How To Turn New Wood Into Antique Beams
If you are looking for a way to work out your frustrations, boy do I have a job for you. It also helps if you are looking for a backache and blisters as a bonus. This job involves the simplest of tools and the weakest of minds. It’s simple. Take some wood and whack away at it. Then whack some more. Then a little more. That’s all there is to it (at least to the first part).
The fun part for me starts after the grunt work is done. That’s when I get to stop complaining about the backache and blisters and let my softer, more artsy side come out. I get to play with my paint brushes and spray gun and try to make my recent work look like it has been there for a long, long time.
I may not enjoy it as much as the finishing, but the work that leads up to the finishing is really just as important. I usually start with White Pine because it is easy to work, takes a nice dent, and if the log isn’t new, it can have a lot of character. From a lumber processing standpoint, I like that it is easy to mill, the boards stay flat, and it is quick to dry. I also use White Pine because I can get long logs and the wood is lightweight, which is good for big beams that need to be installed inside without a crane. In instances where I can use a hollow beam it is especially lightweight.
For the job that I specifically reference for this post, I used solid wood for the mantelpiece and made up hollow beams to be applied on the bottom side of an already-finished vaulted ceiling. The solid wood looks slightly more authentic because it benefits from deep cracks that occur during drying. After all the pieces are done, the cracks, or lack of them, are the only way to differentiate between the hollow and solid pieces.
The first step in making new wood look old is adding texture to the surface. From tool marks, to bug holes and cracks, old wood has texture. The more texture that you add, the more authentic the piece will look. It is easy to identify a piece that is not legitimately old because it doesn’t have enough texture. We have all seen cabinets that are distressed by adding a couple of bug holes and a few dents and then sent on their merry way. They might have the right overall feel, but no one will believe that they are old. In this case, don’t hold back and don’t get lazy.
For this project the surface was finished with an adze, but I often hand plane or use rough cut lumber with band saw or circular saw marks. After the pieces were worked with my new-to-me antique adze (that I got for $27 on ebay), I sanded the surface until it was smooth overall, but still had pronounced tool marks. Bigger pieces like these are usually viewed from a distance. Don’t be afraid to make obvious tool marks. If using a hand plane, set it deeper and stop at the end of the cut to tear off the chip.
In old pieces of wood like these the corners are usually rounded, dented or busted of. My favorite tool to use for the corners is a drawknife. It quickly removes material and you can change the depth of cut by adjusting the angle of attack. Be sure to pay attention to the grain of the wood. If the drawknife wants to dig in turn around and work from the opposite direction. The same holds true for the adze, especially around knots, where the direction of attack can make the difference between producing a chip and removing a giant chunk.
After the hand tools, I like to hit the surface with a sander to make the surface look slightly worn instead of freshly cut. Sand more where a piece would have been worn from hundreds of years of use. Tabletops are worn where people sit, posts are worn where people grab them, and furniture bases are worn where people kick them. In this case, all of the work was up high except for the mantelpiece, which was the only one that would have any wear from use.
Once the surface is prepped, it is time to start the staining. A truly old piece of wood has many different colors, and if you try to stain a new piece of wood with just one coat of stain, it will look flat. Even subtle differences in the colors can add a lot to the final effect. I like to use several colors of dye stains, on the surface of the wood and added to my finish, to build up to my final color. In this case the final color was fairly dark, so I had a lot of room to work before things got too dark.
The first coat of stain was TransTint Dark Mission Brown mixed with a little water and applied with a brush to the dry wood. I worked the corners along the length of the beams to simulate the sapwood, which is naturally darker in the older pine. The extra effort on the corners also helps camouflage the seam on the hollow beams. The next coat was a very diluted mixture of Honey Amber and Medium Brown TransTint that I quickly sprayed with my hvlp gun to make the new pine color similar to antique pine. This is where the water-based stains shine. The lighter color and darker color bleed into each other and start to blend. If the color is too dark it can be lightened with more water, if it is too light just add more stain.
The next step was to seal the surface with two coats of tinted sanding sealer. For these coats, I added a little Medium Brown TransTint to the sanding sealer. This darkens the color overall, helping me sneak up on the final color. It also seals the surface for the next step.
After the sealer dried, I used a Walnut Minwax gel stain. The gel stain (glazing) over the sealer only slightly darkens the surface, but it will get into, and highlight, the cracks and crevices. This is a good spot to add even more contrast by varying the amount that you leave on the surface.
The gel stain officially takes a day to dry, but I spray lacquer over it almost immediately with no problems. This last coat can be clear if the color looks good already or TransTint can be added to darken it. In my case, all of the coats of lacquer, sealer and topcoats, were lightly tinted.
This entire process takes a little more effort than just applying one coat of stain, but I think the results are more than worthwhile, and now I can’t do it any other way. Once you see how authentic this process looks, especially in person, you won’t want to do it any other way either.
Do yo have any suggestions for beams that are already installed?
Nothing easy. I have never worked on beams that were already installed. The only change I imagine could be reasonably made would be with the finish. With different stains, glazes and topcoats they could be made to look older. The shortfall is that any surface changes like a hand-hewn finish really can’t be done on the ceiling.
Scott, Thank you for taking the time to create this post, this is a great tutorial and exactly what I have been looking for! Bruce
Is the sanding sealer sprayed on? Thank you
I spray it, but it could be brushed on as well. I spray as much as I can for speed.
Where do you get the Trans Tint products? Thanks so much for these posts. I enjoy all of them.
They are available from Woodcraft or Rockler.
Thank you for your advice, it’s been invaluable. We’re restoring the 140 year old pine beams in our vaulted ceiling, which were painted with a thick dark reddish stain. Now stripped back they have texture and colour variations galore but are disturbingly bright orange. Can you recommend something to tone it down please? We’re aiming for a medium oak finish leaving the grain and darker aged marks visible. Many thanks
Whenever I am working on matching colors I keep around different colors of TransTint stains. I use them to push colors towards a color I want or to kill colors I don’t want. To kill the orange color, you will need to stain with a color that is opposite on the color wheel, in this case, blue/green. Once you kill the orange, then you can stain a darker brown, if necessary.
this is amazing! I bought an adze and I have a few questions:
1) how much do you recommend doing to the wood? The entire thing and all sides?
2) what is the best way to sharpen the adze?
I use the adze on all visible surfaces.
I sharpen the adze with a 12″ disc sander to remove big nicks and a sharpening stone or sandpaper spray adhesived to a wood block for fine sharpening.
When you say topcoat, are you referring to laquer? And what color did you use to tint your topcoats?
Topcoat can be any clear coat used as the final finish (not stain or sealer). I often use lacquer, but it could also be polyurethane, varnish, shellac, etc. On these beams I did use lacquer. For tinting the topcoat, I use TransTint dye stains. They can be used with water, alcohol or lacquer thinner, but do not mix with oil-based products like mineral spirits.
I cannot thank you enough. First, for your amazing post that inspired me to try to create something similar. Second, your your help and guidance. Thanks!
How colorfast is the Transtint? Once topcoat is applied will sunbleaching become an issue with time?
It will fade like everything else with exposure to the sun, depending on how much it gets. I haven’t had any jobs where it was an issue. With that said, most of my work is in wine cellars and not in atrium situations to give it a good test. If it is in a window, expect fading. If it isn’t in a window, fading shouldn’t be a problem.
Hopefully this is my last question lol. I cannot thank you enough for your help. My beams are constructed and fitted to the ceiling and I am now ready to stain them.
Having never done anything like this before, I was wondering whether I need to wipe the stain off with a towel after each application? Or, do you stain and leave it alone? I don’t have a sprayer, so I’ll be painting it on.
Finally, do you suggest I paint over the edges of dark mission brown with the medium brown and honey Amber? or do I keep the mission brown and honey Amber to the middle and let it bleed to the edges?
Fyi…We fitted them and will be taking them down to stain:)
The Transtint stains work like watercolors. Think of it as a watercolor painting (it wouldn’t hurt if you have painted with watercolors before). I paint the dark edges, let them dry a bit, and then start to do the lighter colors. The dark and light colors are going to overlap and start to mix. If you are getting hard lines where the colors change then it dried a little too long. If the colors completely mix and the color change is hard to see then everything is too wet. The good news is there is no right or wrong way to do it. Just work with your colors leaning towards the lighter end of the spectrum. You can always add more color, but it is harder to remove it.
When I work on the beams, I do them all a little bit different to make them look more natural. I usually have out a bucket of water, different-sized brushes, rags, hairdryers and sometimes even paint. Usually the shop get very messy because I am not scared to let the stain and paint fly. I remember one day we were making new wood look like old barn boards and we were throwing around white paint to look like bird poop, and even using some greens to look like mold or moss.
The secret for me is to not be scared. If you only do one thing it will look fake. If you do two things it will look less fake, and so on, until it looks like something real. Worst case scenario, you will have to do some sanding to undo the work you don’t like. Just try to do less of that.
Reblogged this on ourhousenow and commented:
Those look very good. I’m in the process of making some beams out of cedar. When you say that use sanded. What grit sand paper do you use. I’ve used a wire wheel and some 220 grit. Does that make it to smooth for the way you did that mantle?
On raw wood, in my shop nothing but 150 for finish sanding. I might use a more coarse grit when shaping a piece, but 150 other than that. 320 between finish coats. A wire wheel will make a pattern in the wood that you may or may not want. It isn’t for finishing the wood.
hi, can you please tell me what sanding sealer you used and do you know if old masters (oil based) sanding sealer can be tinted with oil stain? Thanks
I use ML Campbell products, and I use their lacquer sanding sealer. Oil-based sanding sealer should be able to be tinted with oil-based stain. I use the lacquer sanding sealer because it dries quickly.
Great post. I’m using this technique to distress wood for a door I’m making. I love the transtint dyes, but I couldn’t find ML Campbell products near me. I tried using Zinsser Bulls Eye sanding sealer, but it ambers the product too much. I like General Finishes products, but their sanding sealer is acrylic and non-tintable. I was thinking of using Deft or Qualalacq sanding sealer under the appropriate lacquer. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about or insight into these options.
I haven’t tried General’s sanding sealer, but Transtint works with everything except oil-based products (mineral spirits) as far as I know, so I would give that a shot. Otherwise, the Deft should be fine and not sure about the Qualalaq. I have used the Deft with no issues, but never tried the Qualalaq.
That is beautiful work. I needed a great tutorial like this one.
Question. How did you attachthe beam to the ceiling. And how did you hide how you did it?
Or did you use decorative lag bolts?
Wood blocks get mounted to the ceiling and the beams slide over the blocks. The beams are attached to the blocks with trim screws though the beams from the side. The holes can then be filled, but they are small and usually disappear into the look of the rough beams and don’t require filler.
Thank you for the quick response! I will post my pictures as soon as I have completed the project! Though I am sure they will not compare with yours.
I hope I haven’t found this too late to receive an answer.. I’m about to start my project of making new beams look old. I purchased the tints you used and wondered how long you wait after applying the 1st coat of the dark mission brown before applying the 2nd coat of honey Amber & med brown mixture. Does the first coat have to be totally dry….. Thank you
The stains will blend together more if they are wet and less the drier they get, but they will still blend some even after being totally dry. The main difference will be if a distinct line between the two colors is desirable or not. In this case a distinct line is fine because it represents the sapwood line, so letting it totally dry between color changes is a fine place to start and the only way to achieve a distinct line. If you don’t like the hard line when you are applying the second lighter color, you can always go back in and add a touch of darker color to the original dark-stained areas and it will blend into the lighter color. These stains are very forgiving and easy to blend.
Great post! Thank you! When applying glaze over the sealerr, how long would you typically let it set, and im assuming you wipe off the excess which gives the deep parts the darker color. We had beams and posts made, but when cutting the posts to length we have to stain, glaze and lacquer the tops to match the side. They weren’t super thorough explaining how to do it and they are hard to get a hold of. Thank you!
The glaze only needs to be dry enough that it won’t be messed up by the application of the topcoat. Because you could be using any number of products, I can’t give you a better answer than that. I use a oil based stain (Minwax) and spray it almost immediately with lacquer. If you are using a brush for your topcoat, the application could affect the stain, so you will need to wait for the glaze to dry completely.
Hey Scott, thank you for your post. I am trying to find an appropriate adze. There are so many different kinds. What did you look for? Have any tips on what to search for specifically on ebay? Thanks for your time.
I just looked for an authentically old tool. Beyond that I looked for a long handle. I bought one a long time ago from Woodcraft with a short handle and it was harder to swing with control.
Damn Scott. You are a Wunderkind. I’ve been looking at web posts on and off all afternoon and this is the most helpful thing I’ve found. Leave it to a Missouran. I grew up in Bourbon, MO 60 miles west of ya, and am cautiously approaching antiquing my timber framed living room in CA. I have rough sawn doug fir 8 x 14 timber framed great room that someone had previously applied a very uniform dark red stain. I’ve chemically stripped them, and still have a nice orange tone. I’m now wire brushing with a grinder, and toying with the “Hewning” adze technique, although am afraid I won’t be able to get to it all the spots as they are in the air and I don’t want to hack at the ceiling. Are you aware of anything else I can do to age them, i.e. chemical acid? etc? I eventually want a nice medium brown tone like you show here. Appreciate any advice. Cheers, Dean Wigger
Thanks for the kind words Dean. Well, I certainly don’t recommend trying to do a hand-hewn look above your head. It sounds nearly impossible. I am doing a lot of work these days with a hand planed surface. To make it easier on yourself you could use a 4″ power planer to hit the entire beam quickly. The planer will leave lines on the surface, which you can leave as is, sand lightly, or sand smooth. The surface of the beam will be straight, but not flat. Set the planer deep to make more noticeable lines. To make it look authentic you might run over the surface with a regular hand plane to get plenty of stops and starts, which will be accented with stain.
Hi. Hope I am not too late to join in on this conversation. I just remodeled my kitchen and have a laminated beam to box in. I just purchased 1x pine boards to dent with chain/bolts, make wormholes by gouging with screws, create faux cracks using an awl, and also use a hand planer in place of an adze. I was going to then use minwax pre-stain sealer to avoid blotchiness from pine wood, then use english chestnut stain, then put zinnser de-waxed sealcoat shellac over knots to prevent bleeding, and then finish off with poly or varnish. Does this sound ok?? am I missing anything? any suggestions?
Your approach will work fine. The sealer to prevent the blotchiness will help, but it will probably still have some blotches. Also, it will keep your stain from getting very dark, which may be problematic if you are trying to get a darker color. I use the dye stains because they are less blotchy and I can still get a dark color. You can skip the sealcoat shellac because you won’t need to worry about bleeding pine knots, which is really just a concern with a colored finish (paint).
I’ve read that although some of the oil-based pre-stain sealers say to apply stain within 2 hours, letting it dry overnight can sometimes limit more of the penetration, thus providing a less blotchy and grainy look in pine. I also read that using the vinegar/steel wool mix can also limit the graininess/blotchy look on pine. Any thoughts on that? I agree with skipping the shellac over the knots. I re-read your initial post and somehow I missed the part about the sanding sealer. I was thinking of using some type of a glaze to accentuate the indentations I make in the wood. So now I am thinking of 1) pre-stain sealer (letting dry overnight), 2) applying coat of oil English Chestnut stain, 3) applying sanding sealer, 4) wiping a gel stain on and then off, like a glaze, to accentuate grooves, etc, and 5) putting 1-2 coats of satin poly on it. Sound better?
That sound like a great approach. Since the pre-stain sealer will limit the amount of stain the wood will accept you will probably need the glaze coat to darken up everything. Do samples first for sure to make sure you can achieve the look. I know nothing about the vinegar/steel wool approach to limit blotching.
Well I finished the beam, and I want to thank you for your input, and the online video. Since I didn’t have an adze, I used a small hand planer. I cut my boards using 45degree miters on edges and wood glue. I then randomly planed the edges to roughen them up. Doing this step really makes the boards look like one solid beam. I also inserted 1-1/4″ dowels to make it look like pegs and mortise & tenon joints. Everyone thinks it looks great, and for my first time doing it, I think it came out good. I ended up skipping the sanding sealer/glaze step that I previously mentioned, as I didn’t want to end up going too dark if the glaze got absorbed. Instead I took Provincial colored stain and used a small artist paintbrush to fill in every single indentation, wormhole, etc, and wiped off any excess. That took a couple hours to do, but you only do it once, and it really accented the work I put into the boards. I’d love to send you a pic or two for feedback.
Question: the lacquer- did u use semi-gloss or satin?
I have an old antique pine chest that I’m assuming at one point was a hope chest, and then apparently a tack chest. At any rate I came across this blog post and decided I’m going to refinish it using this tutorial. I wish I could send you a picture of it and get your opinion on any potential changes to your above process. It’s very dry beat up wood.
I normally use a satin sheen. If not satin, then these days its even more dull.
I love this feed, and your skills! Thank You. Please tell me how you joined boards when necessary. One beam that I’m having made is 38′ long. I’m sure it will have at least 1 joint. If the joint doesn’t look good, I’ll probably cover it with a strap, but I’d like to know your advice here. Thank You.
First off, I spend a while making sure that the wood looks good at the seam, meaning there are no knots cut in half and that the grain matches as closely as possible. On hollow beams, it is usually a combination of biscuits, glue and Kreg screws. On solid beams it is usually metal plates, though I am a fan of decorative connections, like those found in Japanese construction, with locking dovetails. Lots of work, but very cool and structural.
hpoche – for my hollow beam, which is 18′ long, I have two support columns to deal with, so there has to be 2 breaks/seams on the bottom board. I decided to carry the break up the side pieces as well, so it looks like 3 sections of beam. What I plan to do is drill two 1-1/4″ holes vertically on each side of the seams, and insert 1-1/4″ dowels. I’ll make sure to sand smooth and such. The end grain of the dowels should soak the stain and come out darker, thus adding a little character to the beam. It should make it look a bit like a mortise and tenon joint or barn-beamish I think. My wife gave the thumbs up on a scrap test I did, so that’s good enough for me.
HI I know that you posted this awhile ago but it looks like you’re still active. I would like to make faux beams that look like timbers. I love yours! Most of the ones I’ve seen just look like trim and not actual timbers. How did you make the seems at the corners hide well so you can’t tell they are separate pieces? I know they are finger jointed together. Did you buy them like this? Make them? Any suggestions?
The corners are assembled with a miter lock joint made on the router table. It makes a strong joint at a true 45 degree angle. The corners still need work after assembly, but they look like a solid beam.
This would make for an awesome YouTube video!
I would like to thank you for this. I just added beams to my shop mostly following these directions. I am so happy how it turned out. Can’t recommend it enough. Wish I could post pictures. Thanks again.
Thanks. Im glad it worked out for you.
I’ve followed all the steps so far but what is the last step- lacquer? What type should I be using? Thank you
The lacquer step is really just a clear coat of your choosing. We use lacquer for speed of application and drying.
How about Shellac? I’ve used it before on tacky stain so that I could move the next finishing step along, and it works great. It literally dries within 2 minutes! It’s thin enough to spray, and you can get it in spray cans….if left alone, it leaves a glossy finish.
Shellac is a great choice. It will do the same work as the sanding sealer. Shellac tends to be a bit gummy sometimes which is the main reason I would choose sanding sealer.
Well this post has me almost to the finish line. I hand hewn the beams prior to discovering this post. This has been the perfect help in getting the finish I wanted. One question. Do you spray the gel stain. I am at that step in the process now but I have never sprayed gel stain so I’m curious if you spray or Brush on and wipe off. Thanks and I appreciate you posting this.
The gel stain (glaze) gets brushed on and then wiped off. Glaze could be sprayed, but it is usually too thick to spray.
I’ve been searching for help on installing a wood beam fire place mantle. I had it cut to size, it was planed and sanded by someone else. it’s been sitting in the basement for 2 years because we are scared to try installing it. The guy sanded it so nice and smooth, but I think I want to rough it up and might take it outside and let the kids beat it with a hammer and some rocks. I’m in Canada, so I don’t know if we have the same products, but because this is above a wood burning fireplace can you recommend products and steps that will make it safe for heat, dusting, and give me the dark old beam look. Also since it is quite heavy and being put on a brick wall, is there anything you can suggest for mounting. Should I put some brackets underneath, drill holes and fit like a sleeve? It’s quite heavy and I believe it is pine, (I forget sorry). Also the fireplace has a lightweight oak mantle, we haven’t taken it off, so we don’t know what is underneath yet.
I don’t know specifics about heat ratings of products, but I imagine that most film coatings, like polyurethane will perform similarly. If it is too hot for one, I think it will be too hot for all. As far as mounting goes, I have a post and video about this here on my blog. This is how I always mount my mantels, so it should work for you too.
Great results! Thanks for your process and detailed description of how to do it.
I have tried to do similiar work with water based stains but don’t get a good result and always go back to oil based.
I’m going to try the same products on an upcoming job.
Thanks again for the sharing your tips and tricks!
this is my new bible for simulated antique wood. I’m going to experiment with these techniques for trestle tables (indoor and out). Your beam treatment is wonderful — I’ve even found an adze on Ebay! I just put a nice sharp top-bevel on it and ready to carve away tomorrow. I’m contemplating how I can put cracks in the wood – maybe split it partially with a splitting maul and then glue the pieces back together to get a nice crack….I love this s**t (stuff)!
and thanks for sharing your secret formula!!
WOW. (warning “WOW”)…there is a whole lot of secret formula not included in this article. TransTint is very messy to work with, even when being super careful. Good thing I have a stack of scrap to try it out on. I’m not even getting close to the color results you have here. I know that wood is infinitely variable and YMMV, but this is going to take a lot of experimentation before I even get close to trying it on my trestle table.
BTW, the physical surface prep was the fun part. It’s straight forward to make the wood look hand hewn. I added one step: from previous experience, I used an angle grinder with wire wheel to raise the grain and age the tool marks. Then sanded. That part looks great.
What a great article! Have you ever tried this technique with a piece of pressure treated pine? For our kitchen rennovation, we are installing a post that needs to be PT due to proximity of soil-line under the floor (no crawlspace). We are looking for a rustic look but I’m not sure we can get that with PT pine. So we are also considering wrapping the post with some cedar and doing the hand-hewn look on that. Any thoughts appreciated!!
I haven’t tried it with pressure treated pine, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. It’s still pine, just with a few additives. The color will be affected by the treatment process, but that should be easy to adjust.
Thank you for the helpful tips. What top coat would you recommend that does not give the wood a shiny plastic finish?
Great ideas. You might want to try ZAR wiping stain rather than Minwax gel stain. I’ve been using ZAR for several years and love it. It applies easily, allows you to blend as you wipe it on and dries quickly.
Many stains work as a glaze on coated wood. Oil-based stains allow long working times, thinned latex paint has a short working time and gel stains are in the middle. Wiping stains are usually between oil-based stains and gel stains for working times.
I’d like to apply your process to wood beams I’m using as steps up to a deck. Would an exterior application need to be different? I was considering a marine varnish as my last coat(s) for something stronger outside. Wasn’t sure if I could still do the gel stains? When I looked up trans tints they say not for exterior.
I’m not a proponent of outdoor woodworking in general because it is a losing battle. The sun and rain will always win in the end. With that said, this technique can be used outside though the results may be relatively short lived. The longest lasting finish I have used is Sikkens Cetol for exterior applications, which will last for up to three years with no maintenance. I have also heard good things about Epiphanes, but I haven’t used it. Gel stains will work though I can’t attest to their strength outside. Same for Transtint. All colors will fade outside, it is just a matter of how long they take to fade. Unfortunately, without a lot of real world exterior experience I can’t recommend any that last longer. You will have to take the label’s word for it.
These are so beautiful. Where or how can I get planks mitered in that shape? I would like to try this.
We mill those custom for each order. They are made using a miter lock bit and a router table.
I would like to recreate a beam to look like yours. Can you give me the ratios that you used?
Dark Mission Brown for the sap wood:
Mixture of Honey Amber and Medium Brown for the rest of the beam:
How much Medium Brown did you mix with the sanding sealer?
How much Medium Brown in the final sealer?
Beautiful beam !!!!
Sorry Gary, I cannot tell you the ratios. I don’t measure anything and adjust until I like it. I’m famous in the shop for being so cavalier with the stains. If you get the basics, like the darker edges, and generally get the colors right it will look good. You should do some samples first to make sure you like it.
I finished my beam and it turned out great. I thought the dye stain was fairly easy to work with. I found a web site on mixing instructions for the trans tint, it gave me somewhere to start.
Thank you so much for posting your clever beam work here. I am about to do the same style faux beams in our house and the only thing I could not get past was the best light stain for pine. Your expertise and comments solved the problem for me and I will be ordering precisely these water soluble trans-tint colors and having at it.