How to Distress Wood Quickly and Easily (My New Paint Shed Part 2)

How to Distress Wood Quickly and Easily (My New Paint Shed Part 2)

Learn how to distress wood in just 4 steps using free materials you have at home.

Have you ever wanted the look of reclaimed wood, but been a little short on actual reclaimed wood? Whether you want to make safe (non splintery : ) rustic furniture, or you want something to look like barn wood without having to take down a barn, this post is for you! I'll show you how to distress wood in just a few steps, starting with a "magic" aging solution my Mister mixed up. 

When we built my new paint shed, we reused some of the weathered wood from an old pergola. I really liked the way the reclaimed wood looked, and I wanted to give the new wood the same rustic feel. 

My Mister knows how to make wood look old, and I thought I'd share our secret.

How to Age Wood in Four Steps

Great mixture for distressing and aging wood. Apply in minutes, wood looks old in about an hour.

The Magic Aging Solution is less magic and more messy than anything. But it gets the job done. Wear gloves when you use it (Not because it's dangerous. It's just messy.)

STEP 1. Magic Aging Solution. Over the years, we've tried many different aging formulas, but we've found that this is the best formula to distress wood:

  1. 2 cups of white vinegar
  2. 1 cup of water
  3. 1 "pillow" of steel wool
  4. a handful of pennies
  5. a handful of nails
  6. A half cup of salt

Mix everything together into an old container you'll never want to use again. Let it set for about a week (two is better!) What you'll have is a rusty (from the steel/nails), acidic (from the vinegar) solution with some copper added in from the pennies. The solution works because of the acid and other elements simulate many of the long-term affects of natural aging. 

Make wood look old with this magic solution.

You can see the difference here between the newly distressed wood and the raw wood directly below it. This color came from two applications with about an hour of drying in between. 

STEP 2. Apply The Aging Solution. The Magic Aging Solution works differently based on the type of wood you're using. I've found it works great on plywood and un-sanded douglas fir like these 2x4s from Home Depot. To apply it, mix the solution first (you want the rust, copper, and everything else mixed together). Soak some up in a rag, and wipe it on your surface. 

You'll want the wood to be wet when you're through. Let it dry. It'll start to darken almost immediately, but it will look best after an hour or so. If it's not quite dark enough, just apply a second coat of the magic solution. Plywood can get almost black with just one or two applications. 2x4s take a bit longer. The 2x4s in this picture took two applications of the Solution. 

If you want to make new wood look like old barn wood, this is step 3.

I put the paint on thickly at first so it sort of gels into the wood grain. (BTW, I love the short handle of this brush. It's easy to maneuver, works great for chalk and clay paints, and fit well in my small hands!)

STEP 3. Paint. I'm using CeCe Caldwell's Simply White on my shed, but you'll get a similar aged wood effect with any of her lighter colors (Since I want the same look on my windows, I'll follow the same steps, but with Santa Fe Turquoise and Carolina Sun Yellow as part of this color palette.) Allow the paint to dry for about 5 minutes.

Get the barn wood look without taking down the barn (4 easy steps).

One of the coolest things about CeCe Caldwell's Paints is wet distressing, which I'll cover in another post. The technique here is similar.

STEP 4. Wipe the Paint. With a wet rag, lightly wipe the paint so some presses into the wood grain and a lot wipes off to reveal some of the faux aged wood underneath. 

You'll need to play with it to get the specific look you want, alternating adding a little paint and wiping some of it off. For me, the first wipe was just what I was going for, matching the look of the pergola piece directly below it. In fact, the pergola took years of sun and rain to look like that, and we achieved it in about an hour!

The stuff works like a charm. You can see a few of the grain areas that I missed with my rag (where the roof beam and the header meet), and they look new, while the rest was aged.

Some Things To Remember When You Age Wood

  1. Test. Test. Test. Whether you're trying a new product or new technique for the first time, ALWAYS test it first. I've used this technique on furniture I've sanded. It works well, but first, test the technique on the underside you're considering doing, or if you're working on a project, use a piece of scrap cut from the same material you're aging. 
  2. Rust is Rust. The rusty water can leave a faint orange tint on things. If you're starting with raw wood, you won't notice it because the wood darkens so much. If you paint over it like I did, you also won't notice it. But, if you use it over a light colored paintmake sure it's the look you want. 
  3. Gloves. Wear some inexpensive gloves when you apply the Solution. Otherwise, you'll have rusty hands that smell like vinegary metal for a couple days. Not the worst thing in the world, but definitely messy.
  4. Experiment. Once you make the Magic Solution, you'll have WAY more than you need. Try it out on other projects and see how it affects the wood. Try it under and over paint.
  5. Protect. Paint is key in protecting the surface it covers. Since my shed is outdoors, and I wiped much of the paint away, I'll still go over the surface with CeCe Caldwell Flat Matte Finish to protect it. That way, the wood still looks aged, but it'll better resistant the elements. You can use a varnish, or Endurance Finish for the best protection, but both have slightly shiny finish. Not the look I wanted here. 

Get the barn wood look when you don't have barn wood. 4 steps show you how to distress wood.

Brand new plywood from Home Depot looks like old barn wood after wiping on the aging solution. 

Get the barn wood look when you don't have barn wood. 4 steps show you how to distress wood.

Use a very thin coat of CeCe Caldwell's natural chalk and clay paint over the "aged" plywood to get that super-cool barn wood look. Wipe some of the paint off for it to look really weathered.

Here's how to make new wood look old with a solution you can make at home. All the wood in this shot is new.

All the wood you see in this shot is new. The the dark parts that look like reclaimed wood have only been wiped with the Magic Aging Solution. Prior to that, the wood looked new like the window wood.

So now you know how to distress wood, and how to make new wood look old! If you use this technique on something, let me know how it goes!