How to Make Wood Look Old

There is a huge movement right now of clients and craftsmen alike that want an older look to their pieces.  Knowing a few techniques for how to make wood look old can help broaden your skill set.  It is also addicting, because a well textured piece of wood with the right combination of stains can create a truly stunning look.

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How a Wire Wheel Makes Wood Look Aged

how to make wood look old

One of the easiest and quickest methods for making a rustic, weathered looking board is to use a wire wheel. These are sold for drills, and angle grinders, and are fairly inexpensive.

A wire wheel, ran along the piece in the same direction as the grain will remove material from the softer areas more than the harder areas. This leaves a texture behind that mirrors the existing grain pattern.

The mice thing about the wire wheel is that is is inexpensive to buy, and it will last a long time. If you are running lots of wood through the wheel, it will not last as long, but for smaller projects one wheel can be all you need for some time.

Pine is one of The Best Woods to Rusticate

how to make wood look oldPine is one of the best woods to texture, because there is a difference between densities in the grain versus the flake.  The wire wheel will remove the softer flake at a much higher rate, leaving the harder grain standing above the surface.

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Other woods can be used for this, but test them out because each species will react a little differently. Most soft wood species tends to work very well due to the differences between the densities of the grain and the flake.

Try out a new species on the wheel before committing to it. If you like the look that it creates, then continue on with the project. If not, consider switching species.

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When working with the wire wheel and learning how to make wood look old, make sure to wear a face shield, protective clothing, and a dust mask.  Metal bits can come off the wheel, and they hurt when they contact your body.

how to make wood look oldWork the tread of the wire wheel against the surface of the wood in sections.  Move the tool with the direction of the grain, and pay attention to how the material is being removed.

Next, decide how deep to texture the piece.

Finally, inspect the board and touch up any areas that need additional texturing.  Look over the piece very well during this inspection.

It will become very important later as the finish is applied and any large defects in the appearance will become more noticeable. You can blame it all on being rustic, and call it part of the design, but it’s still better to do a last good check before moving on.

Staining the Wood After the Wire Wheel

how to make wood look oldThe next step after texturing is staining. This is a perfect opportunity for a contrast stain, where parts of the surface are stained different colors.

In this piece, I first stained the entire piece black. Then, I sanded the surface lightly to remove the color from the peaks.  Finally, I coated the entire surface again with a light wipe of red stain, which added a little warmth to the piece.

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Any color of stain can be used for the second color, as long as it is lighter than the first.  The first coat should be a black or dark brown, so that the second coloring stands out against the background. Sanding the surface before applying the second color brings back the lighter wood below, and lets the stain color well.  Depending on how much sanding you do, the look can be adjusted from mostly black to barely black, and anything in between.

Practicing how to make wood look old is the only way to get the technique mastered.  It does take a little time with the wire wheel to get the feel for the process.

how to make wood look oldSeal the wood with any clear that is compatible with the stains used, and then allow the piece to dry.  This kind of treatment can be used anywhere the look of old wood is needed.

Try different color combinations on scraps and see what you like.  A really interesting trick is to use a strong second color like a green or a blue to create a look that has elements of rustic and modern all in the same piece.

For another look at applying a contrast stain, my article on making a Rusticated Tobacco Pipe details a similar process.  Contrast staining is very prevalent in tobacco pipe making, but it carries over to other aspects of woodworking too.

If you like learning about wood finishing, I created a PDF called the 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing.  This article explains finishing in a very easy to understand manner, and will make an expert finisher out of anyone.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments about the project I detailed today, and I will do my best to answer them. Also, please Subscribe so you don’t miss out on anything new. Happy building.

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