Monday, August 8, 2011

Tall Picket Fence Shelf, Weathered

A few weeks ago I decided to design and build a large book shelf for my home. The plan was to make it from wood that looked as though it had been pulled from a hundred year old barn. I decided to use fence posts since they are inexpensive and lightweight.
Of course, the wood didn't just look like that when I bought it. First, I had to learn a thing or two about distressing wood.

Here are the steps that I followed.

First, I had to figure out what I wanted the shelf to look like. I based my design off a similar shelf I'd seen in an old country store, but my version is much taller, heavily distressed, and includes a basket at the bottom.
Once I had a plan, the first thing I did was cut all the pieces to the lengths I wanted. My measuring wasn't perfect first time around, but fortunately I erred on the long side, so I just had to make a few minor trims to make it all fit. The posts I used are made from 5/8" x 6" x 6' privacy fence. I had to split each of them in half right up the middle to get the desired width. Then I added pointed tips to the boards I knew would be standing upright.

Next, I painted all of the various pieces. I chose a soft color that I thought might make a nice contrast against the dark spots of distress I planned to add later. The color I picked is Sunset Gray by Behr which I thought would give the wood a nice sun-bleached look.
Once the paint was dry, I was ready to start distressing. I found this to be the longest and most difficult part of the entire process. For the look I was going for I really had to spend a lot of time on each plank. I used an awl to poke all of the worm-holes and leave scratches. In addition to an even spread of worm-holes across each plank, I gave some areas a really thorough stabbing so it would look like the worms had really been chowing down. When all my stabbing was finished, I hit the wood with an old railroad spike to leave dents and chips. I have heard of people using a chain for this step, but I had better luck with the railroad spike. Try different things and experiment until you find a method you like.

Then I was ready to apply a stain. I chose a dark brown, almost black color called Jacobean, because I felt it would contrast strongly with the much softer Sunset gray. The idea here was to get the stain on and off as quickly and completely as possible. I only wanted it to soak into the holes and scratches, not to radically alter the color of my paint. To do this, I spread a layer across each board and wiped it away immediately with a paper towel. I used a paper towel as opposed to a rag or sponge because I wanted something that would absorb completely rather than smear the stain around. Also the paper towels were disposable. If anyone knows of a more efficient way to do this, please let me know, because I used a TON of paper towels during this phase and they kept leaving little dingle-berries everywhere! But overall, I found that the stain soaked into the areas of distress and caused them to really stand out and look nice. Now, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the stain also altered the color of my paint in a major way by making it much darker and browner than I'd originally planned, but it wasn't so catastrophic that I didn't still like the look or couldn't bring myself to live with it. It still looked very cool, just not quite what I'd had in mind. If anybody knows of a better way to do this that won't result in as great a change to my paint, but also doesn't require me to use an eyedropper to stain each small worm-hole individually, then I would love to hear about it.
This was my first time to ever attempt such a project, and I'm rather pleased with the result. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing what you think!