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Woodworking Tips and Tricks: antique staining

12/26/2017

I found on the street (Spring cleanup was a really cool time of year) a new all wood high-back children’s chair.  I just couldn’t let that cute chair get scrunched in a garbage truck to end up at the dump.  So I brought it to the shop.

I wanted to make it look really old but it had been screwed together so you could see the screws and it didn’t have a finish.  So the first thing I did was recess the screws and then make dowel plugs to cover the holes to make it look like the chair was doweled together.  Then here is a key to making something look old or something that is old you have stripped and refinishing:  you stain as usual but you then rub off more stain on areas where you know there would be more use, to simulate wear. Depending on the wood, you may need to put some paint thinner on a rag to get the stain out of the wood.  Stand back and look at your work and ask yourself, “Does this look like natural wear?”  (You could also be asking, “Why am I doing this when I could be doing something less messy?” but that’s for another blog post…)

On a cabinet, like a chest of drawers, that wear would be around the handles, on the top front edge of the wood top, the top edge of the drawers or doors, anywhere your hands or feet or rear end (chair) would wear the finish off.  In the case of the chair, this was on the front edge of the seat, a little on the sides of the seat, and the top rung of the back.   Also, the rungs under the seat would get shoe scuff, so rub off there.

Spray or brush on sanding sealer.  Sand smooth.  Now wipe on a black stain and wipe off completely leaving a little in corners and low wear areas.  This will accentuate the wear patterns you previously did.  This black stain will also get into little nicks and scrapes and holes and will make them stand out.  Then you apply your final finish as usual.

This little chair is probably only 10 years old but it looks like 100 years old.  My wife uses it as a plant stand and sits (the chair, not my wife) in a corner of our dining room.  Unless you picked up the chair and looked underneath the seat, you could not tell it wasn’t an antique.

So don’t be afraid to experiment.  Even a cheap cabinet can be dressed up with some creative staining and attention to detail.  But this only works with wood.  People gain wear and tear naturally.

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