how to duplicate the look of distressed unfinished cabinets

cbishophurleySeptember 19, 2010

Does anyone know how to get the look Of Restoration Hardware's new line of Distressed cabinets. These are not painted almost look like driftwood.

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Restoration Hardware describes the wood as "salvaged" or "reclaimed". You can use Google to find someone who sells that kind of wood or perhaps there's an old barn in your area that needs to be torn down. Do as absolutely little to it as possible in preparation for construction to maintain the weathered appearance.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 10:04PM
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What I read was the pine is salvaged from 100 year old buildings in England.

So, first thing you would have to do is start with that kind of wood. The grain is more dense than newer wood, the aging over 100 years is not attainable by artificial methods, and the color may be a company secret.

Many companies make products that have a very distinctive look. That is possible because the companies do a lot of testing and work to find the exact process. Obviously, they do not want the secrets of those processes to become known.

Example. I did the finish trim work on a custom built house where all the trim wood was included but not installed. The company shorted the trim amount by a couple hundred feet. I called the company and they agreed to let me have the recipe for the 'Natural Western Pine' finish. I had to buy four different stains and mix them in the exact amounts to replicate the 'natural' color.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 11:22AM
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I've worked on a few of these for issues unrelated to the finish. I'm trying to find out how they get it in case I ever have a finish-related problem.

While it looks nice now, I think it will be a bear to take care of, long term, as there is zero protection against stains, foods, body oils, etc. and would be a difficult surface to keep clean. Ever see trim left unfinished in the door to the garage?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 12:16PM
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You have to experiment to come up with the look you want. I'm planning to experiment soon to achieve a similar driftwood finish for one of my oak bathroom vanities.

RH has different products with variations on that look; some are reclaimed elm, some are unfinished ("lightly sanded") reclaimed pine, some are oak with a "weathered finish."

Some ideas to get you started...

No oil-based varnishes or traditional oil finishes can be used, because all impart a yellow or amber color.

The reclaimed pine is a grayish color caused by oxidation. Ferrous sulfate and iron buff are chemical stains that can duplicate that process and produce a grayish color.

Washing soda or even baking soda can lightly gray or "weather" oak a bit.

The "weathered" oak RH finish looks to me like gray pigment is lodged in the large pores of the wood, just like with any whitewash or limewash finish, but with gray pigment instead of white. I would try a flat, waterbased paint in a similar shade of gray, apply and wipe off. Rubio Monocoat might also achieve a similar look, in a grayish color like Gris Beige. Monocoat is so matte the wood looks unfinished, but does have some decent protection.

If you use any other protective topcoat, it would have to be dead flat, crystal clear, and applied very thin so there's no obvious film build.

One of the RH pieces is said to have a wax finish; that's pretty easy, just add artist oil pigments to wax. I'd start with white and tint it to light gray with a bit of green undertone to cancel any warm tones naturally in the wood. (Of course, no other topcoat would be compatible with the wax.)

    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 8:36PM
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Are you at a point you can update us with your oak staining of the vanity and post some pics?


    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 11:34PM
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I was going to make the same post! Just got the catalogue and love the finishes.

Thanks for the tips!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2010 at 9:44AM
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Play with my suggestions on a scrap of pine and use a base stain that is close to the color of raw, bleached out driftwood. It must be a waterbased stain for the correct effect. You can get it custom mixed at lowes (minwax). get this effect you can't apply a medium of one color over the same medium of a different color unless the first coat has completely dried or they will just blend together. You want to create a "layering" of similar colors to create depth. Also, don't use the "similar" second and third colors everywhere...blend them in to create accents, shadding and very subtle streaks. You'll get a feel for it as you go.

Lastly,be sure the glaze is oil based, or a different medium than the stain..very important!! You don't want the glaze to interact with the stain.

Have fun!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2010 at 10:22AM
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I am trying this aged driftwood finish on a table now and tried the vinegar stain on the sanded wood. I tried to post a pic but would not let me.

I applied apple cider vinegar with steel wool soaked in it overnight (found recipe online). That is the gray patch where the sanding was done. this is a leaf for a Parsons style table I found on Craigslist.

We want the table to look like driftwood in color. I will also get a stain at Lowe's which I am so glad I read about the water based stain and then an oil based glaze over it so they won't interact. I want all brown off the table when done.

I would have bleached the table (like the old pickled finishes) but too caustic for me at my age to handle. This is for my daughter's dining room and she wanted a coastal feel, not heavy Oak.

Thinking of using Waterlox (satin) as the final finish for the top of the table.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 4:49PM
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I went out today and got Rustolium light gray stain called Sunbleached. My daughter likes the photo I sent her, I am bringing the leaf I did the new finish on to her house tomorrow for her to see in person.

If all is OK'd I have clear Lacquer to put on top.

The Apple cider vinegar treatment did a great job and I loved the look, but it was not very gray on the oak. It made it like 1/2 oak color (honey wood tones) and 1/2 gray, very detailed and full of depth. My daughter didn't like that, applying the stain I bought flattened the surface and made it less dimensional but she liked it.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 8:15PM
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I have used your recipe for years on large scale, old building models. Just a couple of tips. The longer the mix sits, the stronger it becomes which means the wood staining will be darker. Make sure you use the same strength on all areas of the same piece. Also, the mixture will not result in the same aging hue depending upon the wood it is used on. Different spiecies, different results. I've never used it on oak, not sure how it responds.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 11:59AM
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A friend of mine had yellow pine shelves and wanted that RH gray finish similar to driftwood color. I suggested he use actual paint samples from RH of his color of choice (we liked 'Graphite'), cutting the color with a bit of water. Brush on the first coat and let it dry. Continue with successive coats until desired color is achieved letting each dry in between. He liked his shelves natural with no wax finish, but I'm sure you could do some type of matte wax finish. I'm no painter or decorator so perhaps the way we went about this isn't correct but it worked for us. The shelves turned out beautifully and had that exact RH gray finish. Just be sure to use their paint if that's the color you want since that's the look you're going for.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 11:24AM
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Nice tips.

And above all ... TEST and write down recipes and take pictures. Because if you don't, you will never be able to replicate that fabulous color.

I've been experimenting with various woods and the steel wool / vinegar mix. The species of wood has a huge effect on the final color ... with the same solution I got purple-grey (white oak), deep charcoal/brown (spruce), medium grey-brown (some cedar) and a slightly greyed brown (pine, probably ponderosa).

By making the mix the same way every time, with the same amounts of steel and vinegar, I can make something next week and expect it to come close to the first piece.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 5:24PM
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