16 Ways How To distress Wood and Make it Look Old and Weathered

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I wrote an article about staining wood some time ago. But here I’d like to show you how to make your projects even more exciting.

Most of the pallets used for projects have been around for some time, so already have some character. The same goes for used furniture. But what if you want to use new pallets/wood? What about wooden but dull furniture?

I’ve found some interesting articles on how to make wood distressed, old, or weathered. Of course, you can find more online. People are experimenting all the time with different techniques to achieve the desired results. I’ve picked the ones I really liked, and I hope you’d like them too.

Why distress wood/furniture?

In short. Because it’s fun. And because the results are amazing. Another good reason is that upcycling used pallets/furniture is great for the environment. You turn some unwanted, unloved items into something exciting and even artsy, I’d say.

You’re creating something different/unique that will fit your home/decor perfectly. No more compromises. Yay! You can make the aged farmhouse table you always wanted :)

And the last thing is that you’re saving money. Handmade pieces are expensive. This way, you’ll get what you want, using the materials you want for a fraction of the price.

How does wood age?

One of the ways of distressing wood is aging it artificially. You can have a fantastic aged barn-like look in hours instead of weeks, months, or even years.

But how does it work exactly?

In nature, the weather(water, sun, earth, wind) affects wood looks and structure. When there is no access to the air (like underwater or underground), the wood is aging anaerobically. In most cases, this affects looks as well as the structure of wood.

On the surface, with access to air and sun, we talk about aging aerobically. The UV light causes photodegradation. This affects the color but not the strength or structure. And the wind and rain cause oxidation – the more tannins wood has, the darker it becomes over time.

How to distress wood/furniture step by step

Prepare Your Space

Every project should start with proper preparation. This one is no different. So cover the workspace with drop cloths or old sheets to avoid mess everywhere. If you deal with furniture, remove any hardware like knobs and handles and put them away in a safe place.

Sand and Clean the Piece

Clean the piece. But Since we’re distressing, I wouldn’t stress about it. We want that old, used look, remember? For upcycling used furniture sand lightly(if the surface has a finish) and wipe the dust off with a rag to get rid of sand dust. For used pallets, I’d do the same to clean them up. As for aging/distressing new wood, you’d want to sand the edges/corners to soften them up.

Choose your distressing technique


Using Wood Stain

The first one is pretty straightforward. I’ve found it on prettyhandygirl.com. To achieve that kind of weathered look, all you need is two stains. First, you need to stain the wood with any sun-bleached color stain (like Rustoleum wood stain) and wipe off the excess.

weathered-wood

Pictures courtesy of Brittany Bailey

Then you add a little brown stain(i.e., Minwax Early American) and wipe it off.

You could use a weathered gray as well. It is a trial and error method. You have to check for yourself if you like the results, which also depend on the kind of wood you’re staining.

And what I mean by that is that some kinds of wood are darker and some are lighter in color. Therefore, they going to look different after staining. 

Some of them are softer/harder than others, and that is reflected in a way the wood is “drinking up” the stain. This also affects the final result.

Using Glaze

Note: Brittany had an update on this method due to Valspar glaze not being produced anymore. So follow this link to learn more :)

This is another method I’ve found on prettyhandygirl.com, and I like the end result better. The outcome is kind of like rustic barn wood, and all you need is a glaze.

Pictures courtesy of Brittany Bailey

You mix 4 parts of clear mixing glaze with 2 parts of translucent color glaze (here in mocha) and 1 part of antiquing asphaltum glaze. Stir it and adjust the color to your liking adding more mocha or more asphaltum.

The next step is to brush the glaze onto the wood, tap the brush on a stick to give it some “freckles” or rub it in.

She used a Valspar glaze, but any other would be fine.

Using Paint

  • Paint and stain

There are 5 steps in this method. They are straightforward to follow, and the final effect looks terrific. I’ve found it on thriftyandchic.com.

First, you have to sand the wood. It all depends on how rough it is. If you new to sanding, have a look at my Wood Sanding Tips. The end result doesn’t have to be very smooth, but I’d advise using orbit sander or random orbit sander.

Paint the wood with a coat paint. In this case, it is white. Any wood paint or latex paint would do as long as it’s not glossy.

But, if this piece of wood you painting is going to be heavily used or placed outdoors, I’d go for enamel paint. It would give you that extra durability even though you would want to put a coat of finish on top.

Pictures courtesy of Alicia @thriftyandchic.com

If you want to go for a more in-depth effect, you can use 2 colors on top of each other. Just remember to let the paint layers dry completely (it takes longer for a wood paint to dry).

Sand the wood again with a coarser sandpaper grit like P-80 or steel wool. The effect you’re after is that some of the wood grain/base paint coat visible through the paint layers.

You can use a wood stain for a more antique look. Get some dark brown stain and a cloth and rub it all over the wood. Wipe the excess off. You will notice that the visible wood grains left after the second sanding will pick up the color beautifully. And the white paint will turn into a grayish weathered one.

The last step is sealing. Make sure you won’t skip this one as it’ll give your piece a longer life. The finish you’ll use depends mainly on a couple of things. First is the location of your project- indoors or outdoors. And second, what kind of a paint/stain is used.

What I mean by this is that if your stain is oil-based, you can’t use water-based sealant. For more information on wood stains, I invite you to read  How To Stain Wood – The Ultimate Guide For Upcycling and Pallet Projects. I’m sure you’ll find some more answers.

  • Sanding technique

This is the most straightforward way of distressing wood/furniture. Just sand in random areas of painted furniture/wood. You can do it with several layers of paint for a more aged look. Make sure each coat has dried and sand between layers. Don’t forget to seal.

  • Wet paper technique

This is a simple alternative to the wax/vaseline technique. It’s a great solution if you suddenly run out of wax/candles/vaseline and want to proceed with your project.

Prepare small irregular shapes of paper. Then dip them in water and place them on wood. Paint the piece before the paper dries.

Lift the paper off the surface carefully while the paint is still wet. If you leave it to dry, the paper may stick to the surface. But since we’re after an aged/distressed look, it may actually add some texture. So experiment. Lastly, sand the paint a bit to give it even more depth.

  • Dry brush technique

When I used to paint more(not walls but the actual world on canvas/paper), this was one of my favorite painting techniques. It’d give me the ability to add more layering without overdoing it with paint. And the piece would look more sketchy/ unfinished look that I liked.

The method is simple. Use any old paintbrush with hard bristles. Dip it in the paint – just a little is enough and skim off as much excess as you can. Paint the piece in fast motion. Make strokes in different directions.

Don’t cover the whole surface. You’d want the wood /base color showing through. You can use different colors in multiple layers and also sand it a bit to give it a more worn look.

  • Scraper technique

This method is similar to sanding but removes only paint and not wood. Paint the piece and let it dry to the point that the pain is tacky. Use a scraper to scrape the paint off in the places paint would usually chip off. You can work with multiple layers/colors of paint.

  • Rinsing technique

Another fantastic way to add character to your piece. It’s perfect for soft aged wood effect and best used on raw wood.

Paint the piece and let it dry for a bit, then rinse with water and wipe the surface gently with a cloth. That’s it!

  • Wooden block technique

Another quick technique. Instead of using an old paintbrush, use a wooden block. Dip the end in paint and drag it on the surface. Same as above use with multiple colors/layers.

  • Pouring paint technique

This is one of many ways to whitewash wood, and it’s perfect for wood with lots of texture. Pour the paint onto the surface and scrape it along the grain with a scraper and let it dry.

  • Candle/wax technique

It’s a method similar to the paper one. It can be used on raw or painted wood/furniture. You can create a single/multilayered distressed look. Paint the piece in random places for wood to show through or cover it all for the paint to show trough.

Apply wax(candle) to places you want the wood/base paint color to show. Paint another layer of different color and let it dry. Then rub/sand the wax off. Apply another layer/color if you want.

Using Tea, Steel Wool, And Vinegar

I think this method is the most popular one online. This one mostly comes from upcycledtreasures.com (now Mountain and Modern Life ), but I’ve found some handy tips on wellnessmama.com as well.

All you need is:

  • 2 jars
  • some black tea/coffee/red wine(optional)
  • vinegar (white, wine, apple)
  • steel wool
  • gloves
  • hydrogen peroxide

First of all, you put the steel wool in a jar and pour in the vinegar. The kind of vinegar you use will have an impact on the color of the finished wood.

Darker kinds of vinegar tend to stain more and, thus, the effect is more intense. Saying that it also depends on what type of wood you are going to use it on.

You leave this mixture for some time (between 24 hours and 5 days).

How to age wood in 24hrs? To speed up the process, heat up vinegar before adding steel wool. Add hydrogen peroxide after the mixture has been sitting for some time(preferably overnight).

UV light(sun) also helps speeding up the process so you can put it outside to marinate. Oh, and don’t cover the jar. The result is a beautiful grey color. But, as i said before, it’ll also depend on the wood you’re working with.

When it’s ready, it’s tea time lol. Well, not exactly ;) You need to brew some black tea in the second jar. Make it very strong, like let it sit for around 2 hours. You can also do it at the same time as the vinegar/steel mixture.

The idea of using tea is that the tannins that are in the tea can enhance wood’s color and depth. But it’s only useful for light woods like pine. Darker wood has naturally got more tannin.

After the tea has brewed for some time, you need to strain it and then either brush it on or use a cloth and put it on the wood.

Make sure you wipe the excess off. For easier application, use a spray bottle to apply the tannin mixture. Let it dry.

The next step is to apply the iron-vinegar mixture on the wood using a paintbrush. Make sure the strokes are even and along the grain of the wood. You can add a second coat for a darker effect. Let it dry, and after that, you can sand it with fine or very fine sandpaper.

The last step is to finish off with a coat of sealant of your choice.

Using Baking Soda And Vinegar

This is another simple way to change a wood appearance. It comes from radmegan.com. If you want to use this method, choose darker wood that contains more tannin. This includes cedar, pine, red oak, redwood, and mahogany. If you want pallet wood looking aged, this method is excellent for unused pallets. This way, you get the imperfections of pallet wood and the aged look.

Weathered Wood

Photo courtesy of Megan Andersen @ radmegan.com

There are two ways of doing this. The first one is time-consuming. The second one is the choice you’ll go to if you haven’t got much time.

Well, who has? Lol In both cases, you need to put your piece of wood on a sawhorse or something similar to expose all sides.

You can always flip the wood and repeat the whole process.

You need to make a solution 1 part of baking soda and 1 part of water. The amount depends on how big your project is. Apply generously with a paintbrush. Make sure the wood is covered in a thick layer.

Now, you can go a long way, which is letting the wood sit in the sun all day or at least 6 hours. Or spray the piece with vinegar after applying water and soda solution and let it sit for 10 min.

That’s some shortcut, isn’t it? Now, after you did all the steps, you need to brush the wood surface with a wire brush. You’ll see the tannin may come off with the brush.

Rinse the wood with water and dry it with a cloth. Repeat the process the next day if the wood is still too dark.

Finish off with your favorite sealant. Because you want your wood to look aged, I don’t recommend anything shiny like varnish.

Using Paint And Glue

If you like the look of old cracked paint, this is a fantastic way of achieving the looks without the cost of a professional crackle medium. All you need is paint in two contrasting colors and all-purpose glue or school glue. The first step is to paint the wood with a base color coat and let it dry. Then smear it with a generous amount of glue.

Important thing DO NOT let the glue dry completely. When it’s still sticky, paint your contrasting coat on top. Use long strokes in one direction.

You’ll see the cracks forming pretty quickly. And that’s it. You can experiment with thinning top paint coat or glue or both.

This way, you can achieve smaller, more delicate cracks or larger ones.

More details on makethebestofthings.blogspot.com

Using Stain, Wax, Paint, And Blowtorch

This is a very interesting method for fans of the more rustic, used look. It’s a bit more complex and involves using more accessories than the previous ones. It comes from EHow.

Let’s start with a list of necessary items:

  • Brown shoe polish and brush or any brown stain
  • A candle wax, paste wax or petroleum jelly
  • Some paper towels
  • Mineral spirits
  • A fine-grit sandpaper
  • A hammer
  • A wire brush
  • A latex paint
  • A paintbrush
  • A blowtorch
  • A chain
  • Protective face mask
  • Gloves

The first step is to cover a piece of wood with brown wood stain or shoe polish if you haven’t got a stain at hand. You want to put the stain on the wood using old cloth and wipe the excess off.

Stained Wood

Andres Arango/Demand Media

As for shoe polish, use a shoe polish brush. In both cases, make sure that the pigment really sets into the wood. Let the stain dry.

The next step is to determine places of natural wear and tear, such as corners or edges.

Take a piece of paper towel to rub candle wax, paste wax, or petroleum jelly into those wear-and-tear areas.

Aged Wood

Andres Arango/Demand Media

Now the wood is ready to be painted, including the places covered in wax. After the paint has dried, use a paper towel to wipe off the paint from the waxed areas using side to side motion. The wood grains will start to show from underneath the paint. Carry on as long as you are happy with the result. Then use mineral spirit to get rid off of the rest of the wax using a paintbrush.

Now the secret part :) Using a blowtorch carefully burn the wood in some places. And to give the wood that old weathered barn look that is worn with dents and blemishes give it some beating with a hammer to create nicks and scratch marks. Then hit it with a chain and treat it with some sandpaper. Well, that’s an excellent way to let some steam off … lol.

Aged Wood

Andres Arango/Demand Media

And that’s it. You can put some finish on top if needed.

Using a blowtorch

Another simple yet effective technique for giving a wood that unique look. It involves using a blow torch. All you have to do is to blacken wood along the grains, and you’re done.

Just make sure you don’t overdo it then put a finish to seal it. Below it’s a great example of working with a blow torch found on Facebook.

Aged Wood Effect

Summary

There you go. All fantastic ideas for aging, weathering, or distressing wood for you to try.

Most of these methods are very simple and easy to follow and can be done using things you’ve already got at home.

Distressing wood/furniture can not only make it more interesting but also add value to your piece. So don’t wait and start on your next project now. I’m sure you’ll achieve remarkable results and have great fun doing it.

10 thoughts on “16 Ways How To distress Wood and Make it Look Old and Weathered”

  1. Really interesting article – my father is into aging wood on furniture and he uses a sort of homemade vinegar/tea stain. I have to admit – it looks brilliant when he finally gets things ready!
    It’s also a non-toxic homemade stain that costs very little to make – well he makes it by pinching it from my mothers kitchen. Great read – I’ll show him this

    Reply
    • Hi Chris,
      I’m glad you liked it. There are many, many ways to stain wood with natural products like tea, coffee or even berries. Yo can actually use a fabric dye as well. What is your dad using?? Hope he’ll enjoy the article :)
      Kasia

      Reply
  2. Hi Kasia,

    Some ingenious methods here on how to make wood look old, weathered or distressed.

    Really like the cheap way of achieving the old cracked paint look. Just paint… and glue, never would have thought of using glue to do that!

    I stumbled on this great post by chance, but I love the use of wood around the house, and if you can achieve some cool effects like these without it costing the Earth then I’m all for it.

    What’s your favourite method here in terms of effectiveness?

    Cheers, Tony.

    Reply
    • Hi Tony,
      Thanks for your comment :) This is really a top of the iceberg regarding changing wood appearance. There are so many ideas out there and new ones keep popping out as more people experiment. The whole idea with pallet projects is to keep it cost effective, so cheap, home made solution are the way to do it.
      As for your question. I don’t think I have a favourite one because every project is different. The pallet wood differs in type and condition so the final results are different. So one method may be more effective than other depending on these circumstances.

      Kasia

      Reply
    • Hi, Sarah!
      I’m glad you liked it. You can use any type of vinegar like spirit, malt or apple. I’d not recommend balsamic mostly because it’s more expensive that the other types.
      thanks for stopping by :)

      Kasia

      Reply
  3. This is some really good information about how to make wood look weathered. I liked that you talked about how it would be a good idea to use vinegar and baking soda to weather the wood. I am going to be making a wood pallet headboard and I would love for it to look antiqued. So, this is good stuff for me to know.

    Reply
  4. Your article is the best I have ever seen about treating wood. A few years ago, I tried the vinegar/steel wool idea but the results were dismal. Little did I know there was a second step! Thanks for all of your ideas!

    Reply

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