Aspen Wood Cabinets with Milk Paint

Real cabinets are made out of wood.

Imposters are made out of plywood or, heaven forbid, mdf board.

There are many good reasons for this:

  • sheet goods (plywood, mdf, osb…) are high embodied energies meaning they require huge infrastructure/factories to produce their product
  • this involves elevated carbon footprints that tax the local watershed and airshed that the factory draws from…this involves toxic glues, resins and emulsifiers that can otherwise be avoided
  • plywood demands the premium logs from our woodlots, this means the best, which are, in my opinion, better used as showcase materials such as premium posts and beams, vertical grain window and door material and trim material
  • mdf board, of which most cabinets are made of now, is one of the leading off-gassers of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) which we now know leads to many respiratory and neurological disfunctions…better off to not have it in our living environments where we want to heal and relax from the stresses of daily life…not to mention the poor quality and longevity of this product

One of the great pleasures of working with wood is using hand tools. No noise, dust or danger relative to the power tools. Just me, the wood, the steel and the birds outside my shop window in the lilac bushes.

Here is my version of a ripping bench. For this cabinet job i ordered kiln dried aspen and larch from my local kiln and sawyer Jay Naydiuk.

There is another kiln and sawyer down the road at Son Ranch. Having two small family operated kilns and sawmills nearby allows me to order local woods to my specifications and, most importantly, allows me to order wood from local woodlots and foresters that are sustainably harvesting our valuable resource. This means avoiding companies that are clear-cutting the hillside and supporting the local woodlots that are maintaining their top-sizes and allowing the forest to continue its quest for old growth.

The beauty of aspen is hard to justify with a photograph, but i just had to do some sample doors without the milk paint.

These cabinets were going into Doug and Debbie Driver’s log and timber frame home. There was already a lot of wood feel to the home already so Debbie asked me if i could ad some color to the cabinets.

Rob Hadden, timber framer extraordinaire from Australia, encouraged me to try a milk paint. He showed me photos of his cruck frames and lime plasters that he painted with pigmented milk. How they endure the beating sun and driving rains due to the casein in the milk. We thought we’d give it a try.

You need skim milk from your local milk animal or store. Curdle with vinegar. Let sit. Strain curds from whey. Rinse curds and ad lime and pigment. We used a nicosia green pigment here from the Earth Pigments company in Cortaro, Arizona. Contact Erin, she is very knowledgeable on the subject. These pigments come from Provence, France. It looks like we are starting to re-discover pigments on this side of the world. Exciting!

Notice the jar of curds and whey ready to be strained and turned into paint. The counter tops are cherry wood from Thomas Evertsen of Evertsen Brothers.

The bathroom is almost finished. Here we opted for a glossy white synthetic bathroom paint.


2 thoughts on “Aspen Wood Cabinets with Milk Paint


    1. Fresh 2% milk curdled with vinegar then lime and water mix added to the strained and washed curds – the hydrated lime just doesn’t seem to work.
    2. Fresh 2% milk and lime slurry mixed together and pigment added.
    3. Skim milk powder and lime slurry and pigment.
    Nothing seems to work – it always separates!
    Is there any chance of getting your recipe and method?
    Thanks, Gary

    1. Here is the contact for my supplier of natural materials for a successful milk paint:

      Erin Allan
      The Earth Pigments Company

      She has been very helpful and i was happy with the results. Their lime immediately dissolved the curds into a beautiful paste, which is the base for the paint. The pigment was then added and blended into a beautiful pastel green. I did learn that the paint doesn’t apply as flat and as consistent as the modern synthetic paints. It is truly more diverse, muted and pastel of a color tone. Beautiful…i also added refined (not “double-boiled”) linseed oil to make it more water resistant to occasional wiping and cleaning as they were on kitchen cabinets. Thanks for your interest, these are the paints we need to accept as the “greenest” and, at very least, the safest. It was a pleasure to work with something non-toxic!

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