How to Sand, Bleach, and Whitewash Wood Furniture
Over the last several weeks, I have discussed my love for Zinsser Wood Bleach. It is an amazing product that really works. I used it after refinishing our heirloom cedar hope chest and now I just completed a new project that I’m going to share with you today! I’m sharing how to refinish, bleach, and whitewash wood furniture.
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The Desk Makeover
This desk was a Facebook Marketplace find. It originally retails at McGee & Co. for $1459, ouch! I purchased it secondhand for $450. The only catch? I didn’t love the dark and rich color. I wanted a white oak desk for my new office but I couldn’t bring myself to pay full retail price. I also reached out to local furniture makers and asked them to design the desk for me. It was still over budget and then luckily, this desk appeared on Facebook Marketplace. The actual desk is made by Enthnicraft and I was able to locate the type of wood and finish, enabling my decision to refinish it to a lighter color.
Sanding the Desk
First, I tested a few methods. I flipped the desk over and tested various varnish removers. Then I tested my old friend citristrip. Finally, I tested sanding the finish. Sanding was the fastest and easiest method, so I chose that as my method of action. I sanded the desk using my Ryobi Orbital Sander. This sander and I go wayyyyyyy back and I’ve refinished several pieces of furniture using it. It is electric and I wish I would have splurged for the model with a rechargeable battery, but this one gets the job done!
For this project, I used 80 grit sandpaper. Just be careful and test an inconspicuous spot first. If your sandpaper is too coarse, it can scratch some woods, especially veneer. Once the piece was completely sanded, I increased in increments to 120 grit, then 220 grit. This step is important because it buffs out any rough patches caused by the lower grit sandpaper. This will ensure that you have a smooth surface for stain or topcoat.
Let’s Talk About Sandpaper Again
What do the numbers mean anyways? The lower the number of a sandpaper means the more coarse and abrasive it will be. The higher the number, the more fine and less abrasive it will be. This was always so confusing to me in the beginning because to me, the higher the number, the more finish it could potentially remove. However this is not the case! Lower = Coarse and Higher = Fine.
Bleaching the Wood
Let’s move on to the fun part! The desk was beautiful in it’s natural state. However, would it be a Coastal Oak project without taking it a step further? I used the Zinsser Wood Bleach and wow, just wow. The white oak desk that I dreamed about was sitting right in front of me. It did take a day or so to achieve the results, but oh my goodness. Beautiful results coming up!
What is Wood Bleach and is it the same as household bleach?
This product is not average household bleach. This is actually a two step process. The process is simple, applying Solution A with a sponge to the wood and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes. Then following up with a new sponge and applying Solution B to the wood. Next, letting it sit and dry for several hours. I have found that this product is most the effective for lifting color from wood. It will not alter the actual wood grain. Does it work on red wood, like cedar and mahogany? Yes it does! Here is a quick review of my methods for refinishing and bleaching the cedar hope chest.
Whitewashing the desk
I do not have images whitewashing and sealing this specific piece of furniture. You can find out more about these techniques used on another project here. I mixed leftover white paint (Chantilly Lace) with water until I created a favorable consistency. You will need to test until you find a mixture that works for you. I found that 1 cup of water to 1/4 cup of paint worked well. Continue to stir while applying. Simply wipe the mixture on the wood with a rag and wipe off any excess with a dry rag, until you reach the color you hope to achieve!
Sealing the desk
Finally, you will need to apply a top coat and seal the piece. You went through all of this trouble to showcase the beautiful wood so make sure it is protected. General Finishes Flat Out Flat is my favorite topcoat that does not alter the appearance of the natural wood. However, it is not recommended for spaces with heavy use and frequent water exposure. I did use it in my laundry room and I have not experienced any water spots yet. However, I am very careful with the countertop, so please use your best judgement here. Polycrylic Matte is another great product that works well in frequently used areas.
As always, follow the instructions from the products used below for safety!
- Sand – Using my favorite Ryobi Orbital Sander and 80-grit sanding discs, I removed the remaining varnish. To create a smooth surface, I followed up with 120-grit, then 220-grit sanding discs. Clean the wood to remove all dust, I like to use a blower and/or vacuum then wipe it clean.
- Bleach – Using Two-Part A/B Wood Bleach. First, apply Solution A with a sponge. It will make the wood look much darker. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Then apply Solution B with a new sponge. Allow it to sit for several hours or overnight. Repeat as necessary. I did this once. Neutralize any bleach left behind by wiping the wood with a vinegar and water mixture.
- Prep to Stain – Lightly sand after bleaching wood. Anytime you use chemicals on wood, there may be damage that is not visible. You will want a nice and smooth surface prior to applying any stain. I used 120-grit sandpaper and followed up with 220-grit sandpaper.
- Whitewash – I mixed leftover white paint (Chantilly Lace) with water until I created a favorable consistency. You will need to test until you find a mixture that works for you. I found that 1 cup of water to 1/4 cup of paint worked well. Continue to stir while applying. Simply wipe the mixture on the wood with a rag and wipe off any excess with a dry rag, until you reach the color you hope to achieve!
- Apply Topcoat – Using a brush, brush on one thin application of General Finishes Flat Out Flat Topcoat. Avoid picking up and putting down your brush multiple times to avoid brushstrokes. Let dry for at least 2 hours. Lightly sand and wipe clean. Apply another application of top coat and lightly sand.
This is one of my favorite projects to date. I love the natural light wood color, with a tiny amount of whitewash. The whitewashed appearance actually make the grain pop and it is beautiful!
I do believe I will be spending most of my time in my new office, and I’m not upset about that! It is a calming and serene space, filled with so many of my favorite items! Should I refinish, bleach, and whitewash wood again? What do you want to see next? Drop a comment below and have a wonderful week!