I am a big fan of furniture with a bit of character, that is made from old, distressed and weathered wood. The look is largely achieved by a mix of wear and tear and the process of oxidization over a lot of time. Such character pieces are often difficult to find and expensive. Thankfully you can fake the weathered rustic look in a couple of days with a few household items and a bit of imagination.
The orange pine chairs below, like many of the pieces of furniture in my home, were weathered and distressed at no cost using supples I already had on hand. The matching orange table was treated the same way to make an attractive desk for my office. The process takes a bit of time, and you can’t guarantee identical results on each application, but for me that just adds to my appreciation of the furniture. I gain a lot of pleasure from the fact that I took furniture that was free or second hand and made it into something I love for no extra cost. If you like the look and want to try this at home, follow the instructions below.
Staining the wood
The first step in the weathering process is to use a stain to mimic the weathered colour of old wood. This is made using vinegar and steel wool. When steel wool is placed in vinegar it oxidizes to form iron acetate. Iron acetate reacts with tannins that occur naturally in wood to create a grey stain similar to the appearance of old wood that has been exposed to the elements. The higher the concentration of tannins in the wood, the darker the stain. Species such as Oak and Walnut are naturally high in tannins, but I often work with woods naturally low in tannins such as pine. As black tea is packed with tannins, when working with such timber I simply paint tea onto the wood first to increase the tannin concentration. This technique can also be used to ebonize oak and other high tannin species to produce black furniture.
– Sand paper/ electric sander
– Rubber gloves
– 1 pad of oil free steel wool or other steel items such as rusty nails, filings etc. (the finer it is the quicker it will break down )
– 5 black tea bags
Step 1. Tear apart the steel wool and place in vinegar then wait for the wool to dissolve. Its best to make the mixture in a glass jar with metal lid (I then transfer to a plastic bucket for painting as seen below). Depending on the guage of the wool, it may break down overnight or may take up to a week. If the steel wool is exposed to the surface it produces a stain with browner tones (which matches my furniture), if you require a grey stain make sure it is all completely submerged. Strain the liquid before use to remove any non dissolved debris.
Step 2. Remove the existing finish from the wood to be treated. This is the most tedious part of the process and if there is any way you can delegate it to someone else I strongly recomment doing so! Thankfully I had lots of help from my family with this stage. Once sanded, brush down or vaccuum the wood to remove all dust.
Step 3. Place tea bags into a cup of boiling water and leave to steep for a couple of hours.
Step 4. Apply the tea mixture onto the wood and allow to soak in and dry completely
Step 4. Paint the furniture with the vinegar/iron wool mixture, ensuring that all cracks and crevices and saturated. If you require the furniture to be a specific shade, I recommend testing varius strengths of the stain on a separate piece of wood first. The mixture can be lightened by adding distilled water.
Step 5. Leave the wood in the sun to dry.
Step 5. Once dry, carefully rub down the wood using another iron wool pad or sand paper to expose the grain and ensure the colour is even. Be careful not to sand too deeply however, as the stain mainly changes the colour of the surface of the wood.
Step 6. Make final touches to achieve the colour you require. If the wood turns out to be too dark, simply leave in direct sun for a couple of hours and it will lighten substantially. If it is too light repeat steps 3, 4 and 5. The treated wood can be left raw or sealed with wax, which will protect the stain without altering the colour.
How to Distress wood
Once stained you can further distress the wood to mimic the passage of time. It can be nerve-racking at first to deliberately damage a piece of furniture, but I find it very therapeutic once I get really into it! Techniques I have used include:
– Bashing corners down with hammer to leave them rounded and looking worn
– Sanding surface with course grit sandpaper
– Rounding edges with sandpaper
– Adding dents and depressions by hitting with a hammer or a bag filled with nails and screws
– Cracking wood along the grain using a hammer and chisel
– Scratching the surface of the wood with a wire brush
– Faking worm holes by stabbing the wood with small screwdriver
– Hitting with old bicycle chain to create interesting dents and abrasions
The wooden sink unit below was hand made to fit the sink. The wood was new and untreated so was a complete contrast to the surrounding recycled timber units. I used vinegar,iron wool and tea stain to change the colour, then used all of the techiniques above to further distress the wood (its the wood shown in the main picture at the top of this blog!). I think it’s a pretty good match!