Trying to update your vintage, antique, or dated furniture? Find out how to get a raw wood look for a fresh, modern vibe. Learn how to do this rustic modern furniture makeover in just three easy steps!
Well, friends, this is one of those total blogger fail moments. I not only didn’t stage, light, and video my tutorial… I didn’t even take many pictures! Or maybe I did (I have a vague memory of doing so…), but I can’t seem to find them on my camera. Oops. But – wouldn’t you know it – the one thing I didn’t document is the one thing I’m getting lots of questions about. So we’re going to make up this tutorial after the fact (and with a couple of sloppy iPhone pics to the rescue!) as best as we can… and share how to get raw wood look on old furniture. The best part is that it’s so easy that the fancy tutorial pictures aren’t even necessary. 😉
Trying to create a natural wood finish:
How to lighten up an old finish:
This sweet little nightstand happens to be one of the first piece of furniture my in-laws ever bought as a newly married couple. That alone is reason to cherish it, right? But I also liked the simplicity of it, and the little drawer and shelf are super practical. It seemed to have been finished with a walnut colored stain (though the wood is clearly pine or some other wood with very little grain), and the finish had definitely seen better days.
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I’ve recently been super inspired by my favorite bowl and its companion vase, both of which are a raw teak (seriously, I want to put them in every room and every vignette every time I decorate!). The raw, organic look feels very modern and is such a beautiful complement to white.
Update: that bowl and vase are no longer available, but I’ve gathered some similar ones for you below.
With that inspiration, I knew I wanted a wood finish rather than a painted one, so the first step was to remove the nightstand’s old finish. There are two main options when stripping furniture: sanding the finish right off or using some kind of chemical stripper. I have used some of the more environmentally friendly strippers in the past, but since I’m not pregnant right now and I had plenty of ventilation, I decided to just go for it and try this chemical stripper. To be honest, half way through I just quit using it and sanded instead. The clear coat finish was not very thick, so 60-grit sandpaper took it off without too much elbow grease. Plus, since the wood was kind of soft, the sanding actually took off the stain color pretty quickly (the stripper was taking off the clear, protective coat, but not removing the stain). In the end, an hour or two of sanding (with an orbital sander on the big portions, a palm sander in the corners, and by hand on any non-flat surfaces), the piece was stripped almost totally bare. I didn’t bother to try to remove the stain from some of the nicks and grooves because I like how it aged the piece.
In fact, when I finished sanding off all the finish I thought THIS! This is what I want the piece to look like!!
(insert face palm because this is the step that I cannot find pictures of…)
But how to protect it???
How to seal wood without changing the color:
Unfortunately, raw wood is totally unpractical… And the short answer is there is no perfect way to seal wood (especially aged wood) without changing the color at least some. I could have put a clear poly coat on it at that point and quite possibly have preserved the look for the most part, but almost any clear coat makes the wood a bit darker and richer when it goes on. And I knew that poly would be much harder to alter (since it really is meant to be the very top coat). So I used some beeswax finish from Fusion Mineral Paint that I had leftover from another project. As I expected/feared, it wonderfully hydrated and sealed the nightstand, simultaneously bringing out the oranginess of the wood.
This picture doesn’t do it justice. It was orange. I told my husband it looked like “horseshoes nailed to the wall” rustic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (I am a born and bred Texan, after all!), but it was not at all the look I was going for with this piece. So I began brainstorming how to bring back that natural, raw wood look.
How to get raw wood look on furniture:
- Remove the old finish (leaving some darker color in nicks and grooves is fine)
- Apply 1-2 coats of a hydrating wax finish (like Fusion Mineral Paint’s beeswax)
- Apply 1 coat of Amy Howard’s cerusing wax
To apply the cerusing wax (there is a great little video on the Amy Howard site here, but I didn’t watch that before, so I made up my own way 😉 plus, it’s really for application over a painted finish ), I simply squeezed a quarter size amount or so onto a lint free rag and rubbed it into the wood in a circular motion.
(See how the right side is much less orange than the left?!?!)
The cerusing wax is what did the trick: it took the piece from the warm orange back to a nice, neutral raw look.
If you look closely, you can see some of the white wax in the cracks and crevices, but the overall look is not necessarily whitewashed, simply natural.
It’s just the rustic modern look I love that I have with those two favorite accents I mentioned.
GET THE LOOK:
Now I have to figure out what else I can strip. 😉
Update: if you need your piece to have a more durable finish (like a kitchen table, for example), try this method instead.
Be sure to pin it for later and let me know if you try the process and how it turns out on your piece!