How to Make New Wood Look Old

Blue and yellow distressed wood planks on wooden block next to hammer, nails, paint brush and bucket of paint stain

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Old, aged wood possesses a unique patina, texture, and color that infuses depth of character to nearly any item. Unfortunately, truly picturesque old wood can be hard to find in its natural state. If purchased from reclaimed wood retailers, old wood can be surprisingly expensive.

Bypass those high costs and tight supply lines by making new wood look old. Aging and distressing new wood is an ancient craft that you can learn in no time at all. Aging new wood is easy to do, requires simple tools that you may already have on hand, and uses liquids that are inexpensive and easy to find.

There are three main methods: mechanically aging wood with devices such as nails, screws, and chains; chemically aging the wood with white vinegar or stains; or creating the look of weathered, painted wood.

Tools and Materials

Wood: Less expensive softwoods such as pine or hemlock work best. Due to their softness, it is easier to mechanically distress these woods, and their open cellular structure responds better to liquid distressing agents such as stains than hardwoods do.

Distressing Tools: Screws, a hammer, chain, nails, a nail set, an old saw blade, and a sander are a few of the tools you can use to mechanically distress wood.

Liquids: White vinegar, stains, and paints are three types of fluids you may want to use for faux-aging wood. Vinegar creates a silvery-gray appearance. Stains darken the wood and highlight mechanically distressed areas. Paints can be applied in two coats, then sanded down for a weathered effect.

Other Items:

  • Latex or nitrile gloves
  • Rags
  • Chip brush (an inexpensive paintbrush with coarse bristles)
  • Spray bottle
  • Steel wool
  • Sandpaper
Materials and tools to distress wood and make it look old

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Texture: Aging Wood Mechanically

As wood naturally ages, it comes into harsh physical contact with the world. Objects dent, gouge, and scratch it. Insects bore into it. The wood is cut, broken, and splintered. Experiment with your grab-bag of distressing tools on scrap wood before turning them loose on your final work material.

Blunt Objects

Hit the wood lightly at various places with the chain to create a series of low dents. For more control, tap the wood softly with the side of the hammer (not the hammer face, which produces a round dent).

With the sander, round off angular corners and edges. You can also tilt the sander and touch it lightly to the inside area of the wood to create large, deep grooves, but do so only sparingly. Rounding off edges and corners is practically a requirement of this project since aged wood rarely has precise edges and corners.

Sander rounding off edge of wooden plank

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Sharp Objects

Very sharp nails such as finish nails can be used to create tight groupings that look like insect activity. Blunter than a nail is the nail set, which can be shallowly tapped into the wood at various spots.

Toss a few screws onto the wood and tap them with the hammer. Be careful not to hit too hard, as this would produce an exact replica of the side of the screw, hardly a realistic effect.

Screw tapped with hammer on wood plank to make insect activity look

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Color and Patina: Aging Wood With Liquids

Wood's color and patina transform as it ages. Bombarded by UV rays, dark wood turns lighter. Subjected to moisture over decades, light wood darkens. Seaside wood develops a silvery-gray hue in the salty air. You can duplicate all of these effects by aging your new wood with liquids such as water, stain, vinegar, and weathering accelerators.

  • Water and Stain: When you apply stain directly to dry wood, the resulting color is more or less consistent. Since this is not a realistic weathered effect, first lightly mist the wood with water from the spray bottle. This will cause sections of the wood to absorb stain at different rates.
  • Vinegar and Steel Wool: Creating a silvery hue is easy. First, fill the spray bottle halfway with white vinegar. Tear a chunk of steel wool in half to fray the ends. Then, drop the steel wool into the bottle and leave in the sun for a day. Spray onto the wood. After drying, the wood will develop an attractive gray color, much like old pallet wood.
  • Pre-Mixed Accelerators: If you prefer to purchase a pre-mixed weathering agent, a number of paint and stain manufacturers sell weathered wood accelerators. The water-based Varathane Weathered Wood Interior Accelerator creates a silvery color, much like the vinegar treatment. Advantages include low-odor (no vinegar smell), easy clean-up, and color consistency.
Wooden plank sprayed with water in front of buckets of paint stain

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Faux Aging Wood With Paint

Over time, painted wood surfaces lose their color, often in attractive ways. The trick to producing the look of weathered paint on new wood is to use two coats of different colored paints. Typically, the bottom coat is white or another light color—you can even use white paint primer. Then, a topcoat—often blue, red, or some other bold color—is added to the top and is partially removed.

  1. Paint the first, lighter coat. Do not sand the wood before painting. The coat should be solid and substantial.
  2. After the base coat has dried, paint the top color coat with another chip brush. Do not worry about neatness, as you will later be sanding this coat.
  3. Wait for the paint to thoroughly dry. This is crucial. If you try to sand before the paint is fully dry, it will "pill up" and shred.
  4. Lightly sand by hand. Your aim is to spot-sand key areas, such as edges and corners. Sand just enough for the white base coat to show through the color.
Wooden plank sanded after applying paint for distressed look

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald