If you’ve ever compared antique wood with modern replicas, you know why people will buy up salvage to make furniture. Old wood develops a deep, rich patina you just can’t fake. That said, you can come pretty darn close.
Here are some ways to distress and “age” new wood.
Pine and other softwoods acquire color with exposure to sunlight and weather, and you can accelerate this process by leaving a piece of new wood out in the rain and sun for a couple weeks. Of course, over time, this also causes warping and splitting and rot, so don’t get too carried away. Even leaving unfinished wood indoors in the sunlight will darken the color over a few months.
(We heard a story about a guy who buried some wood in manure to get instant patina. By all means, feel free.)
These techniques will help add some depth, and when you apply stain you’ll get a color closer to older wood. But you can also try and recreate the color through stains alone. Try applying one shade, wipe and let dry, then follow up with another. Experiment on scrap pieces, making notes, till you’re happy.
Dings, scratches and gouges also add authenticity. It may seem sacrilegious to batter that piece you’ve carefully crafted, sanded and smoothed, but if you do it right it’ll give the piece charm.
Scratch or gouge the wood with a scratch awl or screwdriver before staining. These scratches will collect a little more stain and show up darker. Punch very small holes to simulate insect damage. Try a few strategically placed hits with the hammer. Round corners unevenly to simulate wear.
You can also simulate wear after painting or staining, by lightly sanding edges likely to experience real wear.