Supplies and Materials

July 27, 2012

Milk paint experiment; it smells great and boy, does it last

I've been experimenting with making my own interior and exterior non-VOC paint this week after reading about the durability of 9,000-year-old paintings found in Asia and Egypt.  

I didn't have room for all of my findings in my weekly column (recipes included), so this is a little addendum.  

Using concrete colourant, which is available at hardware stores, I tinted my first small batches of paint.  I got some nice golds and reds (one coat).

Bird Feeder

Then I added a little titanium dioxide (available at pottery supply places for less $ than art supply places) to some of my skim milk/Borax base and got a beautiful 'pickling' stain, which I rubbed into a rustic cricket bench.  The pigment built up in the rough texture (it's a little hard to see in the photo).  This formulation would look great on an urban fence or deck.

P1310046 - Version 2

Next, I used an exterior grade formulation made from cottage cheese and lime (which I learned about here) to coat this bench top (tinted with 'medium buff' concrete colourant).  On the buttermilk-coloured legs and base I used a two-layer cross-linking alkaline/acid formulation that I learned about from this very smart person. (To get the warm colour on the legs/base, I tinted the acidic topcoat with titanium dioxide and a tiny bit of 'lemon yellow' concrete colourant.)


I literally did NO PREP on this bench - no brushing, scraping, or even wiping with a rag. Okay, I removed one old coccoon, but that's it.  The bench had been outside for about 10 years and the original 5 coats of water-based urethane had flaked into oblivion.  Note to self: never use water-based urethane for exterior applications; it can't hack the Canadian climate.

This is the bench after a borate-laced coat of casein (milk) paint, which I made from skim millk and Borax laundry additive. 


After all of the experimenting, I think the milk/Borax formulation is the easiest to work with.  It produces a clear matte finish on bare wood (bye bye forever water-based urethane) and can be tinted easily by making a paste of water and concrete colourant and then mixing it into the milk/Borax base.  


You can make the milk/Borax stuff into an opaque white by adding lime and titanium dioxide till it's nice and thick.

Of course you can order milk paint powder from either of these two places if you don't want to go the wet 'n' wild route:

The Real Milk Paint Company (U.S.)

HomeStead House Milk Paint (Canada)

I'm aiming to paint 400 feet of fence with my own homemade milk paint later this fall. Anybody want to help?




April 03, 2012

World's best fix-it compound Sugru now in primary colors!

Great news for hackers and fixers - Sugru, the mouldable silicone putty that air-cures to resilient toughness so you can repair or improve ANYTHING - is now available in primary colours that combine to create ANY SHADE on earth!!!


December 13, 2011

DIY Chalkboard Paint

You can buy chalkboard paint in green or black, but why limit yourself to those scholastic-y colours? Maybe you want to make a chalkboard wall in the kitchen for a family communication center, or maybe you're making a kids' art table like this...


...and it would be fun to use a colour other than black or green.  

So get a quart size can of flat paint in any shade you like (I used Olympic Premium Zero VOC because it dries in an hour, has no odour and carries a lifetime warranty) and pour the amount of paint you'll need into a separate container.  Then add unsanded grout powder (available in the tile aisle) with the ratio of 1 rounded tablespoon of unsanded grout to 1 cup of flat paint.  Stir it up well and then roll out 2 or 3 coats on the surface you want to transform into a chalkboard.  You can use a hair dryer to speed up the drying time if you're rushed.  Cool eh?  

November 28, 2011

Christmas sugru! (A wee holiday offer.)


The folks at Sugru are running a special; you get a 4th pack when you buy 3. In case you haven't heard of Sugru, it's a fantastic, moldable silicon compound that cures to a semi-flexible toughness and it bonds chemically with so many substances that you will be hard pressed to find anything you can't fix or improve with Sugru.  It's the perfect antidote to the culture of obsolescence!  Sugru comes in black, white, green, orange and blue, and you can blend colours to get a huge range of shades.  I always have some in my purse, in my make-up bag and in my toolbox to mend or append anything made of metal, plastic, stone, leather, ceramic, glass, wood and fabric.  Cures at room temperature to waterproof, dishwasher-proof, freeze-proof ruggedness.   

October 23, 2011

Post-it watches


These are brilliant. I wonder how many you could get on your wrist at once. 

September 26, 2011

How To Remove an Ink Stain with Milk and Vinegar


I've soiled myself with ink more often than any known human, so this little experiment is going down tonight. Will post results.

September 21, 2011

How to repair damaged computer cables in 3 easy steps


This really works. I've repaired two cables so far.  And I admire the woman who invented the plasticky repair-all compound you see in the photos (comes in orange, white, black, blue and green) because she says things like this:


August 30, 2011

3M security film foils hipster

Love this dude's persistence.  Nobody told him about security film (which also helps protect glass from shattering in hurricane force winds).


Toronto's Green Building Supply Showroom and Design Center


Toronto's got its own Green Design Center, so if you need cabinetry, flooring or carpeting that's eco-friendly and energy-efficient, start in their showroom. It's a great collection of 'what's out there' and it may give you ideas for what's possible.

If the pricing seems too high you can probably find similar products elsewhere, but watch out for wood and bamboo products; many suppliers claim that their wood products are certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) but they're SO not. (Please, please, please be especially careful about the bamboo you buy.  Some bamboo suppliers are tearing out panda habitat to plant the kind of bamboo they can turn into flooring.  That sucks for the giant pandas, which are already on the endangered species list since they were driven out of their lowlands home years ago by farming and deforestation.  End of lecture.)

May 26, 2011

Mix your own non-toxic weed killer

Thistles suck and they resprout from a piece of root 1/8 of an inch long.  Learn how to get rid of them without going to the dark side (i.e. chemical killers). 

We re-graded the yard a year ago and its green pelt has sprouted a crop of thistles that would repel Norwegian invaders (which is exactly what happened in Scotland in the 13th century and that’s why Scots made the thistle their official plant.  I hope they’re happy.)

Is it possible to eradicate the thorny infestation?  

Before you answer, here’s some trivia about Canada thistle, the over-muscled cousin of Scottish thistle:
•    Its seeds remain viable for up to 21 years
•    Its taproot can travel to a depth of 5.5 meters (18 feet)
•    Lateral roots can extend as much as 6 meters (20 feet) in a single season
•    Those lateral roots produce colonies of clones
•    New plants can erupt from root pieces as small as 3 mm (1/8-inch)

Thistles are the zombies of the weed world.

Dandelions aren’t much better.  They’re poking through my heavily mulched flowerbeds as if to say, “Nice try, but a 10-inch thick layer of mulch is like a 4 SPF sunscreen for us piss-a-beds.”  (Dandelions used to be called 'piss-a-beds' because of their strong diuretic properties.)

I’ve found three effective, natural weed-disciplining techniques.  One is cheap, one is easy and one is so much fun you’ll squeal.

1. Cheap Homemade Solution: Boil 1 pound of salt in one gallon of white vinegar until the salt dissolves.  Add a squirt of dish soap.  Pour the cooled mixture into a spray bottle.  Apply to weed foliage.  This concoction kills anything green in about 24 hours and that includes grass, so watch your aim.  Cost: About $4

2. Scotts EcoSense Weed B Gon - The kid-and-pet-safe EcoSense formulation exposes weeds to excessive amounts of iron (absorbed through their leaves and roots when you spray it on).  Oxidation damages the interior cell walls and the weed turns black and shrivels to nothing over the next five days. The beauty of EcoSense Weed B Gon is that it only attacks broadleaf weeds, not grass (iron is actually a nutrient for turf), so you can spray it all over your lawn and only the weeds will die.  Suck it, weeds.  Cost: $20 for 2 litres, available at most hardware and gardening centers.

Weeds  062

3. Fiskars Stand-up Weed Puller - This is the squealy one. This tool rocks, literally and figuratively.  You don’t have to bend over at all to pull out weeds, even stubborn thistles.  At its business end, this lightweight implement has steel tines that grab the weed underneath the soil surface.  When you gently rock back on the handle (using the foot rest as a fulcrum) the weed comes out easily with roots intact.

Weeds  068
There are two Fiskars models - the basic model is $30 but it’s a bit short for good leverage, so if you can spend $50 on the extendable-handle model, it’s worth it for the extra length.  TIP:  The smaller the weed, the shallower you press the tines.  This will limit the size of the resulting soil divot.  Available at Canadian Tire.

I collected a heaping bushel basket of thistles in under an hour using my Stand-Up Weed Puller.  It’s the most fun you can have while naked from the ankles down.


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Mag's Books

  • : We're All In This Together

    We're All In This Together
    Based on four years of interviews with Steve Smith, Mag's unconventional biography reveals the personal stories, sorrows and joys that continue to inspire the man behind the Red Green legacy.

  • : How Hard Can It Be?

    How Hard Can It Be?
    Mag's quirky and entertaining book of home improvement projects for beginners.

Nota Bene

  • It’s never too late to be who you might have been. - George Eliot (1819-1880)
  • Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought. - My fortune cookie