Friday, April 22, 2011

Remember Tom Sawyer's Whitewash?

Photo © Cindy Lovell / AP

Well, I do... and reading about 'whitewashing' the fence... and since today is Earth Day, it seems a good time to post it. I had an idea of what whitewash is... sort of, but not really. Turns out it's a useful, cheap and non-toxic finish that can substitute for paint in many areas. Probably not inside the house, unless you applied it in summer and let it air out until fall, although many older farm houses were painted inside with whitewash.

I came across the notion of whitewash when researching 'caves' to age cheese. It's great for that, and just as wonderful to apply to barn interiors for farm animals, outbuildings, stables, chicken coops, etc. The lime has a purifying action, kills germs, and does not act as a medium for their growth.

A basic recipe is 2 gallons of water, 12 cups hydrated lime aka quicklime (which is very white, unlike the lime applied to fields which is usually gray) and 4 cups salt. I paid under $8 at the local Ag store for a 50 pound bag of hydrated lime, so this is very inexpensive 'paint'. I'll but bulk salt at Sam's or a local Ag dealer.

Actually, whitewash is not really a paint, but instead it's a 'wash', which will eventually begin to flake, or rub off if you lean against it, and the reason why whitewash was reapplied every few years.  It will also wear down over time if exposed to rain. However, the addition of milk or rice flour (or an animal glue) makes it last longer outdoors, like on the fence belonging to Tom's Aunt Polly. (The casein in the milk, or protein in the flour, binds to the lime to make a kind of 'cement' so it sticks better and lasts longer.)

I plan to whitewash the inside of my root cellar to clean and brighten it, once it gets warm enough to empty it out for a few days. I want to re-do the shelving in there, too, and install a breaker box in place of the old fuse box. I'll post pictures and notes when I tackle THAT project!

There is also a paint called Milk Paint, one of the oldest types of paint on earth, and one of the longest-lasting. Along with egg tempera, it was the standard artist paint of the middle ages. Casein, as it's properly called, remained popular for decoration through the mid-1800s, and it’s what gives Colonial furniture its soft color.

Curdle a bucket of milk with vinegar, strain out the curds, add some borax or lime and some pigment, and you're basically ready to go. Milk paint, properly prepared, will last for centuries. Milk protein, stripped of its fat (curds) is incredibly sticky.

Here's some links on Whitewash recipes and instructions, and following them, some links for Milk Paint.
Craftsman Style, How to Whitewash (click to read the page after it, too)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Darius,
    Enjoyed your post , nice to learn a little about whitewash.

    Especially like the tip of adding milk or rice flour to extend it's life.



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