how to make wood look old and gray

How to Make Wood Look Old and Gray

If you are looking for ideas on how to make wood look old and gray you have come to the right place! Time-worn wood is making a comeback in interior (and exterior) design. It creates a feeling of warmth while adding a touch of ‘rustic charm’ to any space.

It can be difficult to find authentically worn lumber but with a little effort and some ingenuity, it is easy to make your own distressed wood for whatever do-it-yourself project is on your home renovation list! 

How do you make wood look old and gray? To make wood look old and gray, you need some space to work, a few hardware supplies (wood, paint or stain, paint brush, sandpaper, lint-free cloths, etc.) and a little DIY (do-it-yourself) knowledge on typical wood-weathering techniques. 

So, if you are ready to learn all you need to know about distressing wood, giving it that rustic, vintage, ‘old and gray’ appearance, then let’s get started…

How to Create a Weathered Wood Gray Finish

To create a weathered, gray wood finish, you need the following hardware supplies:

Once you have the necessary supplies, begin to create the distressed, worn wood look by following these five simple steps:

  • Prepare the wood with a conditioner. Apply the pre-stain conditioner to the wood and allow it to dry.
  • Stain the wood. Apply a single coat of dark wood stain and let it dry completely.
  • Apply the ‘white wash’ to the wood. Mix one part white or white-gray paint with one part water and apply this mixture over top of the stained wood. Allow it to set for about five seconds or so. 
  • Rub a lint-free cloth over the wood. Use a staining cloth over the white wash, rubbing it gently into the wood. Let this dry fully.
  • ‘Distress’ the wood. Using sandpaper, lightly distress the wood by rubbing it across the surface until you achieve the vintage look you are going for! After sanding, apply a top coat of wax to seal, if desired. 

And there you have it! This is a very easy way to make wood look old and gray. Later in this article, we will discuss different distressing or wood-weathering techniques, such as hitting the wood to make it appear aged and worn. 

How do you Gray Wash Wood?

Gray-washing wood is another way to make it appear old.  It is easy to do and requires simply some space to work and few hardware supplies. There are five steps to grey-washing wood, which include the following:

  • Prepare the work area. In a well-ventilated area, lay down a tarp or drop cloth to protect the floor surface.
  • Sand the wood. To remove any paint or imperfections on the wood, sand the entire surface using coarse sandpaper.
  • Apply a wood stain. Using a foam brush, apply the wood stain (in the direction of the grain). Completely cover the surface and then flip-over the wood and do the same thing on the other side.
  • Wipe off the excess stain. Allow the stain to dry for about five minutes or so and then use a lint-free cloth to wipe off any excess surface stain.
  • Apply the gray stain mixture. Using a water-based gray-toned paint, mix one part paint with four parts water. Spread this mixture across the wood with a foam brush, going with the grain. Once dried, flip the wood over and repeat this process on the other side.

Be sure to let the wood dry completely before handling it. This is another simple way to give wood a classy, vintage feel using a neutral, gray-wash technique. As a side note, when choosing the gray hue for this project, a blue-toned gray will give the wood a cooler feel whereas a yellow-toned gray will add more warmth to the wood.

How do you Make Wood Look Old with Vinegar and Steel Wool?

Using vinegar and steel wool is a great (and cheap) way to create a beautiful, distressed wood look. There is no need to purchase separate paint or stain, as the vinegar and steel wool combine to create a unique color mixture! The ten necessary steps are fairly simple and include the following:

  • Prepare your work area and gather your materials. Have white distilled vinegar, steel wool, a container, rubber gloves, a strainer and a paintbrush ready to go. Be sure to work in an area free of clutter with the floor pre-covered and fresh air circulating throughout.
  • Choose the correct wood. Not all types of wood are good for staining. Be sure to use the ‘right’ wood. Softwoods such a pine, cedar and fir are good choices whereas red oak and maple are not. Hardwoods including white oak, elm and ash will also work well.
  • Choose your desired look. The longer the stain is left on the wood, the darker it will appear. The intensity is determined by how long you let the mixture set and how many steel pads you use. Have an idea in mind as to how you want the wood to look before you begin staining.
  • Prepare your materials. Wearing plastic gloves, break apart the steel wool and place it in a container with a lid, such as an old pickle jar. Pour vinegar into the container over the steel wool, mix and cover. 
  • Let it ‘set’. The mixture needs to ‘set’ for a certain amount of time depending on the desired end result. Fifteen to thirty minutes will produce a very light, subtle stain whereas two to four days will create a deeper, more dramatic look.
  • Strain the staining mixture. When the desired color look has been attained, strain the vinegar/steel wool mixture through a colander and place it in a paint tray. This makes it easy to evenly coat the paint brush or roller.
  • Test the surface. On a scarp piece of similar wood, test the stain to be sure you like the color. Leave it set longer if you want a darker look or add water if you prefer a lighter tone.
  • Sand the wood. Before staining, sand the wood to give it that weathered, distressed look. 
  • Apply the stain. Apply the stain with a paint roller or brush (going with the grain). Be sure to coat it evenly and allow it to penetrate the wood surface. Let it dry completely.
  • Wax the wood. Waxing the wood afterwards provides a nice sheen and a more polished finish. Simply brush the wax over the wood surface and let it dry for at least an hour. 

And there you have it! Another DIY technique for making wood look old and worn. If you prefer a more rustic look, skip the final step and do not wax the wood. This will make it appear naturally weather-beaten, with a more muted finish.

How to Make Wood Look Old by Hitting It

Another cool technique for making wood look distressed is to hit it! Using tools such a hammer or mallet is a unique way of marking it, making it appear old and worn. A metal chain will also act as a good distressing tool by creating divots in the wood which are often associated with age. Check out these unique wood-weathering techniques:

  • Hit the wood. ‘Attack’ the wood with a hammer, mallet of metal chain. This is a fun way to ‘age’ wood and make it appear worn. A sock full of nails pounded against the wood will also mark it, adding the element of distress. A screw driver scraped across the surface will create that ‘old, scratched’ appearance. 
  • Use a drill to distress the wood. A wire brush attachment on a drill will help the wood grain stand out. Run the attachment across the wood in the direction of the grain until the desired texture is achieved. A light sanding afterwards will finish off the look.
  • Mimic insect damage in the wood. Wormholes are often a sign of aged wood. To create this look, use an awl and make holes in the wood. Drill screws through a two-by-four as another way of creating the illusion of insect damage.

Before attempting any of the above wood-aging techniques, it is a good idea to test the method on a scrap piece of wood first. Remember, it is much easier to add dents and holes to wood then it is to remove or fill them! As well, be sure to use caution when working with any potentially dangerous tool, such a hammer or drill.

How to Age Plywood

Distressing plywood to make it look old and gray is a good way to save money and create your own unique design. These plywood creations are great as a decorative item or when used as a piece of furniture, such as a table top or head board. Below is an eight step outline of how to age plywood:

  • Lay a piece of plywood on top of gravel and walk across it.
  • Pick up the plywood, dust off the gravel and then lay it on a flat surface (marked side up).
  • Put holes into the plywood by hitting a nail with a rubber mallet.
  • Clean out the holes using a can of compressed air and then dust off the plywood to remove any lingering debris.
  • Put the plywood on a drop cloth (to protect the floor or flat surface).
  • Using a paint brush, apply a medium or dark gray-colored gel wood stain over the entire surface of the plywood.
  • Remove any excess stain with a clean, lint-free cloth. Make sure to allow enough time for the plywood to dry completely.
  • With a paint brush, cover the plywood surface with satin polyurethane and let it dry completely before handling.

How Long Does it Take for Pressure Treated Wood to Turn Gray?

Pressure treated wood is very durable and weather resistant if it is properly protected. It has chemical preservatives added to it to protect against rot and insect damage. If left out without applying a stain or water-repellent sealer, it will naturally succumb to the elements of wind, rain, and sunlight and eventually crack, dry out and turn gray. 

So, if that is the look you are going for (and pressure treated wood is your medium of choice), then leave the wood outside (untreated) for anywhere from one to six months, depending on the weather conditions and the overall state of the lumber. 

Naturally-weathered, pressure treated wood is great for creating a vintage look, no matter what indoor or outdoor project you have in mind. Vintage woodwork is highly popular today and used in many design schemes to impart a sense of warmth, character and style.

How to Make Wood Look Old with Vaseline?

Making wood look old using Vaseline (or petroleum jelly) is a great technique, especially if you love the look of distressed wood but do not want to spend hours sanding and staining it! All you need is Vaseline (petroleum jelly), a paint brush, some white or light gray paint and a damp cloth. The easy, three-step process includes the following:

  • Apply a thin layer or Vaseline or petroleum jelly to the edges of the wood, or wherever you want the wood to appear old and worn.
  • Apply white or light gray paint to the wood. As you do this, you will notice that the paint does not adhere to the areas covered with Vaseline (and that’s what you want).
  • Allow the paint to dry so that it is tacky (not wet) to the touch. Using a damp cloth, wipe the areas with the Vaseline, exposing the wood underneath.

And there you go! An ‘old and gray’ wood look that requires absolutely no sanding! By using this method, you can save yourself a lot of time and clean-up is a breeze! Try this trick next time you want to create a vintage, distressed wood look for your next do-it-yourself project.

How to Find Vintage Wood

So many do-it-yourself projects require distressed, weather-beaten wood. If you are trying to achieve a vintage, rustic look, then ‘old and gray’ wood is what you want. Finding used wood that is still in decent shape is often difficult, as it is usually thrown out! However, if you can get your hands on some, re-purposing it for new projects is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. 

Below are a few ideas for where to find vintage wood:

  • Thrift stores and antique shops. Second-hand stores are a great place to find old, wooden planks or furniture, which can be sanded down, re-sealed and re-purposed. Contact the manager of a thrift store near you, tell him or her what you are looking for and see if he or she can send some wood (that would likely otherwise be throw-out or donated) your way!
  • Local Lumberyard. Obviously, a lumberyard is a great place to start when looking for distressed wood. The wood that does not pass inspection is not sold on the sales floor, but rather discarded. Ask the manager if he or she can you help you get your hands on some this flawed wood.
  • Online – social networking sites. Why not go online and search for vintage wood. Social networking sites such as Facebook or Instagram are a great way to advertise your need for old wood. Local online ‘garage sale’ sites may also showcase people looking to give away or sell old lumber or furniture.
  • Online – upcycle searches. Go online and do an internet search of any local businesses participating in ‘upcycling’. These business are helping the environment by donating or selling (instead of discarding) old furniture items (or building materials) for the purpose of re-using them. 
  • In your neighborhood. If you happen to live in an area where home renovations are being done or new construction is being built, why not check with the home owners or the job foremen to see if they can provide you with any scrap wood?

Conclusion

There are many easy and fun ways to distress wood and make it look ‘old and gray’. This creates a vintage, rustic appeal, unique to you and your own personal sense of style. All you need is some space to work, a few hardware supplies and a little do-it-yourself knowledge.  

In this article, we have outlined some tips-and-tricks on how to ‘age’ wood, including ways to stain, sand and distress it. We have also added a list of possible places to go when in search of vintage wood. Now, it is time for you to get started – set-up your work station, purchase the necessary materials and begin your next DIY project. Good luck to you!

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Hey, this is Brian and Gene. Since the two of us have pretty much been self-employed our entire lives, we have a lot of experience designing and creating all sorts of DIY projects for businesses and homes—projects that have helped us make money or save money through the years!

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