Prep Gone WrongSometimes furniture projects have a mind of their own. These nightstands are great examples of that! I originally planned to paint them a solid color with chalk paint, but that quickly changed. The drama started soon after we started to prep these nightstands. Usually we would give them a quick cleaning, followed by a light scuff sand to give the new paint finish something to adhere to. Instead of lightly hand sanding these, I grabbed my orbital sander that was close by and decided that since there were so many straight lines on these that I could quickly give them a light sanding with the power sander instead. Now, usually this works great. But not this time. Once I started applying a little bit of pressure on a drawer front, right around the hardware hole, the old brown finish started flaking off really quickly. It was powder in a few seconds! A lot of times that isn’t the case, and I’m really not sure what type of paint was used on these, but there was no way I could leave flaky paint finish on these before I painted.
There are two main reasons why you didn’t want a finish like that under your new painted finish.First is that your new finish is only as good as what’s under it. If your new paint has flaky paint under it, it’s more likely to flake off too. If there is a solid foundation, your new finish is more likely to stick around for a long time. The other reason is that the abrupt edge of the old finish against the sanded down wood would show under the new painted finish. This is especially true when your new finish is painted on in thin coats with a paint sprayer instead of thick coats with a paint brush. These straight lined nightstands definitely needed to have a smooth texture free finish.
If I’m going to sand, I might as well create a raw wood finishSo I just kept sanding. And sanding, and sanding. I kept thinking the whole time that I would love to create a raw wood finish on these nightstands. And after a little bit more sanding, I decided I was all in on the whitewashed wood finish idea. Hoping that it wouldn’t turn out like my last furniture drama.
6 Steps to Create a Raw or Natural Wood Finish with Whitewash
- Clean it with a degreaser to make sure oils, grease or wax aren’t on the old finish. You don’t want to heat it up with a power sander and push it further into your wood.
- Strip it with Citristrip or Sand it with a power sander. Be careful with the power sander to not take off too much and go through what might be a wood veneer top!
- Vacuum up and wipe off the dust
- Seal it with water-based poly to protect the wood from everyday use. Oil based poly will amber over time, so be sure to use water- based poly.
5. Take it a step or two further with whitewash. The sealer will deepen the wood tone, but whitewash will bring the wood closer to its natural look.
6. Seal it again to protect your new whitewashed wood finish.**As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. As well as from other companies like Country Chic Paint.
Here’s what you’ll need:Krud Kutter Orbital Sander Mouse Sander or my new favorite tool, the Multi-Max with the included mouse sander attachment Sandpaper 80 grit, 220 grit & 400 grit Paint Stripper Poly Painting Sponge or My Favorite Paint Sprayer White Glaze or White Wash (I used Simplicity mixed into Clear Glaze from Country Chic Paint. Watered down Simplicity would work great too!)
Cleaning – Yeah it is importantI know it sounds like a joke that you need to clean the finish before taking it off, but it’s honestly really important, especially if you’re sanding. I wouldn’t say that it’s super important if you’re stripping though. And here is why. As you’re sanding, things get hot. Especially the surface that you’re working on. When wax, grease or oil gets hot, it tends to melt, which then makes it easier to spread everywhere and get into the natural wood. So you could end up with grease spots in your fresh wood. And to make matters worse, the sealer may or may not stick in those spots. So it’s best to spray your whole piece down with something like Krud Kutter that will clean those problems up before they become and issue. I like to use either a damp old rag or paper towels.
How to Strip Furniture – Stripping with Chemical or SandingOkay, there are two options here. I will say that I ended up sanding these ones completely without any stripping agent. But the smartest route is always to strip. If your piece isn’t completely solid wood with no wood veneers, and it doesn’t have any details or curves, you’ll be alright to sand. So if there is any chance (and that chance is really likely) that there are wood veneers on your piece, then you run the risk of sanding right through the very thin veneer, and into wood that is a different color, or worse, MDF or particle board. If you strip first, the risk is much lower because the stripper gets rid of 90% of the finish, and you just have to lightly sand the rest. Stripper also can get into details, corners and around curves really easy. Even the tops on these nightstands were a little bit iffy with the power sander. Stripper really isn’t as bad as a lot of people make it sound. I would say that it’s faster, especially around details and corners. And you have a lot of downtime between putting the stripper on and taking the stripper and the finish off.
Here is a great video and written tutorial with tons of information on how to strip furniture down to raw wood.
- Lay down cardboard or plastic underneath your piece so you don’t have a messy cleanup.
- Use a good stripper like Citristrip and let it do its job while you rest. Make sure to lay it on thick. I like to put plastic wrap or garbage bags over the stripper to help it stay wet longer. The longer it’s wet, the longer it will keep working. The plastic wrap will also help the stripper stay on vertical surfaces. Here is a great example of that.
- Use a plastic straight-edged tool to get all the gunk off. Plastic won’t gouge the wood like a metal scraper would. Use a toothbrush or steel wool to get into the details.
- Scrape all of the gunk into an old food container with a lid (sour cream, cottage cheese or yogurt container).
- Clean the rest of the gunk off with Mineral Spirits and fine grit Steel Wool. Switch out pads as soon as they are completely saturated with gunk, you don’t want to keep spreading that gunk everywhere.
- Wipe off with paper towels to remove everything and make sure the wood is clean.
- Let the wood completely dry out before doing anything else.
- Once the wood is dry, lightly sand with 220 and then 400 grit sandpaper to lighten up the wood even more and smooth it out.
- Use an orbital sander to do most of the work. Don’t apply too much pressure, and make sure to hold the sander level with the wood. Tipping the sander to get a scratch or nick may end by going through the thin wood veneer.
- Get into the corners and edges with a mouse sander. I love my multi-max Dremel tool that does so many things, but also comes with a mouse sanding attachment.
- Always sand with the grain and not against it. Going against the grain or in a circular pattern will leave sanding marks that don’t look too good.
- Work your way up from a coarse sandpaper to a fine sandpaper. The coarse sandpaper will eat through the finish much faster, but it will leave your piece rough.