How To Make New Wood Look Old

Remember a couple months ago when I wrote about my Christmas mantle? Well today I’m following through on my promise and sharing how I made my own weathered wood for that project.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

First let me say that I didn’t come up with this idea. I found it on Pinterest (where else?) and decided to give it a try. It was touch and go at first (more on that in a minute) but I love the way it turned out.

1. The wood you want to treat/weather. We used cedar fence pickets (the same ones we used HERE) because they’re already rough and knotty and because they’re cheap. We intentionally picked pieces that were split or damaged since that was the end look we were hoping for. I don’t remember the exact cost but they were only a couple bucks per picket. I used six so let’s estimate $12-$15.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

2. Medium or coarse steel wool. You could probably use a fine grade if it’s something you already have.

3. Vinegar. Nothing fancy. Just plain old white, distilled vinegar.

4. A glass jar with a lid. Some sites I looked at said it had to be a non-metal lid but I used a mason jar and didn’t have any problems.

5. Rubber gloves.


1. Fill your jar with the vinegar.

2. Put the steel wool in the vinegar and put on the lid. This concoction needs to sit for 24 hours so set it aside while you prep your wood.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

3. Cut your boards to the size you want. Keep in mind you’re tying to make them look old and weathered so perfection is not your goal this time. I had Josh cut ours down to 5′ each.

4. After 24 hours have passed put on your rubber gloves, open the jar, and get ready to make a mess. All you’re going to do is take the steel wool out of the vinegar and “scrub” the wood with it. When it starts to dry out dunk it back into the vinegar and keep going.

This is the point in the project where I started to have doubts. The steel wool and vinegar didn’t look any different after 24 hours than it did when I first put it in the jar. And the first pass on my wood came out like this:

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

It’s kinda pretty but definitely not weathered or old looking.

But I figured since I’d come this far I might as well keep going. So I waited until it was completely dry (which made a big difference) and “scrubbed” it with a second coat – and then a third.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

Did you notice how different the first coat looks after it’s completely dry. And how the effect is slowly building?

By the third coat something else was happening too. My vinegar was turning to a brown, gunky sludge.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

This, my friends, is when things started to get interesting. The grosser the vinegar turned, the older my pickets started to look.

After three coats – completely dried – they looked like this.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

Those splits and dings I mentioned earlier came out like this:

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

6. Success. Now you can do your Happy Dance. (Keep it clean people, this is a twerk-free zone.)

That’s the end of the instructions for weathering the wood but before I show you how we put the finished piece together, a couple of notes.
— If you’re like me you’ll be tempted to skip the rubber gloves and just get straight to work. Don’t do it. For realsies. I ended up with stained fingernails and little slivers of steel wool stuck in my skin.
— This is a messy project. I did it on the kitchen floor but if weather permits, take it outside.

Now on to the construction.

First we spent a little time shuffling boards around to get them in the order we thought looked best. Then we flipped them all face down and Josh cut some pickets we had left over from another project to fit across the back. (Can I just mention here that I hate how my kitchen floor looks like we live in a gymnasium?)

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

All that was left was to screw the three cross boards into the new/old pickets, holding them all together. We pre-drilled the holes using used a countersink bit so there wouldn’t be any risk of the screw heads scratching up the wall when we hung it.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

With everything screwed together we flipped it over and VOILA – a rustic background for my mantle.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

Here’s a few more holiday pictures because I haven’t been motivated to put up anything else yet. I have taken down the Christmas decorations though, I promise.

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

How To Make New Wood Look Old |

Have you tried to make something new look old lately? Did it turn out the way you expected?


4 thoughts on “How To Make New Wood Look Old

  1. Thank you so much for this great idea. I just bought my picket fence boards and I have a question on how thick your boards are and what length screws did you use to connect the boards together.

    Thank you again for the great idea. It gives so much more character to this project. And I can’t wait to try the vinegar and steel wool.

    • Hi Gina! My boards are 1/2 inch thick. As for the screws, I don’t remember the length. Just make sure they’re long enough to screw into both layers of wood – but not so long that they stick through the front. Hope that helps! I would love to see pics of your finished project when it’s done 🙂
      laughing abi recently posted…1950’s Tanker Desk RedesignMy Profile

  2. How can I make the ends look old? Like when I cut old wood to the right length I have an old worn end and then the fresh cut.

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