I don't know who coined the phrase "what's old is new and what's new is old" but it certainly fits well in the entire furniture making industry. There are many companies that work hard making new furniture look old. It's not that they are trying to fool anyone, they are filling a market need. There is lots of old furniture around in various states of condition but sometimes it's quicker and easier to replicate the furniture than it is to go out an find it, then to carefully restore it specific condition.
The elements that go in to making new wood look old are as varied as you can imagine and basically there is no right or wrong way of doing it, you just do what ever works. All that really counts in the end is how the finished piece looks and if it lives up to your expectations.
Of course the first thing to choose is the type of wood you want to use and if you want to stay true to replicating a specific piece of furniture you would want to use the same wood, but, as I said, there are no rules, if you want to use a different kind of wood, you need to experiment with how the finished wood will look and this means working with different finishes, like dyes, stains and top coats ...
In my case I am using my favorite wood, red alder. The first thing I want to know is how it is going to take the stressing or cross grain marking. The real secret to distressing wood is that where normally we would sand and plane with the grain, in distressing wood we want to do sand and plane against the grain. The reason for this is that very often when finishes are applied to wood, more finish is absorbed in the end grain than the long grain so when you mark a piece of wood across the grain you are basically exposing cross grain that means more finish will soak into the wood at these points which will make that mark stand out more.
Distressing the cross grain is one element, the other is to dent or color the wood in some way. Some older pieces have areas where the tanin in the wood has made parts of furniture quite dark, this could be replicated with dyes, or by simply scorching the wood with some sort of a torch ... this is best done outside to avoid any chance of fire in the workshop with all the raw wood, wood dust and shavings around.
Another technique that makes a nice touch ... on certain pieces is to burn a circle on the top as if someone had place a burning hot pot or some other utensil on the top and it has scorched the wood as well. After the burning you might want to lightly sand the surface to make it look more subtle and "used".
The tools pictured above are just some of the tools that I used to make wood look old, including chain, an axe, a hammer, scrapers, raw saw blades to scratch the surface, 40 grit sand paper to mar the surface, and so on. What you will have to determine for yourself is what amount of "distressing" you want to make. You CAN overdue, which means then you will need to sand out some of this distressing so ... go easy, take slowly and have a look at each step.
The best advice I can give is to experiment to see what works for you and what amount of distressing you want, and what kinds of wood you will use and what final finishes you will complete the project with. All of this is just another step in learning the various styles of furniture making.
Copyright - Colin Knecht