain old Elmer’s glue as base. This is the same cheap white stuff that you used to take to elementary school and the slow kid in class would always try to eat. You can now pick up a pint of white glue at office depot for $4.00. Use their brand; it’s just as effective as Elmer’s.

Empty the glue into a mixing bucket or bowl. To the glue, add Ã?½ teaspoon (just a couple drops) of dishwashing soap and Ã?½ cup of room temperature water. Stir slowly until well combined. Water can be added incrementally to adjust thickness. You don’t want it too thick, that it globs or too thin that it won’t stick. Test the thickness on scrap boards to see what works for you. The thickness will also determine the size of the cracks in the crackle. Cover this mix and set aside until needed.

The first step, in this endeavor and others, is protection. You will want to use painter’s tape around the trim and moldings to catch any goofs or stray drops of paint. Once your painting area is defined, apply a base coat of paint. This is the undercoat and it will show through, so you want it to contrast with the topcoat. On my project, I used a dark brown for my base and eggshell for the topcoat, but fun colors work just as well, such as blue and green, red and yellow, or even silver and black.

Allow the basecoat to dry. Some people I have talked to suggest a polyurethane coating over the base, but I don’t recommend this because we will be applying a coat at the end of the project that will cover everything. The base coat must be completely dry, so don’t proceed to the next step until 24 hours later.

Once the base is dry, take out the crackle mixture we prepared and stir it to a creamy smoothness. I suggest applying the glue mix with a flat brush that will get into any crevices in the moldings and trim. I like to use strokes all the same direction. You can mix up the direction, but remember, the paint will crack in the direction of your stroke. Let the crackle coat dry a little, but not completely. 1-2 hours is plenty of time.

We are now ready for the topcoat. For best results, always use a flat acrylic paint for the top coat. This will give you the best results for cracking. Only apply one coat. Do not overlap coats or even brushstrokes, or your crackle will either not crack or give you spotty results. Believe me, you will not be happy. Allow the coat to dry for 4 hours. The cracks will be apparent. When you are happy with the results, use a spray polyurethane to seal the results together and keep the paint from completely peeling off.

There are so many variations to this technique, it is impossible to name them all. I suggest testing thickness of your crackle mix, brush strokes and dry time in various degrees until you get the results you desire.

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