sealing the crusty counter

Marian ParsonsArtistic Endeavors, Cleaning & care, Favorite Finds45 Comments

I shared this crusty counter I bought off Craig’s List last week…

antique counter | miss mustard seed

It is a fabulous piece, but it was shedding paint chips all over the place and it was dirty and had quite a number of cobwebs hanging out in the drawers and corners.  So, if I’m going to make it functional, it needed a good cleaning and needed to be sealed. Many of you ask how I deal with pieces like this, so I thought I would share.

Before I get into the how, I want direct you to the EPA website for information about working on pieces with lead-based paint.  I am not an expert, but I’ve worked on a lot of old, chippy pieces and I’m always mindful of the dangers of lead.  Please educate yourself before tackling a project like this.

This process is for pieces that do not contain lead-based paint.

My mom and I worked on the piece outside, so we didn’t have to worry about getting dust and paint chips in the house.  We started out by cleaning the piece everywhere.  This involved vacuuming up the cobwebs and loose dirt…

Miss Mustard Seed-0697

…and then scrubbing the piece with a rag and some all-purpose cleaner.  We used 409, but that’s just what we had on hand.

cleaning a chippy piece | miss mustard seed Miss Mustard Seed-0702

After the cleaning, it was looking so much better!

crusty counter after a cleaning | miss mustard seed

Now that it’s clean (relatively, anyway), I sealed the entire piece with a new product we’ll be carrying with our milk paint line.  It’s a water-based, non-yellowing, matte finish top coat called Tough Coat.  It does a lot of things well and one of them is sealing chipping paint.

sealing chippy pieces with tough coat | miss mustard seed

I brushed it liberally over the entire piece.  This is a case when applying something in a thick coat is a good thing.  That way, it can surround and seal the chunky paint chips.

sealing chippy paint | miss mustard seed

I made sure to coat anywhere there was paint, so it would be sealed and further chipping would be prevented.

antique counter | miss mustard seed

There is still a lot of texture to the paint, but it feels much smoother and the paint isn’t flaking off.  I will probably add one more coat for even more insurance against future chipping.  I am also having a glass top cut for it that will be ready next week.  This will make the work surface practical to use and clean.

Miss Mustard Seed-0708

Jeff is going to add some casters to the piece soon, so it will be easy to move around once we get it in the studio.

A good rule of thumb when dealing with antique chippy pieces is to do your homework and only buy pieces that you’re comfortable with.  If you’re concerned at all, it is just not worth it.  If you currently own a piece you’re concerned about, there are in-home test kits that can be used to determine if a piece has lead paint or not.  I’m not saying this to scare you, but just to make sure you’re aware when buying old painted pieces.


Well, we will be laboring on labor day as we move everything into the new studio.  We’ve rented a truck and hired some strapping young guys to make it go a bit easier.  We bought a fridge today and stocked it with waters to get ready.  I also put hand soap and toilet paper in the restroom, so we’re set and something so small like that makes everything feel more official.

I think it’ll be amazing to see how much space we gain in our home once the business is moved out.  I can think of two closets that will be emptied of fabric, boxwood stems and pillow forms.  Exciting stuff…

sealing the crusty counter

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45 Comments on “sealing the crusty counter”

  1. Enjoy your new studio! Exciting! I have been following your blog for a long time…love what you do!

  2. The cabinet is beautiful and I’m so excited for you with your new studio. Looking forward to seeing how it evolves. Good luck with the move! Fiona xx

  3. I checked the EPA website, but I didn’t see anything about sealing the paint such as you have done. I have an old door that I want to use as my pantry door, but it tested positive for lead paint. Would I be better off sealing it (like you) or repainting? I just wonder which is safer…

    1. If the paint isn’t chipping or pealing, you can leave it alone. Sealing or repainting accomplishes the same thing – it coats the surface to prevent chipping, which is when lead paint becomes dangerous. Even when sealed or painted, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the wear of the piece to make sure the paint doesn’t start chipping or pealing again over the years.

  4. Yay!!! So excited to see what you do with your new shop. Do you make your own boxwood topiaries? If so, you should make a tutorial for them :)))

  5. Love That Cabinet! When will “Tough Coat” be available to purchase? It’s just what I need for this cute old work table with great chippy paint & Zinc top I picked up just yesterday at a yard sale. 🙂

  6. I am just head over heals for this counter! It is so rusticy, cottage & perfect! I love the color. Have to be honest, I think I may have a touch of chippy old furniture envy on this one! You are one lucky girl! If u ever have host a market at your new shop & this piece is up for sale I may have to make the trip all the way from Iowa!

  7. I hope “Top Coat” will be on the market soon. I passed on some great old blue, green shutters a few weeks ago because the paint was chipping and peeling so badly.

    On a positive note, I found a great old antique arched window with faded gray paint but no chipping or peeling so all I had to do was vacuum the dust.

  8. I really need the “Top Coat”! I bought HUGE green shutters that are still chipping and I am tired of vacuuming chips every few days. I need something that will hold all the chips in place and still not lose the great chippy quality of the pieces.

  9. The counter looks great! Can’t wait to see what that huge studio space will look like when you fill it up with furniture and “work-in-progress” projects!

  10. Uh-oh! We just painted our kitchen cabinets, and waxed them, except by the stove and dishwasher, where we used hemp oil. Would the Tough Coat have been an option in the kitchen with whites? (I saw that tung oil might make the white paint turn yellow over time.)

    It’s a beautiful studio you’ve got, and the cabinet will be a nice focal point. I’m looking forward to visiting for your special sales and workshops in the future. Enjoy cleaning out your home closets and decorating your new space.

  11. So so in love with your new counter. What la lovely score to begin nesting with in your new space!! I can’t wait to see your new work haven…. It always warms my heart the way your entire famy pitches in, it is an amazing wonderful allegiance to have the support of your entire family.. I own my own business and although they mentally support me. Most of the time when there are physical needs in our business, it’s just my husband and sometimes my kids I can count on. Your family’s emotional and physical support is such a blessing! Enjoy! I am so so happy to see you start this next chapter!! Wishing you much continued success… Thanks for sharing with all of us!

  12. Well, I too NEED the Tough Coat product asap!!!!! I’ve got an old library table on my front porch & it has reached the PERFECT state of chippyness & I’ve been searching for a way to preserve the finish the way it is. When DO you think we’ll be able to get it in our needy lil’ hands????

  13. Great piece! Is the color more blue or green? In some of the pictures it looks a lovely minty green. Which would be a fabulous addition to your color line. You could even call it ‘Crusty Counter Green’. Or Layla Green… I’m just saying. Can’t wait for the tough coat. I have at least three pieces that could use it right now!

  14. Oh my this piece is going to be so much fun in your studio!! Congratulations and have fun setting up!

  15. Isn’t it just amazing how God closes one door and opens another so wide that you just can’t wait to run through? 🙂 I am so happy for you and hope that your new space is everything you need it to be!

  16. Hi Marian, I have a question about your milk paint. I am going to be painting my kitchen cabinets very soon and was wondering how the milk paint would be on them. I hesitate at the thought of using the wax — is there a clear coat to go with the milk paint? Is it the top coat you used above. I want something that will wear well. I want a crisp, bright white look.
    Thanks a bunch

  17. You are just amazing, do you know that? This information is so helpful and even the warning about lead paint is so thoughtful. You really care about what you are doing and it shows. It is so much fun to see what you are working on….Thank you!

  18. Will Tough Coat be a good choice for decoupaging photos onto blocks? and nontoxic? Looking forward to trying it out, when it’s available. Meanwhile, I’m excited for you…wishing you a wonderful fall in your new place. A time to grow!

  19. Great looking cabinet. I’m sure it will look even better when you’re finished with it. Best of luck in your new studio. Waiting for photos!

  20. If we can’t get the Tough Coat right away, what else would you recommend to seal in chippy paint? I bought this awesome painted wood Army foot locker that has the just perfect old patina and chippy look. I want to seal it just in case it is lead paint and to stop it from chipping any further. This post was perfect timing because I came to your site to search how to clean and seal chippy wood!

  21. You may discover that, once you’ve removed all your “studio” stuff to the studio, that the house you were looking for was under your feet all the time. I know, it’s not a farm, but in the meantime, enjoy your Two new spaces.

  22. MMS – do you have any suggestions for how to get rid of the “old” smell of a piece…even after scrubbing, bleaching and leaving in the sun to try to rid the piece of smell?

    1. While renovating our 1910 home, we uncovered some original wall paper. We left it at that stage for about a year and went on to other items. My 14 month old loved the patterns on the wall paper and always picked little pieces off and stuffed them in his mouth. After quite a few resperitory problems, our dr ran some tests on him and found that He had very high lead levels in his blood. It turns out that lead paint is sweet tasting and children are attracted to the taste. Old paint whether it be on wall paper, toys, window sills or walls should be removed or sealed properly. This won’t stop me from my love of old homes and working on vintage furniture. It’s just a precaution you should be aware of with your little ones.

      1. Oh my goodness! How scary! Yes, I removed all chippy pieces from my house when the boys were little, as a precaution and I had them both tested for lead exposure, since I refinished furniture. It’s definitely not something to take lightly. I hope your son is okay now.

  23. Ivy: I used Tung Oil on a wood chest, (and also inside the drawers) for my son years ago and it smelled really strong!! Yikes! So I used white vinegar and rubbed it all over it and then buffed it dry. It removed the smell, thank goodness!

    Marian-I love casters on my studio furniture, but if I need it to “stay put” I will use two regular casters and two with brakes on them. That way it will stay in one place when I need it too and when the brakes are off I can move it around as needed. Good luck with your new space!

  24. I just read your article on “Crusty Counter”, and I would like to purchase some of the Tough Coat you used to seal the piece. I can not seem to find it anywhere, can you help me?

    Thank you, Michele

  25. I really love that MMS Milk Paint products are non-toxic. That quality certainly appeals to people who want to keep toxins out of their homes. I wish you would take it one step further and avoid using products such as the 409 you used in this project. There are so many recipes in the blog world about making your own non-toxic cleansers. I’m a big fan of MMS!

  26. You are so talented! I just love to check every week to see what new projects you are working on. I want to paint my dresser, but it is missing some wooden embellishments. One half of the dresser has them, but the other side is missing parts of the embellishment. I know I could leave it, it adds character. I think it would bug me, I like things balanced. Do you have any suggestions on how I could fix this?

  27. The new product you will be selling (Tough Coat) sounds perfect for my up and coming projects. My question is……will it proctect the piece from moisture if something is placed on it? By the way, I love, love, love your crusty counter. I’m also so happy for you and your new adventure.

  28. I have a an old farm table that I purchased, where the bare wood is exposed in certain areas and then the rest is covered in a beautiful white chippy paint. I’m new to the world of milk paint and I’m really wanting to add a layer of blue-gray-aqua over the white to give an additional layer of chippy color. I’m afraid the original white paint will come off all together, so I’m thinking this Tough Coat would be perfect for protecting it. From what I’ve read (and watched on your videos), it looks like the milk paint chips off more easily when painted over the more glossy/sealed surfaces. Would the layer of Tough Coat be all I need or should I cover that with something else first before painting on the milk paint? It looks like everything is so easy to use, but this table is old and I’m so afraid I’m going to mess it up if I don’t do it right. Any help is so appreciated!!

  29. What a fabulous piece! and that was good information about sealing the paint with your new product. Sounds like that might be a good thing to have in one’s painting arsenal. Can’t wait to find out more about it!


  30. awesome piece! And that product is JUST what I need to seal my bathroom countertop which I painted in “trophy” and “grainsack”. The water is making it chip more than I’d like. When will this fabulous product be available? I want! 🙂

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