This weathered wood finish is such a popular style of furniture these days! Here’s how to DIY the painted look on your thrifted vintage or antique bedroom furniture with a color wash (yep, just like whitewash).
We love to paint old vintage or antique furniture that is worn out. It’s a cheap way to furnish your home on a budget, and can do wonders for your decor.
The Reality of a Makeover
I’ll be honest, I don’t always know how a piece is going to end up, even when I’m in the middle of working on it. That was definitely the case with this weathered wood dresser.
It came with a super scratched-up top, but the rest of it was in decent condition. Usually when we get this type of vintage dresser in, I refinish the top and paint the bottom.
This piece was one of those that came out of nowhere. My husband’s co-worker was moving and was so kind to give this piece to us. It was totally random, but so amazing of them to think of us!
That’s what we started off doing (sanding off the top of the dresser for stain, and prepping the bottom for paint), but as I was sanding, I started making other plans. #changedmymind
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How to Create a Weathered Wood Finish on Vintage Bedroom Furniture
It really comes down to 4 basic steps.
- Strip the Old Finish
- Seal the Wood
- Color Wash the Wood
- Seal the Finish
Every single piece of vintage furniture is going to be a little bit different depending on what wood was used, the old finish, the way you strip off the finish, the color of the wash and how thick or thin you apply it.
But that’s the beauty of it. No two pieces are going to be the exact same!
Here is a quick video of the process from our Instagram stories.
For this weathered wood makeover we used:
- Power Sander and Sandpaper OR Citristrip Stripper (choose your method of Sanding or Stripping)
- Country Chic Paint in Sunday Tea
- Country Chic Paint Painting Sponge
- General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in Flat
Remove the Old Stained Wood Finish
For this exact finish, I started by removing the old stained finish.
There are two different methods for this, and it’s totally up to you on what one you choose.
I did both ways on accident (sanding the top and stripping the bottom). If you watch the video, you can see how the two ways created a different foundation.
If I would have known in the beginning that I was going for this finish, I would have only used a chemical stripper to remove the old stained finish.
Because you’re going to want your wood to look cohesive on the whole entire piece. Otherwise when you go to put a light wash over the wood, the finish is going to look different in those different places.
In my case the top looks different than the bottom because I sanded the top and stripped the bottom.
So choose to either sand off or strip off the old finish, and stick to that method the whole way through.
How to Sand Off a Stained Wood Finish
If you want to sand off the finish instead of using a chemical stripper, you’ll want to make sure that your piece doesn’t have too much detail.
You’ll want a power sander to do most of the work for you, but these sanders have a really hard time getting into detail. So keep in mind that you’ll most likely have to do some hand sanding in the detailed areas.
This piece would have been just fine to sand as far as the details go, but the finish itself was a pain to sand off.
My go-to sander for sanding an entire piece of furniture like this is my Dremel Multi-max. It has a sanding attachment that allows you to get into the corners and edges of a piece.
**Update: I have since purchased a surfprep sander and I highly recommend it instead.**
If there aren’t any corners or tight spots to sand, I like to use my random orbital sander. It’s round, so it won’t get you into tight spaces or corners, but it does a great job at taking off a finish on a completely flat surface.
Be sure to wear a respirator so you’re not breathing in all of the dust and old finish and some eye protection.
Steps to Easily Sand Wood
- Start with 80 grit sandpaper on your power sander. This is course sandpaper that will eat through a thicker finish fast. Remove most of the finish with this step.
- Then move up to 120 grit sandpaper, and even 150 grit sandpaper after that.
- Sand by hand with 220 grit to smooth out the wood and help remove any sanding marks. This will get rid of some of the old finish, but it takes a lot longer for it to eat through a solid finish.
- Vacuum off the dust with a brush attachment, and then wipe it all down. Tack cloths were made for this, and do a great job at getting allll of the dust particles off of the wood. Now you’re ready to move onto the Sealing the Wood step. (Skip over the How to Strip Stain from Wood step if you’ve sanded.)
You really want to slowly work your way through sandpaper grits to get down to bare wood without any swirly sanding marks in the wood.
With the 220 grit sandpaper, I usually leave the power sander behind and move to sanding by hand so I can make sure I don’t leave any sanding marks, created by the power sander, behind.
I prefer to do this with a piece of sandpaper wrapped around an old sanding block.
Sanding by hand really gets rid of the sanding marks left by a power sander because you have control of what direction you’re moving the sandpaper. Especially if your power sander is a random orbital sander that spins.
No matter what you’re sanding with, make sure that you’re always sanding with the grain. Meaning that you need to follow the lines of the grain.
I really like the look of leaving some of the old finish around the very edges and details. It definitely adds to the old weathered look! So feel free to leave a little bit of the old finish for that!
How to Strip Stain from Wood with a Chemical Stripper
This method is more messy, but it’s definitely my preferred method for removing stain from wood when there are details to contend with.
My go-to stripper is Citristrip. It works great, but can be used indoors and is definitely not toxic like many paint and stain strippers out there.
Make sure your floor is covered with drop cloths, broken-down cardboard boxes, or something to protect the floor from the stripper.
Also be sure to wear chemical resistant gloves, a respirator if you don’t have any ventilation, and some eye protection.
How to Use Citristrip Stripper
- Apply a thick layer of Citristrip with a cheap paint brush ( I like dollar store brushes.) Make sure you get the stripper everywhere, and on thick.
- Cover the Citristrip stripper with plastic wrap (any brand will work). Make sure there aren’t big air pockets underneath the plastic wrap. The goal is to keep the stripper from drying out, making it work longer.
- Let it sit for at least 8 hours.
- Remove the plastic wrap in a small section. Use a plastic scraper to scrape off the stripper and the old stained finish. I like to collect the gunk into an old plastic container that has a lid so I can dispose of it later.
- Keep working in small sections until the stripper and old finish are removed. If the stain isn’t coming off, either let the stripper sit longer, or apply a new coat of the stripper and let it sit again.
- You’ll be left with a gunky film over everything. At this point I like to wipe everything down with a paper towel, and then use mineral spirits with some fine steel wool to scrub off the remaining gunk. Once the steel wool gets super saturated, I get a new bundle of steel wool to work with.
- Let the wood completely dry. This takes about a day usually.
- Sand the finish by hand with 220 grit sandpaper. This is just to smooth the wood out and get rid of the remaining bits of residue.
You may notice that your wood isn’t completely back to a natural wood look. There may be some light stain left, which is exactly what I was going for!
I wanted to start with a little bit of color and not a completely sanded down piece of wood.
Optional: Stain the wood with a very light stain
If you’ve sanded down the wood to the point where it is completely bare (like I did with the top of the dresser) then you might want to consider adding a small touch of stain to the wood.
On the top of the dresser I mixed up a little bit of very thinned out brown latex paint. Then I washed it on the top like I did the color washing step.
I did it before I sealed the paint so it would soak into the wood like a stain. But I thinned it out a lot so the color would be very light.
This is completely optional! But in my case I wanted to make the color of the wood on the top match the color of the wood on the bottom.
Seal the Wood
At this point I gave my freshly stripped wood a couple of coats of water based poly.
I sprayed it on, but you can definitely use a painting sponge to apply it.
Learn ALL of my tips and tricks on How to Spray Polyurethane here!
When I showed my process on Instagram Stories, I got a lot of questions about why I sealed the wood before giving it a wash.
Basically the layer of poly would keep the wash (or watered down paint) from soaking into the wood, making it easier for me to work with it and get a lighter coat of a wash.
After I gave it a couple of coats of poly, I sanded the poly with 400 grit sandpaper to make it super silky smooth.
How to Color Wash Wood
Now for the really fun part!
Color wash is another word for white wash. But instead of using white paint, you can use whatever color your heart desires!
How to Make a Wash out of Paint
I used some Country Chic Paint in Sunday Tea that I had leftover (because you don’t need much for a project like this).
Sunday Tea creates the perfect grey weathered wood finish!
Just mix some water with the paint, stir it up until it’s completely combined, and then you’re good to go!
I’m going to guess that my ratio of water to paint was a 60/40 mix. So a little bit more water than paint.
How to Create a Weathered Wood Finish with a Color Wash
There are a million and one ways to go about this. But here is my process.
Wipe on, wipe off.
- Working in small sections, I wiped on a whole lot of the wash, making sure to get it into every bit of detail and corner.
- Before it sat on the wood for more than 30 seconds, I wiped off the wash with a clean rag, always wiping in the direction of the grain.
- If the paint was too thick, I used a wet rag to wipe off even more paint. Once again, wiping in the direction of the grain.
- Then I painted another very thin coat of wash on top of that until I was happy with it.
I used paper towels for this since the color I was using was pretty close to white.
If I were to do a dark color, I would use heavy duty lint free rags or old t-shirts. You could also use a cheap brush to brush on your first coat.
I kept all of my drawers in the dresser until I was happy with the overall finish of the front, and then I took them out to apply the wash to the side and top of the drawer fronts as well as the inside of the dresser where the drawers sit.
Seal the Color Wash
Once the wash was to my liking, I let it dry overnight.
I typically spray my top coat on, but my spray booth was being used, and it’s not necessary for a weathered wood look.
So I busted out my favorite brush, the Country Chic Paint Painting Sponge.
This sponge is perfect for topcoats without the hassle of a brush!
I used General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in Flat because that’s what I had on hand for a matte finish.
The final coats of poly are really important for creating a durable paint finish and protecting your finish from easily scratching.
Weathered Wood Paint Technique
Sound like too much work? You can use this weathered wood paint technique to create a weathered wood finish without so much work.
Just paint on the different layers! Here are some more great tutorials with this process! The Shiplap Coffee Table with a Painted Weathered Wood Top and the Restoration Hardware Weathered Finish with Paint