Most people choose standard wood finishes for cabinets, furniture, doors, trim and other woodwork around the home. The most common finishes include wipe on oil finishes, paint, lacquer and varnish. These standard finishes work quite well, but sometimes it’s fun to explore artistic options to make something out of the ordinary.
If you’re working with recycled wood such as barnwood and wood from pallets, the wood is already distressed and so you might consider highlighting the weathered look with a distressed wood finish to save time and effort. It’s far easier to work with what you have than milling and sanding rough salvaged wood and trying to make it look perfect. For example, the grit buried in the wood will quickly dull planer and joiner blades. And keep in mind a little bit of distressing goes a long way. I don’t know about you, but subtlety looks far better to my eye. You might want to practice on a small piece and gradually add distressing to discover what looks best.
There are many types of distressed finishes and so you’ll want to search and read up on the details. Techniques include: highlighting the pores and cracks with colored paste-wood filler or paint, rubbing or sanding through the finish, removing some finish with paint thinner, applying multiple coats of different colors and exposing lower coats, rubbing darker finish into trim or recesses, flyspeck and splattering, chipped off finish, crackle finish, glazing finishes and a whole host of others.
Many times, multiple techniques are combined. As an example, one time I made a bathroom vanity cabinet out of white cedar. I wire wheeled the wood to create an interesting texture, and applied a medium dark wood stain and let it dry. Then I lightly rubbed on different colors of paint (turquoise, dark blue and gray) – just a little here and there! – and quickly rubbed it off to create an antique look. A little color was left behind in the pores and recesses. After drying, I sprayed the cabinet with clear lacquer. The final antique appearance looked great with custom wrought iron hardware.
In addition to distressed finishes, you might want to explore alternate ways of physically distressing wood to achieve an antique/aged look: weather the wood naturally with water and sunlight, wire wheel (for softer woods), sand blasting, wood rasps and files, hand sanding with sandpaper or steel wool, power sanders, chisels, sharp instruments such as nails and awls to simulate insect damage, heat/fire, chemical treatment.
To learn more about distressing wood and distressed wood finishes, search these keywords: antique finish, distressed wood, distressed finish, rustic finish, faux antique wood finish, rubbed painted finish, weathered wood finish, whitewash, pickled finish, wood glaze.