Milk Can Decor – How to Stencil an Uneven Surface

Milk can decor has always been on my bucket list of things to upcycle. Thanks to this find at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, I’m finally able to scratch it off my list! It’ll make a beautiful fall decor display.

It’s time for another blog hop hosted by Chloe from Celebrate and Decorate and Andrea from Design Morsels! If you are visiting from Celebrate and Decorate, welcome! At the very bottom of this post, I’ll be directing you to the next stop on this venture. But don’t forget to check out the other stops too. Be sure to drop back in throughout the week to visit them all!

Before we get into prepping, painting and stencilling, don’t forget to get your craft mojo on at Birdz of a Feather and subscribe! You can also follow us on Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Materials for Milk Can Decor

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Milk Can Decor Prep Work

Hubs always tests paint before we start a project by rubbing some acetone on the surface. As you can see, there’s no paint on the cotton, so this is painted with oil paint.

To ensure good adhesion, Hubs sands down the entire milk can and wipes off the dust.

You never know what you’re going to find under layers of paint. Do you see what I see? I think underneath the terra cotta colour is a union jack. 

Milk Can Decor – Halting Rust

I was considering leaving the milk can as-is. While I was deciding, we had to at least do something about the rusty bottom.

Hubs dug out his trusty can of rust paint.

Por 15 is a rust preventive Hubs uses on his cars. But it works great on all rusty
metals, like our milk can, to stop rust in its tracks!

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Milk Can Decor – Add a Stencil

When I found this Antiques and Collectibles stencil on Funky Junk’s Old Sign Stencils site I made up my mind about whether or not to paint! You can check out Funky Junk’s full line of Old Sign Stencils here*.

* Funky Junk’s Old Sign Stencils has generously provided us with a complimentary stencil. Of course, all opinions are my own.

Old Milk Can Identification

This particular milk can is marked Four-Way Products Inc. in Tara Ontario. The only tidbit of information I could find on the internet was that the dairy production facility opened up in 1958. You can always contact museums in the area to see if there is more information they can share.

My plan was to change out the 1901 on the stencil for that year to commemorate it (on the opposite side of the stamp of course)!

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Tips for Painting with a Cup Gun

A cup gun makes quick work of painting this milk can. Thin the paint with some water first so you don’t clog the gun.

Hubs elevates the milk can on a cardboard box, Then he places two wooden runners underneath. That allows him to paint right to the bottom of the milk can without it sticking to the cardboard.

For better coverage, spray the first coat horizontally. Then on the second coat, shown below, spray up and down in a vertical direction. That way, you won’t concentrate the paint in any one spot.

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Don’t forget to spray the rim to clean it up too.

You can’t see it in the pictures above, but I asked Hubs to go light where the union jack was so I could still see it peaking through the paint. I love the idea of still being able to see the pant history of the piece. However, what you can see are the dings and dents in the can. Because of those, it’s going to make it a tricky surface to stencil. But don’t worry, I’ve got all the tips and tricks below that you’ll need if you ever find a similar milk can.

How to Stencil an Uneven Surface

There are three techniques I use when stencilling uneven surfaces – the last of which I just invented for this project and works brilliantly!

  1. Use a triangular makeup sponge to apply paint.

By virtue of the shape, a makeup sponge can get into every area of the stencil while keeping paint bleed to a minimum.

  1. Offload paint onto paper towels.

After loading the makeup sponge with paint, offload it onto some paper towels. I have three layers here. A dry applicator is the most important thing to prevent paint bleed under the stencil. Don’t forget to wipe off the stylus too.

  1. Use an iPad stylus. 

I have to admit that I don’t like using spray adhesive. I don’t like the smell, the mess or the residue it leaves behind. Quite honestly though, even if I did like it, I don’t think spray adhesive is the solution to keeping the stencil flat against an uneven surface like this.

You know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention, right? So here’s my epiphany about holding down the stencil over the dented parts of the metal. The tip of the stylus – or even a pen with a rubbery tip – as shown below works wonders! Like a finger, the stylus is spongy but it gives you better control to help bridge those gaps due to the dents in the metal.

Next time you stencil a challenging surface, try using a stylus. And remember you saw it here first at Birdz of a Feather!

I wish I had thought of using the stylus for the painted rocking chair! It would’ve worked great with the grain sack stencil. It will definitely be a must-have in my stencil arsenal for all my stencilling projects moving forward.

Prepping the Stylus and How to Use

Before you start, wrap the stylus with saran wrap and secure it with painters tape. That’s so you can keep it clean and still use it for its original purpose after stencilling!

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On a curved surface like this, I start in the middle and work my way out to the ends. Holding down the centre of the Q with the stylus, I concentrate the paint on the edge I’m holding down. Move the stylus right around the centre and complete that first. Then you can come back and do the outer edges. More info on that ahead.

As you can see I taped down the lower part of the ‘Q’ with painters tape. The tape is over the worst part of the dents so I’m tackling it last.

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For the larger letters, concentrate on holding down one side at a time, then apply paint with the flat surface of the sponge, only painting half the letter. Then hold down the opposite side and complete the other half of the letter.

For the smaller letters you can use the thinner portion of the makeup sponge to get into the detail.

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As the first coat is going on, it will look patchy. But that will get resolved with a second coat of black paint.

Once the first layer of paint is done, let it dry. Then come back and do the second coat the same way.

Watch the video below and it will show you how to get a great looking stencil on an uneven surface without paint bleed!

Milk Can Decor Video – Stencilling

Milk Jug Planter

Once done, I turned it into a planter. It looks lovely on the front porch with Fall mums.
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However, it’s even more gorgeous in the back. That’s because the mums pick up the red of the maple leaves that are collecting on the patio – and also our little red painted bike in the garden.

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And of course, you can still see peeks of the red coming through from the previously painted union jack.

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Before and After Milk Can Decor

Here’s a reminder of the before.

And in the after, you can still see the age of the piece. If only it could talk! Just imagine how gorgeous this will look at Christmas time with a poinsettia?

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Subscribe and Pin

Pinning is always welcome and appreciated:

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if you’re just getting into stencilling and want to learn more about all the tricks and tips, check out some of our stencilling posts.

Creative Craft Blog Hop

Now I’d like to send you on to At Home with Jemma.  Jemma has a Fresh Holiday Magnolia Wreath for you! After visiting Jemma, please remember to drop in to these other amazing talents below:

52 thoughts on “Milk Can Decor – How to Stencil an Uneven Surface

  1. What a transformation. I love it as a planter. I didn’t even know those were milk cans. I’ve seen them at flea markets but it never occurred to me that it could look like this. This looks so adorable. Thanks for sharing in the hop.

    • Thank you Chas; I’m always so inspired when I find something like this to upcycle. They always tell me what they want to be – lol!

  2. Sara, what a great craft project — and detailed & illustrated tutorial! Great tips! I’ve gotta try stenciling one of these days. I love the finished look and what a wonderful planter it makes.

  3. Good Morning Sara!
    This is a fabulous project and looks amazing! I adore milk cans as well, but I don’t have one. I really enjoyed the video too, so professional, and informative.
    Nicely Done!
    Jemma

    • Good morning Jemma! Thanks for checking out the video! I’ve been shooting in the garage while the weather is still good. It’s a challenge because of noise in the neighbourhood, but I’m so glad to hear that it still came across well :).

  4. Sara, that milk can was a score for $20! I love the makeover…it looks fabulous! The Funky Junk stencil was the perfect choice. It was fun crafting with you again!

    • I know, right?! Hubs almost walked right past it because it was in amongst the auction items. He didn’t realize that auctions are on hold at Salvation Army Thrift Stores so it was a real coup he was able to buy it when he was there! Fun crafting with you too Rebecca 🙂

  5. Wow! What a great transformation! I don’t get any help from my husband with crafting, boy, would that be nice! I love the stencil you applied, that “Q” is so cute!! I have yet to tackle stenciling, but I have a number of things I would like to try. Your idea to use the makeup tools is brilliant. I am glad to learn that! It is great to hop with you!

  6. Sara, what a transformation!! Turned out so cute. I have to share that the adhesive stencils from A Makers’ Studio would have made this project so much easier. Just FYI

    • Thanks Carol and for for sharing that, but I’m not one to shy away from a project that’s challenging; being easier is never a deciding factor for us! While there are some cute designs in that line, there’s nothing bigger than 12” x 12” that would provide the same impact as a Funky Junk Old Signs Stencil. There’s a place for everything in crafting but on a larger project like this, I just love a big bold stencil :).

    • Thanks Anita! It’s a big, bold statement piece but I love that it’s heavy and will stay put in the wind! Hope you find one.

  7. How lovely Sara. I’m afraid stencilling on a flat surface is already a bit of a challenge for me, but I’m most definitely pinning this, because the stylus is a very neat trick worth remembering

    • Thanks Michelle! Believe me, the more you do, the easier it gets. On an upcoming post, I’m trying an actual stencil brush on a flat surface. I thought it would be difficult but it turned out perfect. The trick is to have very little paint on the brush.

  8. This project is just perfect. Love the stencil. I have a few milk jugs laying around the farmhouse and now I know what i’m going to do with them. Sharing this to Pinterest for sure.

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