20 Ways to make wood look old
There is something special about the aged wood that draws everyone’s attention. It adds a real warm and inviting feel to any space. Often you have to wonder what story’s that board would tell you if it could talk.
Unfortunately for us there is a limit to the amount of aged wood that is available. Most barn wood on the market comes in at a high price tag as well.
There are few simple ways you can achieve that old wood look.
Simple methods such as basic painting techniques, using chains or screws to add texture or simply applying an antique wax over your painted piece may add the old look you want.
In this article I will try to go a little bit more in depth with the techniques that I have used as well as discovered online by doing some research.
Simple painting & staining techniques to make wood look distressed.
1. Dry brushing
This is a simple painting technique that will give you an incredible rustic look very quickly. This method involves dipping the tip of your paint brush in paint. Remove a majority of the paint on a scrap piece of wood or towel.
Afterwards, lightly drag the brush across the surface of the piece using minimal pressure. This will add a light grain like texture to your piece.
Dry brushing works best when you use complementary colors. Starting with a dark base color and dry brushing a light color. You can also start with a light base color and dry brush a dark color but start lightly as the effect can be drastic.
2. Wet wash with paint
Have you ever heard of a white wash finish? Well this is basically the same technique. I like to use darker browns or mud colors for this technique as you can get really cool effects when working on unfinished wood. When using darker colors the water really help enhance the wood grains.
You will need to find an old spray bottle and fill it up with some water (warm or cold), a sponge and a paint brush.
Spray the surface of the piece you are finishing using the water bottle. Apply the paint of your choice to the wet surface using the paint brush.
Using a wet sponge wipe the paint (you just brushed on) around the surface. After a few passes your sponge should be pretty full of the color you’re using (this is a good thing). Lightly drag the colored sponge following the woodgrain for an even finish.
If there are dark areas that need to be lightened simply use the spray bottle to soak the area and drag with the sponge until you achieve your desired look.
Be sure you work in small sections with this method. If you notice that the color is more opaque simply rewet the surface and wipe with the sponge.
3. Staining over wet paint or Painting over Wet stain
This method is similar to the wet wash with one key difference. You’re not using water but instead you’re using stain (or paint) as the moisture.
I have found that this method is best used on unfinished wood surfaces. You can really get an amazing wood grain look simply by choosing to complementary colors.
I like to start with stain first as you tend to have a longer working time. If you choose to start with the paint just be sure to work fast so that it doesn’t dry out before mixing.
First, apply a heavy coat of wood stain to the surface almost so that it is puddling in areas. Next using a paint brush, brush a few random lines of paint on top of the wet stain. While everything is still wet use a rag to blend all the colors together. Moving with the grain will give you the best results.
After you have blended the colors together try to remove all the puddling. You will need to check the piece a few times as it is drying to make sure it looks the way you want it to.
If there are areas that need to be touched up simple rework the smaller areas using the same process.
Interested in seeing this process? Check out a video I made on mixing stains and blending colors to get a cool effect!
4. Painting in layers with different colors
Have you ever saw a really old piece of furniture that looks like it has been repainted 100 times? Well that’s what painting in layers is except we want to choose colors that all work together.
Start by applying a base coat of paint to the entire piece. I like to start with a dark color and work through the lighter colors but you can do this either way.
After the base coat has dried add the next color to the piece but this time not the entire piece. As we work through the colors the sections we paint will be smaller and smaller. Your last coat (lightest color) will just be areas that you want to highlight such as edges or small cracks and creases.
After all layers are dry go over the piece to check for areas that need darkened or lightened. You can choose to add more paint as needed or use a sander to remove paint.
5. White Vinegar & Steel Wool
Have you ever wondered how to make your own wood stain? Well there are a few ways to do so. One common method that has been around for a while is using white vinegar & steel wool.
What you will need to do is fill a container up with the vinegar and add some steel wool to it. Tear the steel wool into smaller pieces to speed up the process. The vinegar will breakdown the steel wool and create a rust colored stain. This takes a few days to do but this can be a cool effect when it’s all done.
How to make wood look old with white paint
6. Stain & White paint
This is probably one of the most popular methods of really adding that distressed look to any furniture. When working with a newly built piece you will want to completely stain the piece. Use a dark colored stain for a bold distressed look. The darker the base stain the more prominent it will be after distressed.
Let the stain dry completely. This is important as you do not want the colors to blend. Also the dryer the stain the less it will bleed through the coat of paint.
First consider how distressed you want the final piece to be. If you’re looking for a lightly distressed piece you will want to completely paint the piece white after the stain has dried. If you want a heavily distressed piece you can simple dry brush white over the stained piece.
After the piece is painted and dried simply sand the edges that you want to distress. This will show the stain that was left underneath. Stain soaks into the wood and tends to stay behind during the sanding. Dark stains really stand out under white paint and give you a great looking piece.
Make sure to highlight areas using these techniques
7. Layer different paint colors in spots
As I mentioned previously layering different colored painted is a great way to distress a piece of furniture and make it look old. When layering paints it is important to make sure and highlight areas that typically are abused and show wear.
Make sure to go back and check the edges of your piece. You may tend to find more wear around doors and handles. If your piece has fine details in it you may want to add darker spots down into grooves and crevices.
In the end just have fun with it, take your time and think outside the box.
8. Sand down edges
After you’re done painting or finishing your piece be sure to go back over the entire piece and look for places that you can highlight. Going back over the edges of your piece with an orbital sander really make your piece shine.
This is really simple to do and can really make it pop. If you want a more heavily distressed piece try going over some of the flat surfaces with a sander as well. Adding bare stops to the top or side can add a really aged look.
Finishing techniques you can use to achieve a rustic look
9. Antique Waxing
Antique waxing is another technique that you can use. This is really easy to do and from what I have learned it works great over top of white paints. If you’re working with more detailed pieces this can be an easier option than sanding edges down.
Antique waxing comes in a few different colors. Choosing a darker color over top of white paints can really make the fine details stand out.
After the paint has dried on piece that you’re trying to antique you can simply apply the antiquing wax with a dry rag to any details you want to distress.
Before and the wax dries you’re going to want to wipe it away from areas you do not want distressed with a clean rag. The longer you leave the wax on the surface the darker and more difficult it will be to remove.
How to make wood distressed with texture
Sometimes when you’re working on a piece you may really want to add a textured distressed look. There are many ways to accomplish this and I will just mention a few of the more popular methods that I have used.
Always consider the type of material that you are using before choosing the method that you use. Softer woods such as pine distress very easily while hardwoods such as oak take a lot more effort and force to distress.
Using chains to distress a piece has one of the most popular methods. Basically all you’re doing is whipping the piece of wood with a chain.
I know it sounds violent but it does leave some ice textured two-piece after you’re done. I actually have a chain attached to a small piece of wood that acts as a handle.
11. Sea shells
Using seashells may not be the best option if you’re not close to the beach. Fortunately for me the beach is right down the road. What you need to do here is find some seashells that have a nice texture on them with very prominent lines.
You can either do this one shell at a time or use a whole handful. Place the shells with the textured side down on the piece of wood you’re trying to distress.
Lay a flat piece of wood over the shells and strike it with a hammer creating indents in the wood below. What you’re trying to do here is create a manmade fossil. When the piece finished the stain or paint will soak into the textures creating dark spots.
If you’re going for that farmhouse look you may want to consider using screws to distress your piece of furniture. You can use either a single screw or a handful at a time.
I like to use one screw at time randomly creating divots and textures throughout the piece. Move to screw around and use a hammer to lightly tap in the screw texture.
Using gravel can give your piece a lot of texture very quick. Similar to using shells you will want to place some gravel onto the surface, place a piece of wood over it and hit or step on it creating small indents in the surface.
If you’re looking for the easiest method well look no further. Using a hammer is your ticket. Simply give your piece of furniture a few swift smacks with a hammer and you’re sure to add some nice texture.
15. Belt Sander
I know we have talked about using a sander to distress the edges but this can also be used to add texture. This is one of my favorite methods for adding texture to farmhouse tables.
Using 50 or 60 grit on a belt sander will leave behind some cool looking texture. If you’re looking for a lighter texture I would suggest running the sander in the direction of the wood grain.
To create a rough cut lumber look run the belt sander against the wood grain. I like to make an X pattern to really add to the look after it is stained.
How to make new wood look like barn wood
There is something special about barn wood. Old wood had that texture that is difficult to recreate. Here are a few methods that you can try to make a new piece of wood look and feel like barn wood.
16. Wire brush
Use a stiff wire brush or maybe a wire brush similar to the type that is used for clean a grill. Treat the wood like your combing your hair. Try to create a lined texture to the surface.
Any texture that you create in wood will take stain differently making your finished piece of furniture look older than it is.
17. Wire grinder for drill
Have you ever seen the old steel brushes that are made to fit a drill? This can be a faster way to add the lines to wood giving you that old barn wood look and feel.
How to make authentic looking worm holes in new wood
Now this is probably something that you didn’t think of recreating. Let’s dive into how we can recreate wormholes. With our method though we can leave out all the bugs and worms.
Pretty simple! Get a hammer and some large common nails or spikes. Drive the nails into the wood to create a random hole pattern. Be sure not to drive them in so far that they can’t be removed but far enough to make it appear deep.
Similar yet easier than using nails. Grab your cordless drill with a ¼” drill bill. Start drilling holes into the wood in random locations. You can also drill holes at angles to create a real looking worm hole
20. Cork Screw
A little more difficult but totally possible. Grab a cork screw and start hand drilling some holes.
Thanks for stopping by
So there it is folks, that’s my 20 methods for making wood furniture look old. Lots of these methods I have personally tried with great success. When learning how to make wood furniture look old it is always a good idea to test any of these methods on scrap wood first.
Don’t be afraid to test different colors and combinations of colors to get the look that you’re going for. The right color combination will go a long way in your woodworking project.
I hope that you have found this information helpful in any way. If you’d like to check out some of my projects visit me on Facebook @homebuiltwoodworking
I am a seasoned woodworker with many years’ experience creating custom furniture among other projects. In 2015 my family and I relocated from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania to sunny Saint Johns, FL. It is here that I refined my skills into fine woodworking & home decor. I currently specialize in rustic home decor & furnishings. This has given me the opportunity to explore the creative side of woodworking to a different level.
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