Replicating Driftwood (or, Life's a Beach)

      How to finish wood doors to match a sample of driftwood? Pros contribute ideas involving wire brushes, sandblasting, ammonia, iron filings in vinegar — the list goes on. March 29, 2006

A client wants me to match a piece of driftwood which is quite tight grained, soft, textured, streaked with darker areas. The look is too natural and complex to simulate with stain, etc. The product is for interior doors they claim will see high use. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
Wire brushing, wire brushing wet, bleaching with chlorine laundry bleach, gray water stains, wet scrubbing with steel wool, laying out horizontal and wet scrubbing with sand and a brush, fuming with ammonia, scrubbing with ammonia solutions - these are the things I'd use to work up a sample with. Depending on the situation, some scorching can be useful, if followed by some of the above processes.

From contributor D:
Add a pressure washer and sandblaster to the above and try to use something like pine, cypress, cedar, fir, etc. You're a brave individual for taking a job like that. You could file a bunch of grooves in a set of planer knives and wiggle the boards as they're going through… LOL.

From contributor M:
You might want to consider a tinting toner for your background color. There are lots of ways to duplicate the markings in the driftwood - you just have to think faux finishing.

From the original questioner:
Our market is upper end residential NYC. Sometimes it sounds niftier than it is. A lot of our clients feel like they're giving us a privilege, allowing us to work for them.

Here's the driftwood.

From contributor A:
Are you looking to duplicate the texture of the wood as well, or simply the color?

From the original questioner:
Color and streaks are most important, but I wonder if it would be easier to simulate if I started with the same texture (tight grained, soft wood, blond, maybe a pine?). On the other hand, we may be able to come up with something that looks similar, which the client prefers anyway. Thanks for looking.

From contributor M:
Consider a Dremel, a toner, and a glaze.

From the original questioner:
Would you offset the colors of the glaze and toner, and if so, what would you suggest?

From contributor M:
It looks like a grayish toner base color, then a sealer. I would try a raw umber or a thinned out black glaze. These colors may need some kicker colors, and another color glaze brushed here and there to give it a more natural look.

From contributor A:
If you were a two hour drive from me, I would be at your doorstep with bells on. It's a doer. I've done this texture, which might require the use of a Fordom or Dremel, but a chisel might work just as nicely for chunking out prior to what contributor C suggested, minus all the chemicals. The wash color(s) are important, as you pointed out. It might help as well to understand what flogging is. It's a simple technique that allows you to simulate fine grain, either across a board or in random order. I sometimes use this idea to give myself texture and introduce the original color of the wood when removing a stain or wash. Basically, it is beating the heel (widest flat side) of a brush against pigment to remove it. The idea is to leave yourself just enough color to resemble fine to coarse grain. Your sample doesn't appear to have much grain, but you can use the same technique to break up anything that appears to be to contrived.

From contributor T:
Some interesting ideas. The human eye is more sensitive to texture than it is to color. Get the texture right and you'll be more than half way home. I'd start with a wire brush followed by a power wash.

As for color, that gray is a result of iron in rainwater reacting with tannins in the wood to produce an iron oxide that is gray. You can accelerate that process by wetting the wood with a water/iron solution. Dissolve some fine steel wool in vinegar (this generates a gas, so don't put a tight lid on it). Cut that solution with water - you'll have to experiment to figure out how much - and wet your wood. Puddling in the texture features should contribute to the natural streaking. Different woods contain different amounts of tannin. If your wood doesn't have much, you can wash it down first with a tannic acid solution. It will also help to let the doors dry in the sun.

From contributor O:
In the 1960's, there was a fashion fad in Florida, sandblasting existing furniture to eat out the softer wood, with the intent of making it look like driftwood. Most of the pieces were finished in painted/glazed South Beach colors, but some were colored to resemble the weathered color like your sample. Consider sand/bead blasting along with some other scarring effects.

From contributor M:
Contributor T's idea is a technique known as "ebonizing." It has a place for certain work. I don't see this job as a big deal to duplicate, unless you want to make it one. Keep it simple.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
First, you need to determine what species you will be working with. Your sample is probably a softwood, and if you work with softwoods of a similar grain structure, you will have better success.

Stay away from any species that has a high tannin content - like redwood, cypress, western red, or any dark cedars; what you want is a very fine grained whitewood like aspen or cottonwood, or maybe basswood. Stay away from pink or yellow species as well.

I would also stay away from the chemical stains, unless you are willing to spend a lot of time experimenting, and fixing the mistakes.

The wire brush is a good idea, but you need a fine wire size - about .008 to .012 works well. I recommend you do all your distressing and make some knife cuts, with the grain, in the surface before you brush. Also, the brush should run across the grain - and don't apply much pressure. Concentrate on the edges and end-grain, too.

The finish is really rather simple: pour off the clear acrylic vehicle from a settled out, flat latex paint can. Mix this with a small amount of white, gray, and brown paint or pigment, until you get a milky, slightly translucent blend. Brush it on, and when it begins to dry, wipe it off, leaving just a light wash on the wood. Wipe a couple more times with the same rag as it dries, if you want more color. Don't do anything more - you want the natural weathering to continue without interference.

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