Dig up some dirt


Dust, spills, and stains ac­cu­mu­late over time to add sub­tle patina. Th­ese tech­niques pro­vide the fin­ish­ing touch of au­then­tic­ity. Start with light touches, then step back fre­quently and take a look to avoid over­do­ing the ef­fect.

To “dirty up” a sur­face, first, buff on a light, even coat of a clear wax and let it dry. This pre­vents the dark wax, ap­plied next, from pen­e­trat­ing too deeply, al­low­ing you to grad­u­ally build the look. Af­ter dab­bing a brush in the dark wax, swirl the bris­tle tips on a piece of card­board to spread the wax evenly and re­move any clumps. Then, feather the brush lightly across the piece, in a series of over­lap­ping, ran­domly placed Xs.

Ap­ply flecks of dark stain or paint, above right, for even more grime. Stain spreads flat, look­ing like grease or wa­ter spat­ters; paint al­lows you to add a hint of an­other color (or more of one of the base col­ors). Sim­u­late a wa­ter ring by lightly wip­ing the out­side edge of a lid with light brown stain, then just touch­ing it to the ta­ble sur­face.

Tips for suc­cess

Prac­tice tech­niques and color com­bi­na­tions on scrap to build con­fi­dence and find the look you like.

Small pieces need less dis­tress­ing. Pieces with more sur­face area, such as a din­ing ta­ble, al­low for more pro­nounced dis­tress­ing with­out look­ing over­done.

If you aren’t sat­is­fied with the re­sults, sim­ply strip away the paint and fin­ish, and be­gin again. Any rem­nant of pre­vi­ous at­tempts will likely en­hance new ef­forts.

Work slowly, step­ping back of­ten to re­view the over­all dis­tress­ing ef­fect. A good rule of thumb: Stop be­fore you think you have enough. It’s eas­ier to add a touch more than to undo a touch too much.

Aged fur­ni­ture has few sharp cor­ners re­main­ing. Soften edges and mold­ing de­tails with light sand­ing be­fore ap­ply­ing a fin­ish. Ad­di­tional sand­ing while dis­tress­ing fur­ther rounds th­ese ar­eas.

Pro­duced by Craig Ruegseg­ger with John Knight

Im­i­tate flecks of dirt and fly specks by dab­bing the tip of a small brush in dark stain and wip­ing off most of the stain. Move the brush slowly at var­ied dis­tances above the sur­face as you run your fin­ger across the bris­tles.

Dark wax ap­plied over clear wax Only clear wax ap­plied Lightly brushed dark wax sim­u­lates built-up grime. Con­cen­trate on ar­eas where hands would touch the item (pulls, drawer fronts, doors, han­dles) and in re­cessed cor­ners of framed pan­els and mold­ings. If you ap­ply too much dark wax, wipe it off us­ing min­eral spir­its. Reap­ply the clear wax, then the dark again.

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