How to create a crackle finish with a commercial crackle medium or a white glue based crackle medium that you can make yourself.
A popular finishing technique that replicates the look on antique furniture is a crackle finish. The look mimics the surface of vintage country furniture that has several layers of paint, often with varying colors. You can reproduce this look by using contrasting shades of flat latex paint and a special medium that comes out of the can as a milky liquid, goes on clear, and shrinks and cracks the paint color layered on top of it, revealing the base shade.
Tools and Materials
3-inch nylon-polyester paintbrushes
Paint bucket and liners
Latex primer-sealer - for the base coat
Two colors of latex paint - Select high-contrast colors a dramatic effect. For best results, be sure to use a flat or matte finish for the bottom coat. Eggshell will work for the top coat, but no higher gloss.
Water-based polyurethane - to clear-coat and protect the crackle finish, satin finish works the best.
It will take at least two days to complete this project. The base coat must be completely dry before applying the crackle medium and then the top coat. Allow another day before sealing with polyurethane.
1. Clean and Prime
Since you are going for a distressed look, there is no need a lot of surface prep. Imperfections will add to the charm of the piece and will also be concealed by the crackle finish. Wipe down the piece with a wet sponge to remove surface dirt; brush on a coat of primer after it has dried. The primer should be dry in an hour or two.
2. Paint the Base Coat
When the primed piece is dry, use a paintbrush to apply the color you want to show through in the crackle finish, brushing in the direction of the grain. Make sure paint is applied into all the corners and crevices of the furniture.
Once you have an even coat, let it dry overnight.
3. Crackle medium application
Using a clean paintbrush; apply a thick layer of crackle medium to all surfaces. Work from top to bottom in a uniform pattern to keep track of where you've been. The opaque crackle coating will turn clear in a few minutes and you can lose track of what was already coated.
Let the crackle coat dry for at least an hour, but not more than 4 hours.
4. Apply the finish coat of paint
Using a clean, dry brush; apply the top coat color in a flat finish over all the painted surfaces. Even before you're finished with the entire piece, you'll see the top coat start to shrink up and reveal the color beneath.
Let the piece cure overnight before using it.
If the piece of furniture will receive a lot of use, such as a tabletop, a chair seat, or a chest, apply a finish of satin clear coat to keep it from chipping. If possible, leave the crackle coat unfinished for a more realistic look.
Homemade Crackle Medium
You can try using a homemade crackle medium instead of using a commercially available coating.
After priming and painting the piece, apply a coat of white glue, such as Elmer’s, to the piece. You can thin the glue down with a little water if necessary. The thicker the coat the larger the cracks will be.
Apply the finish coat of paint over the glue after it has set, but is still tacky, usually after an hour. Try not to go over the surface more than once. As the glue dries, it will shrink and reveal the base coat.