An Easy Project Finish: The Simple Whitewash

Whitewash FinishI’ve been building a few useful desk pieces lately to give my workspace a bit more livable at the office. I built them out of pallet wood with a nice rustic feel and didn’t want to cover over that character so I decided to go for a simple whitewash. Take a look at how easy it is to get a rustic finish with a bit of watered down paint.   When I needed a few things for my desk, I took two blocks of salvaged pallet wood and made them. The first, was a simple tray for keys, wallet, and other small items that never seem to stay put; and second was a simple pen holder because I’ve spent too many minutes searching for a stick of ink that actually works. I’ve been leaning towards simple, rustic pieces at the office because I like the texture and feel of wood and a minimal finish lets the character remain.Wooden Pen Holder

The whitewash finish came along when paint was expensive and folks were cheap, so watering down the spendy coating made it go further. This faded white paintjob became known as a whitewash and is the epitome of the rustic character.

The first step is to properly sand down the completed piece as much as necessary to give it a smooth base for the finish. I wanted to keep some of the character, so I angled the edges and sanded it smooth but left most of the saw marks and cracks.Prepping the Pieces

Next, I sprayed on a light layer of grey spray paint for a base. I used grey, but black is another great color as a neutral. Keep in mind that the paint will fade with the white top layer, which means red may fade into something closer to pink so plan accordingly.Adding White Paint

After the coating is dry add a small dip of paint onto the piece and spread it over the surfaces with a wet towel. The layer of the paint can be washed as thin as needed to make the piece your own and let it dry.Whitewash Finish

While the piece is about finished at this point, a final layer of polyurethane adds durability and polish to the surfaces if they’ll be subjected to the daily grind.Finished Whitewash


1. Watch the corners of boxes as they tend to pool the paint. Don’t try to get it all at once, it’s better to paint in a few light layers. 

2. Make sure the piece is fully dry before coating with a layer of polyurethane or other finish. The whitewash has quite a bit of water that will keep it from bonding to the surface.

3. Try to finish any matching pieces at the same time to keep everything layered consistently.

Do you have a simple finish for your rustic pieces? We’d love to hear what other easy ways there are to give pieces their own character.