If you would like to transform your dull, dated, stained solid wood furniture into a beautiful, old world piece that looks like it’s been handed down through the family for a hundred years, read on. I’m about to share with you how you can achieve a naturally aged finished look with a simple sanding technique.
Old world furniture has been sought after for decades. Furniture retailers like Arhaus, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel specialize in it. They design and finish furniture to appear as though it’s a hundred years old by adding layers of paints, stains, and glazes only to distress them back to give a newer piece of furniture an aged appearance. They’re beautiful and I absolutely love them, but they’re also very pricey.
Would you like to know an easier, less expensive, and more realistic looking way to achieve the look of aged wood without any of those products?
Start With Solid Wood Furniture
If you’d like to transform your stained dresser or sideboard into an old world masterpiece, you have to start with solid wood furniture. No veneer and no MDF (manufactured) wood. It needs to be solid wood through and through because you’ll be sanding back layers of the wood. Neither veneer nor MDF can withstand the amount of sanding required for this project.
The softer the wood and the older the stained and polyurethaned finish that’s on it, the easier time you’ll have sanding it back. It’s one of the reasons why I love refinishing old colonial dressers so much. If you have one please feel free to send it my way.
Once you determine that the furniture is made of solid wood, you can usually tell if it’s a softer wood just by trying to lift the dresser. Softer woods are much lighter in weight.
The above dresser was a very soft, light-weight wood that was transformed into a sideboard for my own dining room. It went from 1970’s brown stain to a natural rustic wood. You can see the ‘before’ post here.
And here’s the “after”…
Similarly, here’s a much more dense hardwood sideboard made by Ethan Allen. This piece is very heavy. The dense wood meant sanding back the finish took more than twice as much time.
And here it is in its naturally aged glory…
Dated vs. Aged Furniture
Both sideboards started off with dull brown stains covered in layers of polyurethane which were rather flat finishes that appeared dated (and not in a good way). Don’t you think?
There’s a difference between dated furniture and aged furniture. Unlike dated, furniture, aged furniture becomes more beautiful over time. Aged furniture tells a story of the generations of families that used it for decades.
The aged furniture will look as though the finish has worn away unevenly from naturally rubbing up against it. That’s why the stain still remains in the crevices.
Notice the color variations and how the stain is still settled in the crevices.
So how do you achieve this naturally aged appearance without adding layers of paint, stains and glazes?
Naturally Aged Finish Sanding Technique
Instead of adding layers of paint, stains, and glazes, let’s reverse-engineer the process. There is a trick to it though.
Instead of adding product to create color variation, you’ll be sanding away the color unevenly. Sand as much as you can with an electric sander. I use 60-grit sandpaper and this rotary sander and highly recommend it.
The goal is take off all of the old clear protective finish and as much of the stain as possible, but not all of it. This first round of sanding will take about two hours. By now you’ll be exhausted, so let the project sit for a day or two. This will also give you a chance to step back and evaluate.
After that first round of sanding, the wood will still look spotty from stain patches you missed. It’s now time for round two of sanding. Go over the entire piece again with the rotary sander, focussing on the darker spotty patches to even out the tones.
You’ll also need to lightly hand-sand in the groves where the sanding pad couldn’t reach. Be sure to feather and blend the areas that were sanded with the electric sander and those that were hand sanded.
Use 60-grit sandpaper to get through the tough polyurethane, but leave the stain in the crevices. This is very labor intensive and took at least another hour.
Leaving some stain in the groves adds to the naturally aged appearance. Furniture refinishers actually re-create this look by applying glaze to these crevices. You’re doing the reverse and sanding off the stain on the flat areas and leaving the stain that’s naturally in the groves.
Add A Clear Topcoat to Protect
Once you’re satisfied with the color tones of the wood, it’s time to add a topcoat to protect the wood. General Finishes Flat-Out-Flat is perfect for natural wood.
If you were to apply an oil-based poly to natural wood, it will turn it yellow and that’s not the look you want. Many water-based polycrilics will also change the natural color of the wood. I’ve found that General Finishes Flat-Out-Flat changes the natural color of the wood the least and adds a buttery-soft, clear finish that won’t yellow the wood.
Both of the sideboards featured here have three coats of GF Flat-Out-Flat clear topcoat brushed on to them.
Absolutely gorgeous isn’t it! Not only is it much more durable than a painted surface, there are natural color variations (heavier in the crevices) without the hassle of multiple layers of stain and glaze. Trust me I know as this this 7-layer stained dresser and this driftwood dining table each took two weeks to achieve their finishes.
Add Rustic Hardware
The final hardware you choose will add to the authenticity of your naturally aged piece. Choose hardware that’s in line with the old-world feel. Browns and blacks work perfectly. Stay away from gold and silvers.
I chose a rubbed bronze handle purchased at Lowes. It’s a dark brown, almost black, metal that looks as though the edges were naturally worn away over time to reveal a touch of golden tone – just like the sideboard wood.
Not every piece of furniture needs to be painted, nor should it be. As a matter of fact, natural wood can be even more beautiful (and durable) than a painted or stained finish and will last decades longer! And as you can see, it is possible to achieve a naturally aged finish on furniture that’s only a few years old.
This sideboard is now for sale in Entri Ways’ online Shop.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to products I use myself and love.