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How to Make Wood Signs Look Old

With the distressed look in, it’s super easy to DIY stylish, wooden home decor with an older, vintage look. Here is a quick guide for making wood signs look old.

There are two main ways to make a wooden sign look old. The first is the process of adding or removing paint. This is an easy way to get a vintage look. The second is distressing. This is can be done using anything that can damage, ding, and leave scratches and holes on the wooden surface.

Here is a quick guide on making wooden signs look old using both the painting and distressing methods.

How to Age Wood Signs

Depending on the look you are going for, there are more than a few ways to get the desired look. Painting on a layer of color and then removing it with sandpaper, adding stain, or dry brushing a darker color over the top are the most common methods of getting an antique look.

When it comes to distressing, the outcome is a more worn, old piece of wood rather than a neater vintage look. It can be done with pretty much anything that can poke holes, scratch away wood, and ding surfaces. The more distressed, the older and worn the wood will appear.

Paint

Painting a wooden sign is one of the easiest ways to get a vintage look. It requires minimal effort. There are three main ways of creating a vintage look with paint: sanding paint away, dry brushing paint on, and staining over paint. With each kind, be sure to work in an area with ventilation.

Sanding It Down

There are four things necessary to achieve this look. You’ll need a base coat (usually a black or dark brown), a top coat (typically a white or off-white, though any color will do), sandpaper of about 120 grit, and paintbrushes.

First, you’ll coat your wooden sign in your dark base coat. Make sure to get the knots fully covered along with the edges. The rest of the wood doesn’t need to be as perfect. It’s the knots, grain, and edges that you really want because those are what you’ll see in the darker color. Wait for this layer of paint to dry before moving on.

Second, you’ll want to cover the dark layer of paint with the top layer. This is typically white because that is what is in style, but you can do whatever color you want. You’ll want to coat the wood sign completely with no base coat showing through. This should take about two coats of paint. Let each coat dry before adding another. Let the last coat dry before moving on to the next step.

Third, you’ll want to take your sandpaper and sand away the white paint, or the top color you choose. Be sure to get the sides, corners, edges, and knots. Following the grain of the wood will get the best results. This part will take some elbow grease if you do not have electric tools, but it can be done. Do not be afraid of sanding too much because you can always repaint it with your top paint choice. Sand away to your heart’s desire until you have reached the look you want. There is no right or wrong, just what you want.

Once you are finished sanding to your want, you can add your words, images, or anything else to your sign.

Here is a great video that goes more into depth about the sanding method.

Dry Brushing

This method requires two colors of paint, one darker and one lighter. Typically, the paints used are black and white. You’ll also want some larger paintbrushes.

First, you’ll want to coat your wooden sign in a lighter paint color. Make sure none of the wood is peaking through. Let the layers dry between each coat for best results.

Next, you’ll want to dry brush on the darker color. Pay special attention to the sides, edges, grains, and knots. Dry brushing is the process of dipping your brush in paint, taking about 99% of the paint off the brush via napkin, towel, or something similar, and adding the last 1% of paint to your work. Again, don’t be afraid of messing up because you can always cover it up with your lighter color and try again. It is ready when you feel it is finished and looks the way you want. Let dry before moving on.

Lastly, you’ll add your words, images, or anything else you want to your sign, and it’s ready for use.

Staining

This method is quite similar to dry brushing. It requires one paint (the lighter color you want the sign to be), and a stain of your choice. Typically, the stain will be something darker. You’ll also want an old rag or t-shirt.

First, coat your sign in the light paint until the wood cannot be seen. This may take a coat or two. Let each coat dry before adding or moving on.

Second, dip your rag or t-shirt in the stain of your choice and go over the sides, edges, grains, and knots of the wood. Be sure to wear gloves. Once again, do not be afraid of doing too much or messing up—you can always go over it in the color you want. In fact, sometimes it looks better when you drybrush the top paint over the stained areas. The sign is finished when you are satisfied with the look. Be sure to let the stain dry before moving on.

Once you’re done, you can add your words, images, etc. to the sign.

Here is a short video that goes through each painting method briefly.

Distress

Distressing your wood sign is a good way to get an old, worn, barnyard look. It can be done with pretty much anything that will leave marks on your wood. Good options are hammers, screws, nails, mallets, chains, and really anything else you find laying around. For a less chaotic method, you can use a grinder.

You’ll want three things for this method; your tools of damage, a stain of your choice, and an old rag or t-shirt to apply the stain.

First, you’ll want to distress and damage your wooden sign. Have fun with this, let it be a little chaotic. This is not supposed to be uniform or organized. If the wood had actually been distressed, it would not be orderly, so why would this part be? Use different tools to scratch, ding, and damage the wood to your heart’s desire. This weathered look cannot be fixed as the painting method can, but it will add lots of extra character.

Second, once you are finished distressing your wooden sign, go ahead and stain it to the color you want. Be sure to do this part in a ventilated area and wear gloves so you don’t stain your fingers. More coats of stain will deepen the color. It’s all up to you and what look you are going for. Be sure to let each coat dry before adding another.

Then, add your words, images, or anything else to your sign, and you’re all done!

Here is a video that goes into more detail about distressing wood in a less chaotic manner.