How To: Wood Aging Part 1 – Distressing

Aged wood products have ich character thats difficult to true replicate but with a few basic tricks you can have new wood looking almost as good as a 100 year-old antique!
There’s two components to duplicating aged wood – distressing the surface and finishing the surface.

fern-1250903_960_720Distressing is typically done prior to finishing but don’t hesitate to experiment – distressing the surface following an initial finish may give exactly the look you desire. Regardless of which option you’re leaning towards we always recommend doing a trial grid to test how the processed and materials interact to give your finished product.

You can trial various wood species with each wood aging technique to achieve your desired products. In this guide we used white pine as it’s soft and easily distressed, available almost everywhere and is very inexpensive. Whichever wood you choose, ensure it is 100% wood and doesn’t have any filler. Wood filler reacts differently to aging and distressing and will create an inconsistent appearance.


There are a few basic tools required which can be picked up for less than $10 online or at your local hardware store.

  • Wire brush
  • Sandpaper (coarse, medium and fine)
  • Hammer
  • 4 nails (small & medium)
  • 4 screws (small & medium)
  • 1 bolt (3-6″ medium sized bolt)
  • Brick or fist-sized stone

If you’re doing a large piece you may want to upgrade to some power tool attachments, specifically:

  • Wire brush attachment for a drill or angle grinder. Gouging the wood grains on large boards by hand is tiring and time consuming. If you already have the drill or angle grinder, the wire brush attachment ill only set you back about $15.
  • Power sander – random orbital palm or small belt sander. Reduces sanding time dramatically.

Regardless of the brand, ensure you’re either using a double insulated tool or a tool connected to a GFCI.

The Process

  1. First soak the surface with water in a couple light coats, rubbing the water into the surface with a rag. This can be repeated 2-3 times until the surface becomes slightly softer.
  2. Scrape the surface, gouging out the soft ‘pulp’ between the tree ‘grain lines’ using a wire brush or wire brush attachment. It’s important to travel along the length of the grain to reduce the wear of the ‘grain lines’. This simulates how prolonged use would wear away the softer ‘pulp’ while the harder ‘grain lines’ remain.
  3. Sand the whole surface using a coarse sandpaper. If you have wide gaps between each grain its best to quickly sand along the length of each grain by hand – focusing on the ‘valley’ between two grains. The goal is only to remove any splinters caused by the wire brushing while limiting the sanding on the grain lines.
  4. Now using a selection of various sized nails create nail holes at consistent intervals. This works especially well with thinner planks (~ 6″) and gives the appearance of re-used deck boards or wall sheathing. 2 nails at spaced every 16″ gives nice results. Drive each nail fully in such that the head is indented then remove and repeat – reusing the same nails each time.
  5. Use the bolt and screws to create interesting wear patterns in the wood. Experiment until you find your desired look. With the bolts and screws flat against the surface you can make unique indentations by striking the threads or head at different angles using a hammer or mallet. Here, less is more, and while an occasional imprint will add character, overdoing it will ruin it.
  6. Using a stone or rock experiment will dropping or hitting the wood from different angles and heights to create further dimension to the wood. Again, less is more here.
  7. Finally, using a fine sandpaper lightly sand the whole surface until it is smooth to the touch.
  8. If desired, continue with finishing the surface.

Note: to simulate the hand-cut or rustic sawmill appearance use a hand-held power planner prior to soaking the wood, running it along the length of the wood. Apply only a light-medium pressure on the planner so the ‘chatter’ creates a profile similar to that of a traditional sawmill.




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