Updated: Nov 17
From IKEA to antique(ish), this DIY hack is for you if you want to know how to distress wood.
Let’s talk antique benches, you know the kind… beautifully unique, dented, scratched, slightly wonky, bearing the scars of decades of use. Well, it turns out that they are not cheap! I could imagine what Mr. D would say if I put an antique-bench-sized dent in our bank account (!). The other issue, of course, is that expensive antique benches don’t really lend themselves to family life… or maybe that’s just in our family, but having a bench in your bedroom, kitchen, or living room that you don’t dare let any of your accident-prone and extremely messy housemates sit on seems more than a little bit pointless. With this in mind, I decided to work out how to distress a bench in a handy DIY hack to distress wood.
I had an IKEA Skogsta bench (I'm a huge fan of IKEA furniture and quite partial to an IKEA hack too!) that was a few years old. It cost £40 and has been worth every penny. It’s practical, not uncomfortable (for a bench, at least) and although not exactly beautiful, it’s not ugly either. It's hardly a rave review, but honestly, it’s always annoyed me that it looked so new and pristine next to our very old and not-in-the-least pristine dining table. The table was a charity shop find, it cost £60 and I love it so much. It ticks all the boxes that the IKEA bench didn’t, but the table is not the main character of this one, so back to the bench!
After some bench-related browsing on Pinterest, I could see that distressed wood had certain characteristics and they looked easy to replicate using common tools like a drill, saw and hammer. I had some saw drill bits that I had bought for under a fiver in the Aldi special aisle (gotta love a special aisle bargain!), which came in super handy, but you don’t need specialist drill bits; a saw, hammer and drill will work fine.
You will need
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Saw - any will do.
A cloth to apply the stain and the wax
What’s the easiest way to distress a bench?
After trialling several techniques, I found the following to be the easiest and most effective DIY hack to distress wood…
1. Add dents with a hammer.
Hammering the surface of the wood was a great way to remove that generic mass-produced look.
2. Use a drill to create small pin holes that look like woodworm! I found lots of tiny holes in clusters looked best.
3. Scrape and mark the surface of the wooden bench I found some saw drill bits, which were super handy for this task
4. Use a saw to round the ends and edges Saw the corners off the bench to get rid of that new/mass-produced look.
5. Sand to ensure the bench is still fit for purpose
The last thing you want is people getting injured from sharp edges or splinters or catching their clothes and ruining them, so sanding is vital to ensure the bench remains useable.
6. Apply stain I used a chemical-free, water-based stain that was super easy to apply and worked a treat - you can find it here... To apply, make sure the surface is clean and dry, than either decant some stain into a pot and dip a sponge or cloth into it or place over the open bottle top and tip up onto the cloth. Wipe the cloth over the surface of the wood and rub the stain in a little. Cover the whole bench and allow to dry. Reapply if necessary to get to your preferred shade.
7. Seal the stained bench The stain I used was water-based, so it needed sealing to ensure it was fit for purpose. I used a furniture wax (you can find it here) and it worked well. Dip a cloth into the wax, rub it into the wood's stained surface, and allow it to dry. You can then polish the sealed bench.
Safety considerations when distressing wood
As always, take care using tools to avoid accidental injury. Ensure the bench is securely positioned before attacking with tools! It’s helpful if you can weigh it down for extra stability.
Top tips for distressing wood
Make the dents, holes, and scratches at least 2mm deep to ensure they are still visible after you’ve sanded.
Sanding the surface after you’ve added the distressed detailing is essential to prevent the bench from being rough or sharp in places which will cause damage to clothes and scratches to skin.
Use a variety of tools and techniques to make the damage look authentic.
Don’t forget to do all areas you can see to create an overall effect.
DIY hack to distress wood bench - the results
As you can see from the 'after' images, the bench was completely transformed and now fits in with my vintage table and living room (things tend to get moved about A LOT here, so it's vital they can fit in wherever. I'm super happy with the results and Mr D is happy that this IKEA hack bench only cost a few pounds to buy the wood stain...result!