Using Stain To Create An Aged Finish

Using Stain To Create An Aged Finish

“We never stop learning.”  -said someone.

I have to agree with this person(s), because my 3rd grader tells me stuff I don’t know, all the time.  So yes, I haven’t stopped learning.

I’m also convinced that the way we learn, constantly evolves.

Case in point:  Learning by pretending you know what you’re doing.

This is one of my favorite ways to learn.  By jumping into a project and acting like you’ve done it before, there is always a chance it will work and you’ll look smart.  That’s great, smooth sailing.  But the fun part is when it doesn’t work out, and you are left to your own devices to figure out how to fix it.  Ah… that’s when I’m in my element.

I’ve put together a few ways to distress a new wood finish.  There’s no mud smearing or chain beating, just a tiny bit of shaving and some stain application that resulted from jumping into it like I knew what I was doing.  I use these methods to disguise grain, create variation, and add a little bit of age to wood.  (Not a lot, just a little.)  It’s for those times when I want an aged look to a piece, but a cleaner surface and fewer splinters.

The project I’m highlighting is a replica ammo box that I built for Brittany, at Pretty Handy Girl.  You’ll find my tutorial for building your own military inspired ammo box, on her blog.

Before I assembled the box, I laid all the boards flat.  I did a base layer of Minwax Pre-Stain, followed by a coat of Dark Walnut stain.  (The pre-stain conditions the wood to take the stain evenly, and helps avoid blotchiness.  Uneven and blotchy stain can make your finish look dirty.)

After the base layer of stain is dry, I often use a random blade to take off some crisp edges.  I didn’t want this ammo box to look “crisp” and new, so the perfectly squared edges had to be un-perfected.

How to distress wood using a blade

There’s some rust on that blade above… I’m going pretend that I used a rusty blade on purpose, and any rust that is transferred onto the wood is purely intentional.  Adds to the patina.  In truth, it’s just a rusty blade, and I just made that up to sound smart.  It was the closest blade-like thing in the room at the time.

I also chip off some from the ends.

Distressing wood

Stain grain.  Streaking.

My first method of messing with stain, is what I call “streaking”.   The grain on smooth, new wood is usually very clear and easy to see, so this is my way of clouding the grain lines like time and elements do naturally.

Faux wood grain

The more colors of stain, the more layers, the more variation.  (I used Minwax Classic Gray and Dark Walnut in these photos.)

streaking wood grain with stain

Here is an example of layering stain without the intentional streaks…

In the image below, notice how the top layer of gray in the first board, has a softening effect, while a second coat of Dark Walnut just makes it darker.

DIY layers of stain

Etching with sandpaper.

This collage shows another method of distressing.  It is done by using coarse sandpaper to scrape lines along the grain.  When more stain is added on top of the scratches, it is absorbed darker.

Vary wood grain

The stain soaks into the scratch lines because the wood grain has been opened up with the coarse sandpaper.  Since it’s such a soft wood, it soaks up more of the stain.

Speaking of sandpaper, the finer the grit, the lighter the stain penetration.  Sometimes if I want something to take the stain darker, I won’t over-smooth the surface with something like 220 (fine) grit sandpaper.  Instead, I will go with a 120 grit.  (As long as I don’t see swirly marks in the wood from the orbital sander.  Those swirly marks will show up in the stained finish.  In that case, I bite the bullet and sand them out by hand.)

End grain deterioration.

If I want to make wood look old, I think about actual, old wood.  The first thing I notice is the ends/end grain.  Those are the areas that are left most vulnerable to the elements, and that is where wood usually begins to show it’s age.

To create an illusion of time along the edges of this ammo box, I used a tiny brush and some black oil-based stain.  I applied little lines at varying lengths, and wiped off after a minute or two.  I did this a few times, until I was satisfied.  (Knowing when to stop is the hardest part.)

faux finish on wood

Hardware corrosion.

The next detail I added, was some black stain to all the nail holes of the box.  If you ever see black around an old nail hole, that means the nails were an early form of wrought iron, which leaves a black rust.  This is because there was less carbon in the iron, and it corrodes with more stability and less flaking.  Newer nails with more carbon leave a brown/orange rust, and the corrosion crumbles and flakes.

Naturally, after spending a random afternoon last year reading about nail corrosion on Google, I’m going to tell you all of this nail corrosion info so I can sound smart.

Google.  Time well spent on the internet.  (Unless you end up on WebMD.  Nothing there but fear and diagnosis.)

how to age wood with stain

Wiping the stain off in a downward direction, looks more authentic than wiping upwards.  Because, gravity.

It just occurred to me that the lower carbon nail that made black rust probably isn’t consistent with an ammo box like this…. grr.

Ok, it’s ok.  Historical accuracy out the window.

distressed finish wood how to

Stenciling, the lazy way.

The following collage says it all.  Spray paint makes for faster stenciling, when you aren’t worried about making letters straight or even.

stencil on wood

And just to wear out the brand-new spray-painted letters, I did this, being careful not to remove any of the stain underneath:

distressed stenciling on wood

(In the image above, the accidental splatter from the messed up spray paint nozzle works.)


ammo box how to

ammo box diy


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