How to Make Wood Look Reclaimed

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How to Make Wood Look Reclaimed is your guide to making wood from the store look like it has been harvested and reclaimed from older structures. The techniques are all easy, and you can give your wood an awesome look. Enjoy.

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Reclaimed Wood and Woodworking

How-to-Make-Wood-Look-ReclaimedReclaimed wood, and wood that looks like it was harvested from a 200-year-old barn is extremely popular. There are several big reasons for the popularity, and people are running all over to try to find wood to sell.

One of the biggest reasons that reclaimed wood has seen such a popularity explosion is that the materials do not take additional resources from the environment. Since the wood has already been harvested and used once before, using it again is basically recycling.

Another less prevalent reason is that wood that has stood the test of time for so long in another structure will be perfectly fine for your new structure. The wood also has some charm, and a story.

This is the real reason why it’s so popular. Everyone loves a good story, and reclaimed wood has a story. It might be from an old barn, an old boat, or roof trusses from a storage building. Either way, it’s a much more interesting piece of wood than you normally find.

Reclaimed wood is expensive due to its limited supply. There are only so many old buildings and can knock down before you run out. Something that clever woodworkers do is use modern wood and give it the look of reclaimed wood.

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I’ll show you several different ways coming up, and you will learn all the techniques for making new pieces of wood look reclaimed.

See Also: 23 Easy Ways to Age Wood and Make Wood Look Old

Create the Look First

Before I get into the techniques, it’s important to understand how these techniques are applied when it comes to making a project. Don’t make the mistake of trying to apply these techniques to a completed project. It won’t have the same affect.

Well, you can add new stress marks and things of that nature to a completed project, and you can get a little bit of a reclaimed wood simulation. However, you’re not going to get the same as if you treat all of the pieces first before you use them.

It’s the nature of reclaimed wood that you buy it already looking the way that it does. This means if you were to have used actual reclaimed wood on a project, it would already look a certain way before you ever made the first cut.

To get that same look on your projects, start with enough wood to finish the project and apply the techniques you see below to all of the boards before you start building. Give the boards a reclaimed look first, and then start chopping them up to make your project.

This is one of the big secrets to using reclaimed wood, and making your own reclaimed wood. If you skip this step, your project will always look like the distressing was added later, and it will never have that same pop.

See Also: 12 Awesome Uses for 80 Grit Sandpaper

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Add Shipping Marks

If you’ve ever looked at a large bundle of wood at a hardwood store or any home-improvement store, the sides and the ends tend to be painted with large shipping markers or brand identifiers. These cover nearly every stick in the bundle.

As the bundle gets separated, different pieces from the load have different paint marks on the sides. It just depends on what part of the stack they were in, and what part of the shipping marks ended up on that board.

These shipping marks create a reclaimed look, which you can simulate by adding small sections of paint or burn marks to the edge of your wood. Do it sparingly though, because most sticks in a bundle won’t have much paint on them.

You could also paint the ends of the boards. A lot of wood manufacturers will paint the ends of their bundles a certain color. If you do the same thing, all of the ends of your boards will have that same color stamp on them.

See Also: 9 Unbelievable Wood Finishing Myths for Beginners

Simulate Brands and Makers Marks

Another thing you can do is add brands or makers marks to the surface of the wood. Many times, wood that has been used in the shipping industry especially has brands on it so the shipper can get their pallets back.

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Pallets and crates are not inexpensive items. The shipper has to spend resources to create these, so they tend to be held onto, at least the ones from old times. You can create the same marks on your modern pieces of wood, and get a reclaimed look.

The easiest way to do this is to look at older examples of makers marks and brands on wood. You can even look at cattle brands as well. Recreate some of these on the surface with either stain or heat, and you’ll have an amazing look.

See Also: Rustic Wood Staining Technique

Punch Nail Holes and Darken Them

Another thing the reclaimed wood has in common is nail holes. But these just aren’t any nail holes, their nail holes that have rusted and change color because of weather and having stood for hundreds of years.

The way to simulate this is to drill holes in your piece of wood in places that would commonly receive nails. This is the ends, and the center. If you do two holes next to each other at all three of those locations, you can simulate the board having been nailed in place.

The other trick to make it look old is to simulate the rust from the nails eating into the areas around the hole. The first thing to do is booger up the top side of the hole to simulate a little bit of wear from pressure.

After that, use a dark brown dye stain to coat the inside of the hole. This will make it look like rust has leached off of the nail and contaminated the wood. The look is common on reclaimed wood, and you’ve now simulated the same thing.

See Also: The Secret to Wood Finishing

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Pick an Old Paint Color for a Reclaimed Look

There are certain colors of paint that just have an old look to them. If you strategically use one of these paint colors, you can give your wood a reclaimed look just by simply adding a couple of coats of paint and roughing it up a little bit.

Do you remember that old teal blue from a long time ago? How about gold or almond? Those colors are attached to an era of time, and scream age. If you add some color to your wood with one of these paints, you can make it look reclaimed.

Either paint the entire board and then sand some of it back, or strategically drip paint in a few spots and then sand it almost all the way off. This paint typically works well as an accent, to where it almost looks like the painted boards are stripped and then used again.

When someone sees that tiny bit of teal paint in a small section of the board, it makes it look like it came off of an old kitchen or an old windowsill. That’s part of the secret of the reclaimed look is making it look natural.

See Also: 7 Ways to Get Better at Finishing

Random Damage on the Surfaces

Reclaimed wood also tends to be a little bit damaged. After all, you don’t stand in a building for a couple hundred years without getting a few nicks or dings. If you recreate this look, that’s one way to make your wood look reclaimed.

The secret of the strategy is to do it in a way that the piece could have naturally been damaged, and don’t make it look fake. A lot of pieces have wear damage due to being touched repetitively. You can simulate this by sanding the edges in certain places to be more rounded.

You can also simulate damage from nicks or abrasions by hitting the edges with something sharp a few times in random places. Again, don’t overdo this because there is a very fine line between aged and obvious.

See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing

Common Distressing Techniques

If you’re brand new to making wood look reclaimed, or distressing your wood, then take a look at some common distressing techniques to get you started. Distressing is simply a term used to describe the process of making something new look old.

There are a lot of different ways to make would look older, and they range from damage, to heat, to color. A lot of these techniques involve abrasion, or doing some damage to the surface that creates an aged look.

There are also ways to work with stain, and glaze. It’s too much to cover in one section about distressing, so simply do a Google image search for distressing wood and you’ll get a million tremendous ideas. Don’t be overwhelmed, just pick a couple and try them.

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See Also: Understanding Wood Finishing

Routed Edges and Profiles

Another trick to creating reclaimed wood from brand new wood is to look at the shape of different pieces of wood on old structures and old furniture. There is simply a different look between older pieces and modern pieces.

Have you ever picked up an old wooden ruler? It looks almost the same as a new wooden ruler but at the same time it doesn’t. There are distinctive things about it that make it look different, and one of those things is the shape.

Old wooden rulers are bigger, a little bit more rounded, and sometimes they have holes along the length. These are very different then a modern wooden ruler, and you can tell just by looking at the shape that it has age and class.

The same thing goes for wood that you are trying to simulate. Look at those older pieces and use router bits to create profiles that match the older style. These pieces of wood will lend themselves differently to a project now that they are profiled differently.

For example, if you have a lot of sticks that are routed on the edges to be rounded over, when you build with those you aren’t going to have any corners. This will create a different look, and make the wood look like it was harvested from a past project.

See Also: 20 Easy DIY Woodworking Projects With Tutorials

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Fire and Burning Damage

Many old structures especially have endured fire damage some time in their existence. This might even be the reason that the building is torn down, and the wood is reclaimed and sold to woodworkers.

Since the wood is so valuable, even pieces that are only partially burned will still be cut and sold rather than thrown away. You can simulate this same affect by selectively burning certain areas of your pieces of wood.

Think about how a piece of wood naturally burns in a structure. The wood doesn’t move. This means in order to simulate it the same way you need to come up with a way to keep the wood still while simulating a natural burn.

Since this involves fire, and fire burns down structures, definitely do this in a safe place and take every necessary precaution to prevent an accident. You can harm yourself and others, and do a lot of damage if a fire gets away from you.

See Also: 50 Awesome Reasons to be a Woodworker

Your Action Assignment

Now that you know how to make wood look reclaimed, it’s time to get out into the shop and take action. These techniques are all a lot of fun, and you can create an amazing look on your pieces of wood for your next project.

Pick a couple that you like and give them a try. Find some scraps in your shop that don’t mind being worked on, and start practicing. The secret to these techniques is really practice, and doing it over and over again to find the best way.

Over time, you will develop a personal way of making your boards look reclaimed that you really enjoy working with. When this happens, you’ll have created your own look, and that can set you apart from other woodworkers in the same genre.

If you have any questions on how to make new pieces of wood look like they are reclaimed, please Post a Question in the Q&A Forum and I’ll be glad to help. Happy building.

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
  • 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
  • Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
Buy My Books on Amazon

I receive Commissions for Purchases Made Through the Links in This Post.

Come See What I'm Making on Etsy!

Check Out My Shop!


You Can Find My Books on Amazon!

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