Aged wood often complements particular types of decor better than new. Whether painted or unpainted, aged wood has character, texture and depth of color. New wood can seldom match its homey, well-worn quality.
“Distressing” wood generally means weathering it by hand, using tools or chemicals to add enough imperfections to provide age and character, but not so many that it becomes unusable. Distressed wood can add a rustic aesthetic to a room.
Choose the Wood
For woodworking projects, you can track down boards of reclaimed wood or barn wood that has already been aged. But you can make a piece of new wood look old using a simple DIY method that uses tools and materials you may already have around the house.
- Whether your woodworking project involves building furniture or making something decorative, determine the size and quantity of the boards you’ll need.
- Softwoods such as pine, cedar, fir and hemlock work best. They tend to be easier to distress than hardwoods and more receptive to stains and chemicals. Plus, these types of wood are more likely to have knots and superficial damage, which adds to the aged look.
Before diving into the project, practice on scrap wood to ensure that you get the desired look. Before diving into the project, practice on scrap wood to ensure that you get the desired look.
Rough Up the Wood
- The first step is to age the wood using tools and objects to give its texture more wear and tear. Use tools and materials you already have available rather than making special purchases.
- Start with blunt tools. There are many ways to add nicks, dents, divots and more. Lightly tap the wood surface with a hammer. You may find that the side of the hammerhead leaves marks that are less uniform than the round face.
- Other techniques include dragging a metal chain across the wood surface or scratching the wood with the threads of a long, metal screw, which will leave grooves.
Older children in your household might enjoy helping with this part of the process.
Stab and Scour the Wood
- Wormholes are familiar signs of exposure to nature and can be simulated with sharp tools. Stab the wood with an awl to create small holes.
- Another method is to “sandwich” several pieces of gravel between two of your boards (the more pieces you add, the more distressed the wood will be.) Stand on the top board and “surf” back and forth to scour the surface. You may want to do this in arm’s reach of a wall or table to keep your balance.
Scrub the Surface with a Wire Brush
To increase the irregularity of the wooden surface, rub it vigorously with a wire brush or use a power drill with a brush attachment. Wire brushes work effectively with softwoods, scraping out the soft fibers and making the deeper grain more prominent.
Sand Down the Sharp Edges
While new boards have sharp edges and corners, a more rounded, uneven appearance looks more worn. Using fine-grain sandpaper, round off the corners and edges. Don’t strive for uniformity: the more irregular it looks, the more it seems authentically aged.
Create a Vinegar Treatment
- Chemically staining new wood gives it an older-looking color and patin. This method uses vinegar and steel wool.
- Prepare a mixture by putting steel wool in a jar, spray bottle or other sealable container. Pour white distilled vinegar to cover it and let sit for about 10 hours.
- Use one to three wool pads and a half gallon of vinegar, depending on how dark you want the wood. The acid in the vinegar will interact with the iron in the steel wool, so the mixture gets darker the longer it sits, and with more metal used.
- For substitutions, use any kind of vinegar and a handful of nails or metal bits instead of steel wool.
Apply the Treatment to the Wood
When the vinegar solution is ready, use a paintbrush and apply a heavy coat of the mixture. Let it sit and don’t be surprised if the wood significantly darkens within 10 minutes.
Tip: Including black tea in the solution also creates a darker color. In addition, some premixed agents have same effect without the vinegar smell.
Apply a Coat of Light Paint
- Once you have the wood aged as desired, you can apply a layer of varnish to finish. Or, if you want to evoke the look of old, painted wood that has faded elements, paint the new wood with two different colors. (Skip these steps if you prefer an unpainted surface.)
- First, use paint brushes to apply a coat of white or light-colored paint or white primer. Let it dry.
Apply a Coat of Colorful Paint
Next, add another coat of paint, this time a bold color such as a red or blue. Let it dry fully or the technique will be less effective. Lightly sand away the colorful topcoat so the bright base coat becomes visible. Leave as much or as little of the topcoat as desired. If the sanding is uneven, the surface will appear more aged.
Apply a Layer of Finish
For a shiny appearance that’s smooth to the touch, add a finish of oil-based polyurethane varnish according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Distressing wood offers a shortcut to waiting for time and the natural elements to provide that prized look of “shabby chic.” Once prepared, your faux-weathered wood will be ready for such projects as creating furniture, stenciled signage and other decorative features. Shop The Home Depot for the supplies you need for your project. You can also use The Home Depot Mobile App to make your shopping list.