DIY How To Distress Wood Projects

5 Materials
5 Hours

My girlfriend loves the “Welcome” sign that I made for her a few months ago so much that she asked me to make a distressed decor ladder for hanging blankets. I’ll admit, I was a bit unsure about how to make the ladder, but the distressing part I was very excited about. This project did not sit on the back burner for long…I used my circular saw for the first time and cut all the pieces for my ladder and started going to town. Let me tell you, distressing wood is better than therapy! It was fun to think up clever ways to make brand new clean wood look like a barn find. The best part? You CAN’T SCREW IT UP! I love projects like that! Keep reading, this is a good one! I’m really proud how it turned out.

I am not even going to attempt to tell you how I made the ladder. I watched a Youtube tutorial which helped a bit. But basically, I measured, cut the wood and screwed it together. It was sloppy. There was cursing involved. In the end I was really patching it together to make it sturdy and professional. But I kept breathing and telling myself…this is supposed to look like a BARN FIND…

This post is really about how I made the ladder look aged and beat up, all the while incorporating my friend’s color theme without making it look “painted”. I have to say, this really was a LOT of fun. Although I really only spent 5 or 6 hours on this, I allowed myself to spread the project out over a couple of weeks, so my muse had time to dream about the next steps. SO NOT LIKE ME…usually I like to complete a project in less than a day so I can feel that rush of instant gratification. But this one was different. I was teaching myself a new skill set, so I took my time.

Ready for the first step? BEAT UP YOUR WOOD! Have fun with it. Get your stress out. Hammer, chisel, scrape it with a wire brush, whatever you want! For the most part, I just used a hammer. I used both SIDES of the hammer, the nail pulling side created deeper “wounds” and I could use that end to scrape lines into the wood too. Now at first, this doesn’t seem like its doing much, but believe me, when you get to the next step you will see the full effect!

I also sanded down all the edges and corners so they were rounder…

Step 2? Stain! My favorite thing! My friend said she wanted a dark color, and usually I like to work with Kona…but I recently found another color that adds a lot of character to the wood. Jacobean! It really is the perfect color to make the wood look aged and dark…almost as if it may have even been in a fire! To get the proper effect be sure to have an old (clean) rag handy. I used a sock that had long lost its mate. As soon as you paint on a coat stain, wipe it down with the rag before it dries…

Here is my assembled ladder after staining and wiping it down…

Step 3 is painting the ladder with my friend’s decor colors. I seriously debated on doing this because I was worried fresh paint would take away the “barn find” vibe. Somehow I had to figure out a way to add the colors without making it seem “new”. The paint had to look worn, or possibly that the paint had accidentally splashed onto the ladder years ago…hahaha. Her home decor colors are turquoise and orange…

After contemplating for a few days (yes I'm slow) I decided how I was going to accomplish the look I was going for. I mixed up a dab of acrylic craft paint with a tiny bit of water and half a teaspoon of baking soda. This gives the paint a “chalky” appearance. I had to mix it quite a bit for the baking soda to dissolve. Be sure not to water down the paint too much…just enough to help dissolve the baking soda. Add more paint if it is too runny.

Next? Have a blast throwing paint onto your project. (Not literally throwing...use a paint brush!) I started with the turquoise and made sloppy uneven runs of paint onto the ladder. I’m really wanting the color of the stain to the be the base of the project and let the paint be the secondary feature. I kinda like when my pieces look like an accident…lol. I want people to look at it and think, “is it supposed to look like that?” or “how in the world did that happen?” To achieve this, I allowed the paint to sit for just a few minutes, then I used a clean rag to “rub the paint into the wood”. This gives the appearance that the paint has been there a long time. Repeat with the orange paint.

Now before I go any further, I will tell you I loved this so much I tried it again later on another wood project…and the second time my paint was too runny and I rubbed it too soon, so instead of turquoise and orange, my project turned out GREEN. Unintentional. I really like the look of this blotchy paint so I had to re-do the second piece. (and I’m still not happy with it!)

NOW WE SAND! I used a medium grit sandpaper, because I wanted to chunk up the paint and rub down to raw wood on the edges and corners. There’s really no way to screw this up, just sand until you are satisfied with the distressed look you are going for.

The last step is optional – finishing wax. I added it because I had never worked with wax on a wood project before, but I’ve been youtubing it, and most people who use chalk paint like to finish with a dark wax to give it an antiqued look. I have to say, I can take it or leave it…the ladder looked great without the wax, but does seem to have a more “finished look” with the wax. It was very easy to rub on (using an old towel), and after 30 minutes I rubbed off the excess wax with another clean towel. Be sure to use towels or rags you dont care about…they will be trash when you are done.

This is the brand of wax I purchased from Amazon.

Drum Roll for the finished project please! I hope you enjoyed my post, it sure was fun! Be sure to follow Jane’s Real Life on Instagram and  Facebook! or visit my website!

Resources for this project:

See all materials
Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.
Hometalk may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page.More info

Lisa Jane Long
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!

Frequently asked questions

Have a question about this project?


Join the conversation

2 of 3 comments
  • Pattybgarni Pattybgarni on Feb 27, 2020

    Thank you so much. I have a few projects in mind and will start a couple soon. I will definitely share the results with you. Again, appreciate your input.


  • Lisa Jane Long Lisa Jane Long on Mar 01, 2020

    Thanks Patty! I can't wait to see!