how to layer stains

Layering Stain Technique

I sing praises for reclaimed and salvaged wood all the time.  I love the look, and I love what the look represents: history.  But sometimes, it’s just not practical for me to use it, so I gotta go against my grain and pay money for lumber.  (Paying for brand spankin new lumber causes a physiological stress reaction in a part of my personality.  I’m just not sure if it’s the tree hugger, or the tightwad part.)

Anyway, This Swiss Inspired Sawhorse Table called for a reclaimed wood-like look on top, so the fun part was making this new lumber look like I had pictured in my head.  What I had pictured for this tabletop was something dark, worn, and a little aged.  (Kindof like how I feel sometimes.)

Since I had joined several sections of planks to make up the tabletop, I used a rasp to smooth down the seams.  This would aid in an overall pleasant driving experience with Hot Wheels.

Keep in mind that I wanted a slight “hand scraped” look, and I wanted a perfectly imperfect effect.  (So, maybe not the most optimum surface for Hot Wheels, but hey-I’m the boss here.)

To achieve the surface I had pictured in my mind, I needed scratches and variations.  I knew I would be using more than one layer/color of stain, so that helped too.  Less work is more…

One of the interesting things about stain, is that the condition of the wood surface, affects how the stain will “take”.  I wanted my stain to “take” several different ways, so the more methods of prepping (rasp, sandpaper, chisel), the more variations in color the stain would leave.

Just like an area sanded with 100 grit sandpaper, is going end up darker than an area sanded with 220 grit, because the surface of the 100 grit is open to soak up more stain.

So, my point is, I varied the way I prepped the surface, and I did it unevenly in random areas.  (Rasp this little section, sand a bit over here, leave that scratch that was already there, etc..)

I started with the rasp at the seams.

rasp wood surface

After the rasp, I used some 100 grit sandpaper.

hand sanding

After the dust was cleared, I used Minwax Pre-Stain to prevent a horrible, splotchy, uneven stain job.  (Pine is inherently weird like that.  I never stain pine without a conditioner first, because it ends up taking stain terribly if I skip it.  I’m not exaggerating.)

Next came my base layer of Minwax Classic Grey.

layering stain

After that dried, I did some intentional damage with this sweet, super-skinny chisel I found.

I usually end up finding a random tool mid-project to distress with.  Keeps it interesting.  Most of the time, it’s whatever’s in arms-reach.  Welcome to the roster, super-skinny chisel.

distressing wood table

I used a tiny hammer too, when I chipped away at some edges…

chipping with chisel

(All of these newly exposed places of intentional damage will take up the brown stain even darker.)

chipping wood diy

The above photo is an ugly example of what I was talking about.  Before I thought things through, I used my power sander on a couple places. Yep, that will give you those ugly swirls if you use a rough-grit sand paper.  The stain is drawn to those tiny swirls and now they will forever stare me in the face when I sit down to eat at this table.  I probably should have put the effort into fixing it, but I think I’ll let this serve as a constant reminder of my lapse in judgement.  Besides, it’s just a little patch of swirls.  It’s not like the table is covered in them.  (Which if you think about it, it’s also a reminder that I didn’t sand the entire surface like a normal person might.)

sanding swirls

how to age and distress wood

I could’ve got carried away with creating grooves and really make this tabletop groovy, but, crumbs.

(Whassup dad.)

creating a reclaimed wood look

And here’s where I tried out the rasp, because I misplaced the super-skinny chisel…

how to age wood

Throughout this project, I wasn’t really concerned with imperfections.  Actually, I wanted them.  But, the nail holes looked like a kid just took a dart to the surface of my table.  (That hasn’t happened in real life.)  So to combat this dilemma with minimal effort/maximum effect, I made this next step up as I went along.  I used caulk (because I couldn’t sand any filler, that would mess up my perfectly imperfect staining job so far.

Once the tiny speck of caulk dried, I took some leftover chalkboard paint (kind of a dark grey color) and dabbed some on.

After the length of time it took me to make three ham sandwiches, the paint wasn’t dry, but it wasn’t totally wet.  I smeared it in both directions of the grain with my finger, to make it streak.  Now, to the naked eye, some of the nail holes almost looked like a worm hole, or an old nail hole in my older looking wood tabletop surface.  Others just looked like tiny black specks.

how to hide nail holes

The nail holes were disguised even more by the layer of Dark Walnut that came next.

Speaking of Dark Walnut,  I’ll show you the Dark Walnut…

layering brown and grey stain

The darker stain soaked into the newly created scratches and grooves and ends up being darker that the rest of the surface.


After the Dark Walnut dried, I was in the homestretch.   All that remained was the clear coat.

I did a couple applications of Minwax Polycrylic over the course of a couple days to allow for drying time between coats.  Then, I called it a day.  Well, more than a day.  Two days.  Because, drying time.

Thanks for reading!

how to fake a reclaimed wood finish


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