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How To Antique New Wood

Step 1 – Choose Your Wood

For woodworking projects, you can track down boards of reclaimed wood or barn wood, which have already been aged. But new boards tend to be less expensive, and you can make a piece of new wood look old through simple, lower-budget methods that use tools and materials you may already have around the house.

Whether your woodworking project involves building a furniture or making something decorative, determine the size and quantity of the boards you’ll need.

Softwoods such as pine, cedar, fir and hemlock might serve the best. They tend to be less expensive and easier to distress than hardwoods and generally more receptive to stains and chemicals. Plus, inexpensive wood is more likely to have knots and superficial damage, which can give you a head start on aging.Tip: Make sure you have some scrap wood for practice and experimentation, as any distress you add should be superficial, not structural.

Step 2 – Mechanically Age Your Wood (Beat the hell out of it!)

The first step is to mechanically age the wood, using tools and objects to give its texture more wear and tear. We recommend using 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.

Tip: Older children in your household might enjoy this part of the process, as long as they’re not too young to follow safety procedures.

Step 3 – Stab and Scour the Wood (Poke the hell out of it.)

Wormholes are familiar signs of exposure to nature and can be simulated with sharp tools without getting real worms involved. 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.) Then 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.

Step 4 – Scrub the Surface with a Wire Brush (Scrape the… you know the drill!)

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.

Step 5 – 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.

Step 6 – Create a Vinegar Wash

Chemically staining the new wood effectively gives it an older-looking color and patina, and this method using vinegar and steel wool employs common materials.

Prepare a mixture, by putting steel wool in a jar, spray bottle or other sealable container. Pour enough white distilled vinegar to cover it, and let it sit for about 10 hours.

Consider using 1-3 wool pads and a half gallon of vinegar, depending on how dark you want it. The acid in the vinegar interacts with the iron in the steel wool, so the mixture gets darker the longer it sits, and the more metal is used.

For substitutions, consider using any kind of vinegar and a handful of nails or metal bits instead of steel wool.

Step 7 – Apply the Wash 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 creates a darker color. In addition, some premixed agents have same effect without the vinegar smell.

Step 8 – Apply a Coat of Light Paint

If you want to evoke the look of old, painted wood that has faded in the elements, a simple method involves painting 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.

Step 9 – Apply a Coat of Colorful Paint

Apply colorful topcoat of paint while distressing wood.

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.

Step 10 – Partially Sand the Topcoat

With sandpaper or an orbital sander, lightly sand away the colorful topcoat so the bright base coat becomes visible. You can leave as much or as little of the topcoat as you prefer. If the sanding is uneven, the surface will appear more aged.

Step 11 – Apply a Layer of Finish

If you want the wood to have a shiny appearance that’s smooth to the touch (optional), 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.


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