My interior decorating style is very much Rustic Industrial. If I could, I would fill my home with furniture and decor solely from Restoration Hardware. My husband and I thankfully share the same taste when it comes to interior decor. Even though he often pretends to “let” me decorate the house, he has an opinion and often, a strong one. I can’t complain though; I think in most relationships, the husband in fact really doesn’t care at all, and sometimes, not having that second opinion can be frustrating. So, whether it’s weathered, distressed, rustic, reconstructed, etc., it likely fits our style. Several of the pieces you’ll find in our home are just those things but not 100% authentic. Tired of shelling out serious cash on pieces we love from RH, we decided to try to create some pieces of our own.
A key element in many of the rustic pieces we love is the look and feel of the wood. Of course you can find this look from old barn or boat wood, but you won’t find it at Home Depot or your local hardware store. You can however, find the right tools and supplies to achieve a perfectly imperfect distressed look. 
After some research and several trials (hubs gets 100% of the credit on the research), we came up with what we think are the best tools and techniques to achieve this distressed wood look on otherwise plain, inauthentic lumber. 
As pictured above, the key tools we used to distress our wood are as follows:
  • Chisel Set: The above set is DeWalt and comes with four chisel sizes. You can find the same set here.
  • Awl: Dasco Pro 7 in. Scratch Awl. Click here to find.
  • Sanding Block: Extra-Course
  • Sand Paper: Course
  • Lighter or torch

 Below is an example of one of the trials we did to determine the best methods to achieve a distressed look. The wood type used here was Cedar. Further below, I will explain how to use each of the tools.

Note: All of the distressing techniques should be completed BEFORE staining. 
1. The wider chisels (1″ pictured above) are great for creating curves and indents in the edges of your wood. These can also be used to round out the sharp edges for a softer look. When using a chisel, keep the blade as parallel to the wood as possible as shown in the below photo to avoid taking out large chunks of wood. Repeat as necessary to achieve curves and indents as shown in #1 above. 

 2. The smaller chisels (1/4″ shown above) should be used to create valleys on the surface of the wood rather than the edges. The narrower chisels allow for more precision, making them ideal for creating nooks and crannies.

3. Burning the wood is another method we used in distressing the wood. A little goes a long way but this method helps to create extra interest and added authenticity. Hold the fire to the wood, moving as necessary to create desired burn size. *Use caution when burning the wood as the wood may catch fire. The wood should burn slowly so if a fire does ignite, simply blow it out and continue.

4. The main purpose of the awl is to make marks in the wood that resemble worm holes. You can create clusters of “worm holes” as shown in the top right of the above image and sporadic holes throughout the surface. The awl was also used here to create “natural” cracks in the wood as seen in the top left of the image.

5. Sanding is key to making each mark, indent, and scribe look authentic. Use a course grit paper to smooth out your nooks and crannies created on the face of the wood. For example, after using the narrow chisel in #2 to create a small valley in the wood, this was then sanded with the paper to make smooth.

6. An extra-coarse sanding block was used to sand the entire surface of the wood (in preparation for staining) as well as on the edges like in #1, to make them smooth and rounded.

Finally, your wood is distressed and prepped for staining. There are many brands and hundreds of stain colors out there. Minwax is one of the most popular brands and can be found at most local hardware stores. It’s inexpensive at around $8 for one quart and offers great coverage while simultaneously sealing the wood. We picked up several different stain colors to test and to create a “library” to reference when choosing a stain for future projects. I recommend testing your stain on the back or on scraps in your wood type of choice prior to staining an entire project. Different wood types will take stain differently depending on the natural coloration and porosity of the wood. Our original wood used here was Cedar (shown on very left in below image) which has a natural red tint as opposed to Pine for example, which is lighter and bit yellower in color.

To stain wood, I recommend wearing latex gloves and laying plastic on top of your work surface to avoid the stain saturating your workspace (ours admittedly was our carpet so this was key to avoiding an irreversible accident!). Instead of using a brush, I find it much easier to control the intensity of stain by using a cloth (old, but clean t-shirts work great). Dip the cloth in the stain and rub onto the wood, covering the surface. You may need to work stain into the natural knotting and worm holes. Use the cloth to wipe off excess stain (within two minutes of initial application). The below were all created with one coat of stain. Another coat can be done to deepen color.

I laid out each of our stain trials side by side so you can see the progression of color and intensity of each. The Weathered Gray sounded appealing however disguised much of the distressing done to the wood prior to staining and acted more paint-like than I was anticipating. The Early American brought out each of the natural striations in the wood and exaggerated the distressing techniques. The Special Walnut reacted similarly to the Early American with a richer, redder tint. Finally, the Kona went on very dark, hiding some of the deconstruction but resulting in a beautiful rich color. Because the color was so dark at initial application, I used very little stain and immediately wiped down the excess stain during the application.

Again, results will vary based on wood type and porosity, how much stain is used, how long the stain saturates, number of coats, etc. The above is an example of what you might expect from this selection of stains.

Hopefully you found the above information on distressing tools, techniques, and staining examples to be helpful as you start your own DIY project. Please feel free to leave comments on how you have achieved a great distressed look of your own! Happy distressing!

xo, 
Stephanie