This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
This is also known as calcimining and distemper painting.
Whitewash is made from pure white lime mixed with water. It is used for common walls and ceilings, especially where, for sanitary reasons, a frequent fresh application is considered preferable to any coating which would last better. It readily comes off when rubbed, will not stand rain, nor adhere well to very smooth or non-porous surfaces. It is cheap, and where used for sanitary reasons should be made up of hot lime and applied at once, under which conditions it also adheres better. It is improved by adding 1 lb. pure tallow (free from salt) to every bushel of lime. The process is generally described as "lime whiting." The following is a method recommended for making whitewash for outside work. Take a clean water-tight barrel, and put into it 1/2 bush. lime. Slake it by pouring water over it boiling hot, and in sufficient quantity to cover it 5 in. deep, and stir it briskly till thoroughly slaked. When the slaking has been effected, dissolve it in water, and add 2 lb. zinc sulphate and 1 of common salt; these will cause the wash to harden, and prevent its cracking.
Common colouring is prepared by adding earthy pigments to the mixtures used for lime whiting. The following proportions may be used per bushel of lime; more or less according to the tint required: - Cream colour, 4-6 lb. ochre; fawn colour, 6-8 lb. umber, 2 lb. Indian red, 2 lb. lampblack; buff or stone colour, 6-8 lb. raw umber, and 3-4 lb. lampblack.
Whiting is made by reducing pure white chalk to a fine powder. It is mixed with water and size, and used for whitening ceilings and inside walls. It will not stand the weather. The best method of mixing it is in the proportion of 6 lb. whiting to 1 qt. double size, the whiting to be first covered with cold water for 6 hours, then mixed with the size and left in a cold place till it becomes like jelly, in which condition it is ready to dilute with water, and use. It will take 1 lb. jelly to every 6 super. yd. Whiting is made in 3 qualities - " common," " town," and " gilders." It is sold by weight in casks containing 2-10 cwt, in sacks containing 2 cwt., in firkins (very small casks), in bulk and in small balls.
Distemper is the name for all colouring mixed with water and size. White distemper is a mixture of whiting and size. The best way of mixing is as follows: - Take 6 lb. best whiting and soak it in soft water sufficient to cover it for several hours. Pour off the water, and stir the whiting into a smooth paste, strain the material, and add 1 qt. size in the state of weak jelly; mix carefully, not breaking the lumps of jelly, then strain through muslin before using; leave in a cold place, and the material will become a jelly, which is diluted with water when required for use. Sometimes about 1/2 table-spoonful of blue black is mixed in before the size is added. It is sometimes directed that the size should be used hot, but in that case it does not work so smoothly as when used in the condition of cold jelly, but on the contrary drags and becomes crumpled, thus causing a rough surface. When the white is required to be very bright and clean, potato starch is used instead of the size. Coloured distemper is tinted with the same pigments as are used for coloured paints, whiting being used as a basis instead of white-lead or zinc white. In mixing the tints, the whiting is first prepared, then the colouring pigment, the latter being introduced sparingly; size is added, and the mixture is strained.
The colours are classed as " common," "superior," and "delicate."
If the ceiling is new, nothing further is required than a coat of good Paris white (whiting of a superior kind), with just sufficient glue-size added to bind it, provided the finishing plaster was of good workmanship; but if inferior and very porous, it will require a preparation of strong size, soft-soap, and a handful of plaster of Paris. For old ceilings, all the previous whiting, etc, must be thoroughly washed off with an old whitewash brush and hot water, and allowed to dry before re-whitening. When this is done, if the ceiling is "hot" - i. e. porous, and soaks in the moisture very quickly - it must be prepared with a mixture of 1 handful lime, the same of whiting, 1/2 lb. glue, 1/4 lb. soft-soap, and, if smoky or damp, about 2 oz. alum, to make a pail 3/4 full. When this is dry, it is ready for the finish. Use the preparation thin. To prepare whitewash properly, the whiting should be soaked overnight in plenty of water, thoroughly stirred up to wash it. and allowed to settle till the morning, when all the water possible should be drained off. The size should likewise be melted the night before use, so as to be jellied by the morning. It works better when cold.
About 1/2 lb. glue is required to 1 gal. water, which, with the water taken up by the whiting, will make it ready for use. Before using, the size and whiting should be broken up separately and strained through a fine sieve; then mixed and strained again. Before putting on the whiting, shut all doors and windows to exclude the draught, take a sweep right across the room, and continue till finished. If 2 are engaged at it, so much the better, as it requires to be done quickly; be careful to cover well, or you will not make a nice job. When finished, the doors and windows can be opened, as the sooner it dries after it is once on the more even and solid will it look. For whitening and colouring walls, great care is required in preparing them; all the old stuff is to be cleared off, well rubbed down with dry lump pumice, all holes well and evenly stopped with plaster of Paris, and a preparation of strong size, whiting, and alum, thickly laid on, of the colour you are going to finish, but a little darker in shade. When this is well dry, rub it well down to a good level and smooth face with lump pumice or coarse sandpaper.
The finishing coat may be made in the same way for the ceilings; but if exposed to the liability of being touched or rubbed against, a little more or stronger size is to be used; and if in any way to damp, a little alum. To get any of the colours required, it is merely necessary to get the dry powders and rub up with the whiting, prior to mixing with size, adding by degrees till the required depth of tone is arrived at. For the different shades of drab or stone-colour yellow ochre, umber, black, and red are used. For shades of blue, from the French grey to sky blue, ultramarine, etc. (Painting for the Million.)