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How to make plywood look like whitewashed beach wood

Bleached-out wooden panels or furniture are essential if you're planning decor with a weathered "beach" look. Use a little ingenuity and you can transform even bland, neutral plywood into a feature with bags of character. The whitewashing and weathering effects mentioned here are simple to achieve and suitable for a big project such as a floor, or a small one such as a box, or mirror frame.

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  1. Rub the plywood briskly with sandpaper. This roughens the surface of the wood, so the paint you apply will stick. Sand down any crisp edges of new plywood, so they look more weathered. Rub the wood with a damp cloth afterwards, to remove any specks of dust.

  2. Dilute a can of white emulsion paint with water, to produce a thin wash. Use 2 cups paint to every 1 cup water, measuring the mixture into a paint kettle. Stir the mixture well, with a stick. If you're attempting a big project, you'll need to stir the paint again from time to time.

  3. Dip the tip of a paintbrush into your wash, so the bristles are hardly wet. Squeeze out any excess paint with a cloth before applying the brush to the wood. This technique, known as "dry-brushing" allows more of the wood beneath to show through, creating a worn appearance.

  4. Brush a thin coating of watered-down emulsion onto the plywood. Follow the line of the wood grain with your brush-strokes. Let the coat dry, then gradually build up more thin layers of wash. Do not cover every part of the wood evenly. Leave a few patches where the raw wood shows through.

  5. Add thin coats of wash until your wood reaches the bleached-out state you want. Aim for a semi-transparent finish. If you apply the wash too thickly, simply wipe some away with a rag, while the wood is still wet. When you wipe, follow the line of the wood grain, as before.


  1. Gently scuff the dry surface of your painted plywood, by rubbing it over again with sandpaper. This imparts a more weathered appearance to the finished product.

  2. Bash the wood with a bag of screws, if you're after a really sea-battered look. You could also add some small holes with the point of an iron nail, perhaps in clusters, as if they were the work of ship worms.

  3. Smear white PVA glue over your whitewash, if you want to give it an aged, crackled effect. Paint another thin layer of whitewash over the glue while it is still tacky. The surface of the wash will break up into an authentic-looking crazed and crackled pattern as it dries.

  4. Tip

    For a small project, a sample pot of white emulsion paint should be plenty.

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Things You'll Need

  • Plywood
  • 180-grit sandpaper
  • Damp cloth
  • White household emulsion paint
  • Cup
  • Paint kettle
  • Stick
  • Paintbrush
  • Rag
  • Bag of screws
  • Iron nail
  • White PVA glue

About the Author

British writer Martin Malcolm specializes in children's nonfiction. His books include "A Giant in Ancient Egypt" and "Poetry By Numbers." His schoolkids' campaign for the Red Cross won the 2008 Charity Award. A qualified teacher, he has written for the BBC and MTV. He holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of London.

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