Black Washed Furniture : A Fool Proof Painting Technique for Beginners

This black wash painting technique is perfectly worn without being chippy, full of dimension and timeless while still meshing with modern and transitional decor. But the best part...? It's fool proof! I’m not exaggerating when I say this wash technique is almost impossible to mess up. I’m half tempted to stop writing here and tell you to go try it without instructions, because I’m 98% confident it would turn out beautifully. But because you’re here to learn a thing or two before tackling your project and probably expect a little guidance, I will continue (but not because you need it).

"This black washed chest of drawers may be the most forgiving project ever!"

It all started with this inspiration dresser from Burch Lane – the Ammerman 9 drawer for a whopping $1000. The more time I spend in thrift shops and estate sales the more prices from furniture retail stores just blow my mind! This one at least was partially real wood (the other parts being plywood and laminate). Meanwhile, I picked up this solid oak beauty from my local Habitat for Humanity for $80 and gathered my supplies to tackle a look-a-like project.

The inspiration.

Habitat for Humanity chest of drawers

To get the black washed looked you’ll need some basic tools:

  • Degreasing product – KrudKutter, TSP or Dawn dish soap - any will do
  • Sand paper or sanding sponges in 220 grit
  • Clear primer
  • Paint (I'll be using black, but feel free to mix it up)
  • Water
  • Measuring cups
  • High Quality paint brush – I used a 1.5” oval
  • Lint free shop rags
  • Mister Bottle
  • Topcoat of your choice (poly, hemp oil or wax will work)

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1. Clean the piece of furniture
2. Scuff sand & remove dust
3. Prime
4. Paint & choose your removal method
5. Topcoat

1. Clean the piece of furniture

You never know where your furniture has been. So step one – ALWAYS – is clean your piece! I love Krud Kutter and old T-shirts for this first, essential step. Dawn dish soap and water can also be a great degreaser. When I use Dawn I simply fill an old bowl with soapy water, dip an old T-shirt in the water, wring it out and wipe down the piece outdoors. When using Dawn or TSP I take the extra step of going over it a 2nd and 3rd time with water only to ensure there's no residue remaining.

After the piece is squeaky clean and dry, it’s sanding time!

2. Scuff sand

The beauty of this finish is you get a very natural look – almost an espresso stained look - without sanding down to raw wood. (Can I get a hallelujah!) Using a 220 grit sand paper, all you need to do is scuff up the original finish. This may take a little more elbow grease if you have a super shiny previous finish. Clean away the dust with a microfiber cloth followed by a tack cloth before moving onto the next step.

3. Prime

In this project you’ll want to use a clear primer so the natural wood grain can still show through. Clear spray shellac and Wise Owl clear primer are both great options.

4. Paint & choose your removal style

This is where the fun begins! Before I get too into it, I have a disclaimer: THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO DO THIS! If you don’t like your first try, just wet a towel and wipe off all the paint or re-brush and try again! It’s a beautiful thing, but also overwhelming so I’m going to point out at least 3 methods that I incorporated. You can mix them as you wish or need.

The Dab

Yes, like the dance move. For this approach, generously mist your surface, paint on full coverage paint, then take a dry shop rag and blot the areas you want to look worn. If you want a heavier distressed look you can mist again or dampen your shop rag before blotting. I like the control you have in this technique. If there are certain areas you want to look more worn this is a great way to achieve that.

Thin and Brush

If you don’t want the pressure of dabbing (I get it, not everyone is comfortable with their dance skills) and want a little less control you may prefer this approach. Thin down the paint with water at a 1:1 ratio and simply brush on the thinned paint. This will result in very thin, but buildable coverage. For example, the pictures below were my first coat with this technique. The only challenge here is getting the paint thick enough not to drip, but thin enough to be somewhat translucent. Depending on the viscosity and coverage of the paint you may need to add more or less water. I like this technique for an even washed coverage across the entire piece that makes it almost look stained.

Paint & Wipe

If you want both the control of the dab and the look of the thinned paint, this may be the favored method. For this technique you’ll still want to water down your paint, but closer to a 2:1 paint to water ratio. Brush on the thinned paint and wipe off the excess, applying firmer pressure over the areas you want to look more worn.

5. Topcoat

Pick your poison. For this project I used a "new to me" topcoat, Behr Water-Based Poly, because my local Home Depot was out of Varathane. But feel free to reach for your favorite clear wax or hemp oil which would bring out the natural peak-a-boo wood grain nicely. Whatever you choose, it will be beautiful!

To finish off my piece, I cleaned up and attached the original hardware, leaving the patina to coordinate with the overall aged look.

I can’t wait for you to try this super simple technique that results in a very advanced looking finish with lots of depth. With so many techniques to choose from, all of which are very forgiving, this is a fantastic project for beginner furniture painters. Happy paint washing!

Girl Behind the Blog:

I'm Jess, the creator of Oak | Grain and member of the Carolina Furniture Collective. A mid-west girl at heart who now resides in Raleigh, NC. I love finding old things & giving them new purpose by way of refinishing or incorporating unexpected, overlooked thrift store finds in the modern home. I work full-time in medicine & I love dipping into my creative side by transforming furniture and in the process, keeping my sanity. Follow me on Instagram @oakandgrain_refinishing to see more behind the scenes action.