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A before-and-after comparison. Photo: Sharon Cavanagh (courtesy of Kathy Price-Robinson and Kitty Bartholomew)

When it comes to wood, there's just something about an aged look that's oh-so appealing. And it's a look you can accomplish with a little DIY magic -- even if your wood furnishings are brand new.

Wood harvested long ago is stronger and has a tighter grain that most wood grown today. But say you've scored brand new wood furnishing -- a mantel, a bookcase, or a curtain rod, as discussed here. Raw wood furnishings are inexpensive, but you can give them the look of a valuable antique. You can actually make the wood look old and weathered if distress it by hand.

I worked on this project with Kitty Bartholomew, one of the original stars of HGTV. Kitty bought inexpensive, unfinished wood curtain rods for her classy silk draperies -- but what she really wanted were rods that had a mellow, aged look, which would have cost a lot more.

Here's what Kitty did for her own curtain rod project; this photo gallery demonstrates the distressing of the curtain rod's brackets and finials. But the same method can be used on any type of wood furnishing. For a larger project, like a bookcase or a mantle, increase your supplies accordingly.,feedConfig,localizationConfig,entry&id=885578&pid=885577&uts=1274733163

How to Distress Wood

The point of distressing is to bang up the wood to make it look look decades or centuries old, and then add color and sheen.

For denting and nicking it, Kitty used a cultivator (garden tool), a chain belt (a regular chain will do) and gravel. To give it color and depth, she used strong coffee, dirt (yes, actual soil) and her favorite wood finishing product, Briwax (the company offers a version of their product that contains no toluene, the toxic chemical that gives wood stains their characteristic fumes).

How to Distress Wood

Here you see a side-by-side before-and-after comparison of the original, unfinished wood vs. the final, distressed product. You can buy unfinished wood finials like these for just a couple of bucks. But when we're done with them, they'll look very expensive.

Now let's take a look at what's involved in this project...

How to Distress Wood

To begin, hit your new wood with a cultivator. This fork-like garden tool makes long holes, which could simulate worm holes, common in older pieces of wood. In this photo, Kitty is using a cultivator to distress the finials that will attach to the either end of the curtain rod. (In lieu of a cultivator, you could use the claw of a hammer to get this effect.)

Tip: You can see that Kitty screwed this wooded knob onto a piece of lumber to stabilize it.

How to Distress Wood

Now here's the fun part: start slapping the wood with a chain -- you can even use a cleaned-up bicycle chain. (Being a bit on the cultured side, Kitty used a old Chanel chain belt.) This simulates the nicks and dents caused by wind, sleet, and other elements.

Kitty also used this technique to age a large fireplace mantel. In that project, she invited her kids to take out some of their anger on the wood; it's very therapeutic!

How to Distress Wood

Once the beating is over, it's time to add the color. Old wood exposed to decades or centuries of life takes on a nice patina. We can add that ourselves with some coffee -- the stronger the better. Brew as much as you need for your project and let it cool before you use it.

You know how the dentist is always telling us to cut back on coffee and tea to keep our teeth white? Well, here's where the opposite is true. Load up on the coffee to take the white away from this new wood.

How to Distress Wood

Once the first layer of coffee has dried into the wood, start pouring it on all over again! Two layers should do it, but continue adding layers of coffee if you'd like to achieve a darker patina -- and know that you're still going to add stain to the wood.

Here Kitty works with the brackets that will hold up the curtain rods.

How to Distress Wood

After the beating and the coffee shower, you can add more patina by rubbing your piece with dirt, as Kitty does here with a curtain rod bracket.

This is very authentic, actually. Imagine a piece of wood exposed in nature for a century. Eventually some dirt is going to settle on it and sink in. We're just speeding up the natural process.

How to Distress Wood

Give it some more love with a rough gravel treatment. Grind the wood into a bed of gravel if possible. If you're working with bigger furnishings, try wearing work gloves, picking up handfuls of gravel, and working them into the wood's surface.

How to Distress Wood

The final step, where all your hard work pays off, is rubbing the wooden furnishing with a product like Briwax. This is one of Kitty's favorite household magic potions. Nearly anything you rub with Briwax takes on a rich and luscious glow. It comes with a variety of tints, or clear, and you can usually find it at smaller hardware stores. Let each coat dry a bit, and keep putting it on. After four or five coats, you won't believe the beauty.

How to Distress Wood

And here's the payoff: New, inexpensive window hardware that looks old, rich, worn and wonderful.

How to Distress Wood

Like this idea and interested in more finishing techniques? Check out an easy paint process to get a faux-worn look. In this video, a bathroom is redone for a shabby chic feel. Pay attention to the cabinet that is made to look like old, peeling wood.

  • g

    Coffee is a great idea for use on soft woods but I have had problems with it working on hard woods. A water based aniline die works much better on the hardwoods.

  • 1 Comments / 1 Pages

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