Falldine Knotty Pine Dining & Coffee Table #1: Distressing about Distressing

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Blog entry by Dan Welty posted 01-19-2008 11:06 PM 6642 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Falldine Knotty Pine Dining & Coffee Table series no next part

First blog although this project is pretty far along…
Partially completed knotty pine table--top still rough
I have recieved a commission to build a dining room table and matching coffee table for a friend and client. The material is knotty pine and will be finished in an antique honey pine as in here. (see “Staining Pine: Make this Humble Wood Look Like A Million Bucks; American Woodworker Present Guide To Finishing, winter 2007/2008 edition, page 52). That handles the issue of splotchy/blotchy staining on pine.

However, the client really wants this to have the “country kitchen” look and has expressed a desire for the finish to include “distressing”. The gave me an example here. My question has to do with how to “apply” this distressing.

All of my experience has been at trying to get as perfect a finish as possible, not the other way. I suspect “distressing” is much harder than it looks. Would appreciate any thoughts anyone has in this area!

-- Dan in Dallas

9 comments so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4515 days

#1 posted 01-20-2008 12:04 AM

I do that with a pair of awls. One skinny the other fat and use a two handed attack like a woodpecker. The other mark looks to be a wide dull chisel.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4515 days

#2 posted 01-20-2008 12:09 AM

I’d also take a spoke shave to those legs the lines are just too clean.

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4189 days

#3 posted 01-20-2008 02:30 AM

Beat it with a thick chain. You will get the small dents but not the tears.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4075 days

#4 posted 01-20-2008 11:00 AM

I’ve never understood the distressed look on new furniture. However, I guess a paying client is always right.

View mrtrim's profile


1696 posts in 4081 days

#5 posted 01-20-2008 02:58 PM

like yourself im used to doing things smooth . so just do it smooth and hook a rope to it and drag it to thier house behind the truck ?? ok maybe not , just trying to help !

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 4086 days

#6 posted 01-20-2008 06:12 PM

Very interesting. Please keep us informed about what you find out and when it’s done.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View gizmodyne's profile


1780 posts in 4291 days

#7 posted 01-20-2008 06:37 PM

You can drop keys on the table top too.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View ToddE's profile


143 posts in 4135 days

#8 posted 01-21-2008 08:21 AM

Hey Dan,

Nice table…Let’s dent this thing!!! :)

Seriously though. Most important keys to distressing furniture is to know when enough is enough. Too many people in too many factories are distressing furniture to the point where it is unrealistic. I have spent time with some wonderful traditional tradesmen that are great at their trade. They all say the same thing…know when to say when, when you are distressing. The client is always right, but you can offer some educated suggestions as to what they should think is right.

Here are some ideas…

I. What are you distress?

Think about what would distress the particular furniture you are making? I would hope not a chain, but maybe…

If it is a corner table, you won’t find distress marks in the back of the piece, but maybe some dents in the back corner of the table top from moving it around and banging it into a corner of the walls. You are making a table, so think about what is around your table. What do we use tables for? Where are they commonly kept?
Here’s another example…Have you ever seen a table with a heat exposure ring on it? Of course, but have you ever seen a book case with one, not typically.
Here’s yet another example, let’s say you were building a small table that would be placed next to a bed, aged to the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. Burn marks would be a great idea. Burn a mark from about 4” to 5” inches from the center of the table, facing towards the far back corner of the table top. Why, because a lot of times the burn marks occurred from candles falling out of the holders.

II. Consider the location of your distressing.

Let’s use your table for example. Pull up a chair, literally! Sit at the table and decide where one would sit.
Where are you going to bang your chair legs into the table legs? You won’t bang the chair into the first 6” to 8” from the table top down, so don’t put dents in the square portions on the inside of your legs. The dents are most likely going to be found on the elevated sections of the turnings of the legs. Put them on the elevated sections and not in the relieved sections of the turnings. Also, you might want to lean the chair back about 3”, as you would when you would be sliding it under the table and see where the chair legs would impact the table legs. Slide the chair in against the table as well. Where the chair strikes the table edge would be good spots to nick the wood or dent it. If you have made the table to take two chairs on the long end, then put two chairs under the table and dent where they rest against the table.

Here’s something you can do that will set yourself apart. Get intimate with your clients. Find out if they have kids. If they do, custom the piece to that. Take a chair and tip it backwards to the height that a small child would lean it back and throw a slight gouge on the outside corner of a leg where the bottom of the flat portion of the chair leg would hit it. Why the outside corner? Because if you watch kids push chairs in, that’s what they do.

Where would you slide your pants buckle against? You can take a grounded 2” piece of metal or a dull chisel and work a gradual 5” wear area in the short ends of the table edges where people with bigger bellies (usually dad) sit, and not in the long ends of the table, as traditionally kids (who are smaller and can’t reach) and guests (who tend to sit properly when visiting) sit. Where is a kid going to carve a knife into it? Where is someone going to run into a corner? You should have more fork looking marks in areas where you would expect a child to be fumbling with a fork or a knife and dropping on the table top.

III. The third issue is what pattern should you use is also important.

Not only consider the pattern of the distressing, but consider the actual wood as well. In the northern section of our country, when a wood worm (general dichotomy) burrows into oak, their secretions actually turn the wood around them black! That same worm in the south, would turn a piece of hickory yellow or a light red. Yours appears to be pine. So your holes would be caused by a wood pecker vs a burrower because the worms don’t like the sap, it actually burns them like salt on a slug. But, if the pine would have come from trees in the northern sections (Canada, British Columbia) during the last century, you would have blue stains and spots all over the wood from Mountain Pine Beetles and the fungus they produce. Obviously, this wouldn’t be choice lumber and wouldn’t be used for an expensive piece, but if someone wanted an original looking piece and that’s all that was available, then when in France…
I mention this because there are so many dies and stains available for use, and it’s these little things that set us apart. If I was trying to make an obvious point of making a spot worm borer hole in white oak, alls you have to do is drill a diagonal (to the grain) hole with a 1/8” drill bit (to make an oblong hole) then take a burning pen or soldering iron and burn it real quick, that’s it.

IV. Consider the era of the furniture before you distress it.

Did they even have the type of wood available in which you made the piece? I mean, here in PA, I don’t really see a whole lot of red wood furniture around here, maybe out west, but not in PA. So I think you should plan your distressing before you even build the piece. I have a great example for this, only it isn’t furniture, it was for a porch. I had a guy that wanted to maintain his house in the era that it was built. I thought he was crazy because he paid all this money to have the lead paint abated instead of vinyl siding over it and he had scallops made of cedar, when he could have put vinyl scallops on the fourth floor gables and not ever deal with painting it again. With his porch decking, he wanted the same tongue and grove wood used. I could have used treated 5 1/4 board and t/g them. But I had to go and find out what they used. I found that they used larch and I had to go to an Amish mill in central NY to get it. With the internet these days, this information is readily available and it can be a great history lesson at times as well.

V. Tools for distressing.

Now take everything you read above and go find stuff to do it. But, you have to know what they look like. Go on line and type in things like Mountain Pine Beetles or spot worms, etc. Then you will know what it looks like.
Consider the wood you are using. You really don’t have to hit the wood hard at all, especially for pine. Hickory and Mahogany maybe, but not pine, oak or chestnut, cherry or maple.

As far as dents use a rock. Get a rock that fits in your hand comfortably and is a mix between smooth and porous. You don’t have to hammer the wood, just tap it on the edges of a door or where ever you feel something would bang against your piece.

Take a set of keys and hit the top of the table where you think you would come in and throw a set of keys down. Just make sure that the keys aren’t rusty. That rust can be transferred onto your wood.

Dog tag chain and a stick
And you thought that those dog tags were going to just sit in some box somewhere for ever after you served. Get that chain out (probably should buy new) and rap it around a dowel. Bang it lightly on the wood.

I saw an artisan use this once. He simply took a piece of 2” x 2” x 1/4” piece of steel, ground a nice 25 degree chisel end on it and welded the piece to a 1 foot section of pipe. He used this as a scraper. Start of gently, gradually put more pressure on it to increase the gouge and then let off again as you pull it towards you. This is mostly utilized on the side of a cabinet door or on the edge of tables. Pulling a chisel would do the same. Once you get a descent chunk in, just pull it off. This is really easy to do on pine and oak because they have such a huge grain pattern. What you are trying to copy here is that piece that starts out as a little sliver that is hanging off the edge of your pine board and you pull it and the next thing you know you have a 4” long piece in your hand that is oblong shaped.

I don’t know if you can still get them, but they used to make really crappy paint scrapers. The scraper had a wooden handle that went down to a square. On the palm side of the square end they screwed on a bent piece of metal on it. It had two lips on it that would be used to scrape paint of a surface. It never worked. Get about 6 to 8, 2-3” stainless steel nails (3/16 or so, you want them pretty stout). So, take the screws out and drill about 6 to 8 staggered holes in the metal plate, just a touch bigger than the nail diameter. Turn the metal plate around (which would give you a space between the plate and the wood). Before you screw it back onto the wood, put 6 to 8 stainless steel nails through the holes. Screw the scraper plate back on. The nails dangle around loosely in the holes and will give you a random pattern. Now you can tap your new scraper-nailer on your wood to give all those random looking worm holes.

I hope this helps a little bit. I have to go to bed.
God bless, Todd

-- Allegheny Woodshop

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4500 days

#9 posted 01-21-2008 06:07 PM

Use a small bent nail, lay it down , & give it a whack.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

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