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April 20, 2011

Creating a Weathered Wood Finish Just Like Mother Nature

Lucianna Samu

After I finish up today's post, I think I'll put a question on the Benjamin Moore Facebook page, asking all the pro faux finishers how they "invented" their favorite techniques.  I've had more than my share of happy accidents mostly because I'm a bit of a mad scientist in my "paint laboratory."  I'm happiest when I just have a go at something and I love to figure out how to get the result I want after the fact.  It's not always the easiest approach, but when things work out, another classic painting technique is born.  I've had a good day in "the lab"; how do you like my Restoration Hardware-inspired, weathered wood table?


I've conducted countless experiments with cool grey and warm beige, in search of the perfect color combination to create this well-worn look.  Pro finishers have reduced painting a faux bois or wood grain to a well-documented technique.  But, painting something to look like weathered wood, or more specifically attempting to emulate the mysterious effects of weather, is a reminder that Mother Nature is one very tricky gal.


I can't say how mass-market retailers create the effect of sun, rain, cold, heat, freezing, thawing, decay, worm holes, splintering and checking.  (Maybe there are big ovens or refrigerators involved?)  What I do know about a weathered effect is, if you set out to paint "the weather," you'll need an absolutely dead-on color palette, which I have lots of reference for here in farm country.


A spilled glass of water instantly raised the grain of my new, unfinished wood tabletop.  Water on raw wood is never a good idea, but the table endured the first accidental water bath.  To stabilize the surface, I primed and painted the other side with two coats of matte Aura.  Then, with my fingers crossed in the hope the top wouldn't warp too much, I raised the grain again with even more water.  This "mistake" (the water bath), created some weathered effect, without the need to open the grain with a wire brush, which would produce a similar look but take more time.  If you want to create a similar open grain on a painted or factory finished table, dig into the surface with a large wire brush--the kind you might use on the barbecue.  Run the brush across the surface in one direction.  You can have it wiggle and cross itself, but stay in one general direction.  Wear heavy gloves for this work, and be careful not to get poked by the wire, which is as sharp as a razor.  (If you cut yourself, make sure your tetanus shot immunizations are up-to-date!)


The colors I used to render this technique are critical to the end result.  The provenance of the table doesn't matter at all.  Here are the colors:

  • Sepia Tan 1116
  • Iron Gate 1545   
  • Urban Legend 238   
  • Buckhorn 987   
  • Brandon Beige 977

To get the look, I painted the grainy, water bathed side of the tabletop and the base, with two coats of matte Aura Sepia Tan 1116.  The grain stays very noticeable, making a good template for a novice to follow for the graining layer.  Iron Gate 1545, is the grain color, watered down, and applied with a tiny brush.  Knock your painted grain lines around a little, with a rag or a brush.  The object is to break the painted line a bit, and soften, or "push" the grain.  Next I used three latex glazing colors, each made up from matte Aura.  One part Benjamin Moore latex glazing liquid and one part paint--I did not add water to the mix, which makes for a heavy glaze that will show more detail.  Urban Legend 238, Buckhorn 987, and Brandon Beige 977, layered one over the other (like lasagna.)  Drag a piece of steel wool, or a stiff paint brush you never cleaned, or a rubber graining comb, through each glazing layer before moving on to the next.  (Let each color dry before applying the next layer.)  You can repeat this process for as long as you like, beating up the results with whatever happens to be handy--the wire brush, sandpaper, a knife, steel wool--until the table top looks like it was out on the porch for a few years.  (Steel wool produces the best effect.)


Once all the glazing suits your fancy, wax the surface with paste wax, or polyurethane if you prefer.  I love a waxed surface on furniture, but as you're learning, it needs to be removed entirely if you ever wish to repaint the thing again.  If you're not sure, use the poly, which can be sanded, primed and painted over.


I can't imagine I'd want to repaint the table.  The base and the 36-inch pine top cost about $35.00.  A friend was nice enough to pass the chairs along to me--the Madeleine dining chair from Restoration Hardware, authentically weathered some more outside, so the rivets have rusted too.


I'm liking the idea that I've created a "set"--very unlike me, but the small size, makes the whole seating ensemble feel like one single piece of furniture in the new breakfast "room."  This cool grey weathered finish lives beautifully with all wood finishes.  I especially like it with red, warm brick, and, oh, it's even fabulous with all whites and neutrals. 


If you have a rescued chair or boring table around, this finish is most definitely worth a try.  It's impossible to get wrong, since after all, we're simply recreating a few years of weather and its unpredictable, yet stunning effects!

Stay colorful.


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I follow you VIA GFC and I love your blog!

dead-on color palette, which I have lots of reference for here in farm country.

This is beautiful! I just built myself a desk out of pine and have been searching for a way to make the driftwood finish on it. I have a few questions if you don't mind - 1) to start, you completely paint the surface with sepia tan. Then you "paint" in the grain lines with the Iron Gate? I'm trying to figure out how to do this step and how many grain lines to paint. 2) How do you get that white chalky look on there? Is that from using the steel wool?

Any other tips? I'm trying to keep the desk top a smooth surface.

Thanks!!! And again, your table is beautiful!


Tht looks very good. I am about to build a bed for our bed room and we wanted to have weathered wood finish. So just on time to read this post. Thanks

Hi Shannon-I try so hard to respond to beginners quickly on the Living in color blog, so apologize I overlooked your question!

You can absolutely do this finish on a counter top, but I would not use the water to open the grain since you want the surface to remain flat and true.

Instead, you can age the wood with a wire brush, nails, sharp blades etc. I would test the finish on a leftover piece of pine first too--you may want to call extra attention to any knots. Finish it up with two even three coats of poly, and treat the surface as you would any fine wood. This finish is totally your RH look--I think you'll really love it.

Good luck with your new kitchen, and if you keep in touch on the blog, I promise to answer you more quickly next time!

Hi- we just built a kitchen island out of pine from home depot.. would this work on that? We are trying to achieve the RH look for it.. we are beginners.. is this do-able?! Thanks!

Hi Victoria! I imagine if this table were bigger or longer, one of your custom raised stencil reliefs would look stunning as a border or centerpiece detail. Even an embellishment on the base would add a nice touch. Maybe I'm not done with this table yet! Thanks for the inspiration.

Yes indeed Bill, you'll have many more color options with paint for your furniture pieces! I'm loving the Aura matte finish under stain--it has a lot of tooth, and adds a great deal of interest to the final finish. If you're comfortable working in stain, water the paint down so it feels familiar to you, and keep in mind the layering process is much quicker and more detailed with paint. You can always use your treasured staining layer for the final toning layer. The transparency of the stain would be very good looking. Send us some pictures of your creations!

This paint finish is as close to fool proof and effortless as they get Elisa. Surely you have something in the garage in need of fretting up. :)

Kathie, You should try this technique in all those clear watery blue colors you love, and finish it off with a warm white tinted wax-fabulous.

I'm always busy making samples Debra, and I'd be happy to snip off the corners and send them your way. Maybe we could do a workshop together! Students are the best resource for unusual and exciting color combos. Here's my email lu@luciannasamu.com!

Thanks Nicole! Hope you'll continue to comment? I'd love to hear what you think of the finished entry foyer this week.

That looks fantastic Lu! You always come up with the neatest finishes! I'm going to have to use this on an old table I've been dying to do something interesting with. Thanks for the info!

I have to start using paint more. I have been stuck in stain-mode on furniture for too long. The look you created is beautiful!

Truly amazing Lu! I'm always overly impressed with your faux techniques, and how you make this all look so effortless. The table is just gorgeous!!!

Love what you've done with the table. I'm redecorating this spring, and the table has inspired me. Great information!

I'm exhausted just reading about your weathering process, Lu! Which is why I normally leave faux painted effects to the experts . . . . I applaud your determination. Maybe I can get you down here to Westchester County, New York some day to demonstrate faux finish techniques or, better yet, drop off samples to show my color clients?
Thanks for the informative blog entry! --Debra.

Nice Job!! I love how it turned out!!

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