How to finish wood so it looks rustic

Written by nina makofsky
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Rustic wood finishes add a sense of old world charm to your home decor. The distressed and rustic look on wood blends in well with various decorating themes, including Spanish colonial, French country, cottage, Japanese-inspired Wabi-Sabi, shabby chic, beach house, Tuscan, Mexican and bohemian modern. You can use several techniques for distressing wood and making it appear more rustic.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Paint
  • Paintbrush
  • White candles
  • Steel wool
  • White vinegar
  • Lint-free rags
  • Sandpaper
  • Silicate of soda

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  1. 1

    Remove drawer pulls, hinges, knobs or other hardware. Clean the wooden furniture or surface you wish to finish. You want your wood to appear distressed and timeworn, but not dirty. Use gentle soap and warm water and rinse well. Avoid using any oil-based soaps or polishes, which can interfere with faux finishing techniques. Allow the wood to dry thoroughly.

  2. 2

    Select a base coat of paint or finish for your wooden surface. You can begin with a dark coat of paint if you plan to add a lighter topcoat for a layered, antique look. You might also opt to use whatever paint currently covers the wood as your base coat. If you choose this approach, you must ensure that you do not use a water-based paint on top of an oil-based paint. Allow the base coat to dry thoroughly.

  3. 3

    Add some grain, grit or slickness to the top of the base coat to give the wood texture. You have several options for distressing the wood surface. You can rub white candles on sections of the wood that you want to show wear. For the look of beach-weathered grey wood, use fine gauge steel wool. Shred the steel wool and let it soak in white vinegar overnight. Brush the white vinegar on the wood. You can also add silicate or soda or fine sand to paint and brush it on the wood. The more silicate of soda you add, the less the paint adheres to the wood.

  4. 4

    Paint a top coat onto your wood surface. For a vintage rustic painting effect, try antique whitewash or another light neutral. You can use a dry brush or even lint-free rags to make the top coat more transparent and uneven. Allow the top coat to dry completely.

  5. 5

    Gently sand at the edges, corners and niches of your wood surface to emulate the look of wear and tear. The areas near drawer pulls and knobs typically have worn away surfaces as well.

  6. 6

    Replace the furniture hardware or purchase vintage pieces that reflect a rustic furniture style. Oxidised metal, chunky hardware and mismatched pieces evoke rustic charm.

Tips and warnings

  • Take care with vintage and antique pieces that may have lead paint as part of their finishes. Work outdoors and wear gloves and a mask to protect yourself from chips of paint and fumes.

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