Scars and Patina with Age versus Designed

August 17, 20151 Comment

The topic of distressing furniture is a frequent one in the Vanderlist Household, and judging by the number of emails asking about distressing techniques over the years I’d say it’s a hot topic in other woodworkers’ homes too.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I appreciate the beauty of an aged piece of furniture. The scars from years of wear and tear, the patina of an aged finish, the dark lines where dust and grit have accumulated, and of course the stories and memories passed down from years of ownership.

While you can mimic the scars, add a faux patina, and even accentuate the details with dark wax it’s just not the same as letting history do what history does best.

On the few occasions I’ve agreed to let a project get distressed as part of the finishing process I reluctantly agree to do it only if someone else will actually do the task for me. Typically I claim it’s because I can’t bear putting all the time and effort into defacing the project I labored so hard on.

But in reality, while that’s part of it, the greater truth is that I’m just no good at distressing! It’s my natural inclination to want the surface to be smooth and beautiful. The only exception might be on items meant to be handled as part of their use.

In those situations, I’m happy to add small facets to a surface that will give it a more natural feeling to the users’ hands. Small “imperfections” that add to the enjoyment of its use and maybe even improve it. But even then, these are designed flaws, not forced crudeness.

When I look at a surface I want it to have the appearance of how it looked when I first milled it. Taking it from it’s rough cut form and transforming it to a smooth flat surface, with all its natural color and grains is appealing enough in my eyes.

If I wanted something a little rough around the edges or imperfections, I’d choose boards with live edges or knots and pinholes. Boards which would ordinarily be passed over by other woodworkers looking for uniform grains and colors.

Curly western maple live edge board from Bell Forest Products

Curly western maple live edge board from Bell Forest Products

Maybe it’s my love for the underdog? Or maybe it’s just that I think scars and flaws deserve to have a history associated with them versus manufactured!

If you’re looking for ideas and suggestions for distressing furniture, start by taking a look at this post from (no affiliation, just a resource I found when looking for examples to share.)

Help support the show – please visit our advertisers

Filed in: Blog
Tagged with:

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Simon Austin says:

    I totally agree, Matt. Manufactured distress, never has the same appeal as something that has earned its appearance naturally.

Leave a Reply

Back to Top