Making New Wood Look Old

As promised, here’s the more detailed scoop on how we got our pristine store-bought whitewood from Home Depot to look worn and aged on our completed console. This was our first time really going for a weathered look, so it was a kind of an exercise in “we’ve seen this done before, so let’s hope it works out for us.” The good news: it worked.

The better news: it was pretty easy to do. It was sort of a one-two punch of distressing + staining that really did the trick. So let’s start with the first punch – courtesy of my fists. Well, at least my agression. The starting point, as you probably recall, was a pristine pile of freshly bought 1 x 4″s that I cut into 2 foot lengths.

Knowing that I had some extras, I tried a bunch of things on a spare plank before really landing on a process (well, “process” is too strong of a word in this case, since it was pretty much a random exercise in let’s-see-what-happens). Basically, I winged it by trying a handful-ish of techniques that looked cool and then used them sporadically throughout my pile. That way I’d end up with a mix of weathered looks, almost as if the boards had been scavenged from a few different sources after lots of character-creating trials and tribulations.

Oh and if you’re someone who likes all the details, I managed to capture a lot of my weathering “process” on video (so watch this if you want the “bonus stuff” that’s not all outlined below):

For those who can’t watch the vid (perhaps you’re at work and trying to keep things on the down low), here’s a quick rundown of the various tricks that I used. For starters, I picked out as many pieces of wood from Home Depot that already had flaws or interesting details to them – knots, chips, dark stripes, whatever.

But before I got to beat any of them up, my first step was sanding the four edges on the top of each board using my palm sander. This wore down the crisp edge into a rounder and smoother one, so they looked older right off the bat.

Then I smacked it with a bag of screws. I actually did this to each piece (besides sanding, it’s the only thing I did on all of them). It gave each board some very subtle dings that I thought wouldn’t hurt across the board (literally, har har). I must admit that throwing a bag of screws against the wood was kinda cathartic. Oh and I’ve heard that some people do this with chains, which sounds equally fun.

Because I know it’s a bit tough to see the damage being done, I thought I’d show you what these distressing techniques looked like once the boards were stained (aka: punch #2) so you can see them more clearly. Since stain catches and collects in all of these dents and dings, it tends to accentuate them (which is a good thing, in this case). So here’s a board that I hit with the ol’ bag of screws a bunch of times so you can see the final effect:

On some boards, I also hit them with my hammer. Whitewood is relatively soft, so it’s easy to leave some dents with just a few light bangs. I liked to concentrate my hits in one spot because it looked more organic than having a few evenly spaced out hammerhead impressions. I was all about the cluster.

Once stained, they looked a little something like this:

In the shot above you can also see some of the fake nail holes that I made using an improvised nail punch (check out the video for more clarification on that method, which I couldn’t photograph since it took two hands). I also used the same tool to make some line impressions across the boards. I just laid it down and hammered on top of it to create a nice long ridge. I though it created the effect that some hard edge had bumped into it over the years.

I especially loved this effect once it was stained because it was so distinct. Why hello character, nice to meet you.

Using a big screw that I found in the basement, I dragged the thread across the board which roughed up the grain. After sanding it down again it really started to look like the wood was slightly rotted, just like some of the spots on the pallets that we couldn’t use (more on that here).

On a couple of boards I did this all the way up and down the length of the board, giving them a really cool and distinct look. Definitely far from the store-bought feel that they started with:

If you watched the video, you can also catch a couple of techniques that I forgot to photograph: namely dragging a paint can opener to make long smooth scrapes down the length of the board (another effect that I really liked after stain was applied) and making those nail punch holes that I mentioned earlier.

I’ll be the first to admit that I probably overdid it when it came to trying so many different tricks – not to the detriment of the final result, just my own time. But since this kind of thing is my idea of fun, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. And after I had taken out all of my aggression worked my new-to-old magic and had given everything one last light sanding (to ensure a smooth and not splintery finish), it was time for Sherry to take over for the staining portion of The Console Table Show.

Our materials included rubber gloves (because stain is messy), a cheap $1 paint brush (because stain is messy and tends to ruin good brushes) and spare rags to wipe up excess stain (because stain is… well, you know). And for more of that varied and timeworn feeling, Sherry tag-teamed the boards with two different stain colors – Ebony (which we picked up for $4 in a tiny can at Home Depot) and Dark Walnut (which we already owned and had used for staining the bottom of the console). After it all dried, we sealed it with with an eco water-based non-toxic poly alternative that we had on hand (Safecoat Acrylacq).

We made a video of this process too, in case you’d prefer to save yourself all of this pesky reading (and want all the deets instead of just the highlights). Plus Sherry’s gloves make a fart sound, which is always a crowd pleaser.

But if you can’t watch the video (or you prefer words to moving images), here’s a quick rundown. Keeping in mind that we wanted a fair amount of variation from board to board, Sherry did a few tests first to see what each of the stains looked like with a light coat of stain (wiped off quickly) and a heavy coat (which was allowed to penetrate for a bit longer). Here are the test boards with the light coats on the left and the heavy coats still soaking in on the right:

We actually ended up liking both stain colors. We thought the dark walnut would help it relate to the bottom of the console (as well as some of the other dark woods in the room) while the ebony would be a closer match the the gray pallet boards that originally inspired us. In reality, on a lot of the boards Sherry actually ended up using a layer of each color to achieve a tone somewhere in the middle so nothing looked too jarring.

The only thing we didn’t like was that we wanted to get some boards even lighter than the stain seen on the above left (which was applied thinly and then wiped away immediately). So Sherry pulled some weird technique out of her you-know-what and it ended up working perfectly. Basically she pre-washed the board with a light coat of plain water, let it soak in for a couple of seconds, and then went over the still-damp board with a light coat of stain (that way it soaked up less color thanks to the water that it absorbed first). For those who’d like more info, you can see this entire technique in action on the staining video.

It was by far the closest that we got to replicating the look of the pallets (you can see a random pallet board on the left in the picture above for reference). But we’re glad that it wasn’t a perfect match, because we realized that the pallets were too blue-gray for our living room (since it’s already dominated by a huge gray sectional with gray walls and gray beams we wanted to add some warmth and balance). So we were thrilled with the colors and the variations that we landed on, thanks to staining some and allowing the stain to penetrate a while, wiping it down right away on other boards, and using the water technique above to get some lighter variations. In the end, those brandspankin boards were all looking nice and old.

Do you guys have other staining and distressing techniques to share? We’ve heard of some pretty cool aging methods with household items like vinegar and baking soda. Anyone try those?

Psst- Sherry wants me to tell you that we’re going lamp hunting this weekend. So we’ll hopefully have pics of the fully styled console by early next week (and by styled I mean full of stuff that we actually use like coasters for Sherry’s tea and a box for remotes along with those aforementioned lamps – and maybe a ceramic animal because my wife is crazy for flair).

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