Creating a Driftwood Finish

If you’re anything like me, you love the look of driftwood furniture. The aged and worn look just appeals to me although most of the pieces I see for sale in the major stores are not actual driftwood but wood that’s made to look weathered, usually with painting techniques.  So I began a quest to find out how I could get that same look at home.  After all, I was experienced at refinishing furniture, painting, staining and distressing – why not try my hand at this driftwood finish look.

And there’s nothing more satisfying than finding a beautiful piece of furniture in a thrift store that someone else has discarded – no longer useful to them.  I’m one of those that can see its possibilities and I’m quick to snap it up, take it home and give it a whole new life.

I found myself a gem of a side table at one local thrift store.  It was perfect.  I stripped off the old stain and finish and had initially decided that I wanted a distressed white look.  After about four months of this distressed white table, I decided I wanted it to look more like a driftwood finish.  I was seeing driftwood tables, beds and lamps, etc. everywhere and I wanted it.

An indepth search on the Internet revealed some very interesting processes that others were using to achieve that driftwood finish.  Some with paint (which I also did and it came out great and you can read that post – Creating a Driftwood Finish With Paint), others with concoctions of vinegar and steel wood and still others using baking soda, tea and coffee.

Along the way, I discovered my own mixture, which I call Driftwood Weathering Wood Finish, and to my surprise, it worked beautifully on that little white table once I had stripped and sanded it again.  But I still wanted to test the other methods I came across so below you will see a video of the five different methods I used on 3 different types of wood – oak, pine and birch.  I will show the initial application and the outcome 24 hours later.

The five methods I use to achieve a weathered wood driftwood finish are:

#1 – Tea – Steeped green tea in 1/2 water for several hours.

#2 – Coffee – Steeped coffee grounds in 1/2 cup water for several hours.

#3 – Vinegar & Steel Wool (3 Cups White Vinegar and 1 steel wool pad – soaked for 45 days, although you really only need to soak it for 24 hours – I just happen to still have a mixture still around from another project);

#4 – Baking Soda & Water (1/4 Cup water to 1/8 Cup baking soda); and

#5 – Driftwood Weathering Wood Finish – which you can now buy here on our website or through Amazon

Watch Video

How to Create a Driftwood Candleholder

Three Simple Driftwood Candleholders You Can Make Yourself

Driftwood Candleholder Style #1Driftwood Candleholder

You will need:

  • enough cleaned driftwood pieces to fit around your glass candle container
  • multi-purpose epoxy glue
  • glass contained candle
  • raffia or twine (optional)

Directions:

For this style driftwood candleholder, you will want to have enough clean driftwood pieces to go around your glass container candle – 10-20 pieces to chose from depending on the size of your glass container . It’s best to use 1″ thick linear pieces rather than awkward shaped driftwood pieces.

Determine how tall you want the height to be. Some prefer the height to be just to the top of the glass while I’ve seen others extend it 2-3

inches taller than your glass container. Either way looks great.

  1. Saw off the ends of each piece so they will line up evenly at the bottom around the your glass container while still giving you the height you want.
  2. Now one by one, line up a piece with the bottom of the glass container and begin gluing. Continue until you have completed the circumference.

Wait until the glue dries according to the package before using.

You may wish to dress up your container with raffia or twine.

A great decorating tip is to create three of these candleholders of various heights for use in displaying.

 

Driftwood Candleholder Style #2Driftwood candleholder

You will need:

  • Driftwood
  • candles in glass votive holders or tea lights in tin holders
  • drill
  • 1  3/4″ (44 mm)  hole saw – which is a type of bit that will fit on a drill and create the holes (available at Lowe’s and Home Depot)

Directions:

Suppose you have a wonderfully unique piece that is too big to use for the first style candle holder but you really want a driftwood candleholder. If you have a piece that will sit solidly on a flat surface without being “tippy”, then this is a good option for making your unique driftwood candle holder.

  1. Lay your driftwood piece on a flat surface and determine where you might want to put one or more candles. Space them out so they won’t cause a fire hazard when lit.
  2. Once you have identified where you want the candles, mark the center.
  3. Now secure your driftwood and drill your holes using the hole saw drill bit to match the size of your votive or tin candle holders. Drill no more than 1/2″ for tin tea lights. You can drill deeper for votive holders. You want to make sure that the hole is not so deep that a lit candle will catch the surrounding edges of the driftwood on fire.

I’ve seen this style used with elaborate pieces and many candles, as well as with one hole and one simple candle – and they are all beautiful.

Driftwood Candleholder Style #3Driftwood candleholder

You will need:

  • thick cut of driftwood (4″ or more circumference)
  • drill
  • 1  3/4″ (44 mm)  hole saw – which is a type of bit that will fit on a drill and create the holes (available at Lowe’s and Home Depot)
  • glass votive holder or tea light tins

Directions:

  1. Cut both ends of your driftwood so both the top and bottom are flat.
  2. Using the hole saw drill bit, drill a hole in the center of the top deep enough to fit your tin or votive holder.
  3. Insert your votive or tin.

This style looks best when the votive or tin sits almost level with the driftwood surface.

A great tip is to make three of this style in various heights for a great display.

There you have it – a driftwood candle holder style for everyone!

Other projects to try: Driftwood Lamp; Driftwood Sailboat; Driftwood Christmas Tree, Driftwood Windchime, Driftwood Clock

Driftwood Highboy Refinishing Project

Over the past 2 months, I’ve been slowly working on my driftwood highboy refinishing project which meant stripping and refinishing an antique highboy piece and then refinishing it with the Driftwood Weathering Wood Finish.  Well, I’m happy to say it’s finally done and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

driftwood highway
Finished Highboy using Driftwood Weathered Wood Finish

I purchased this highboy piece over 30 years ago at an antique store.  At the time I purchased the highboy, it was a hideous orange toned stained wood but it was a bargain at $375.00.  I distinctly remember that once I had stripped the orange stain, I had made a mental note that the bare wood had a beautiful distressed look to it and even back then I was tempted to leave it that way.  I also remember that I had done a major faux pas at the time I stripped it by using a steel wool pad to remove the finish and it had left little black specks everywhere.  But this had actually contributed to the weathered look in a good way.  I ended up staining the highboy in a dark mahogany color to match the other furniture in my room at the time.  I also remember that the stain did not take very well and I literally had to apply the stain and leave it on the piece without wiping off the excess.  This was the only way I could get the stain dark enough over the maple wood.

Original antique highboy
Original piece

Above is the piece before stripping and sanding.  It has always been a beautiful piece.  Below, I have started to strip and sand and needed to remove some of the more intricate pieces in order to get the finished removed.  I did this work outside in the Florida summer heat – not exactly the best conditions to be doing this type of work and that is why it took me 6 weeks to fully complete this project.  Some days it was just too hot!
Driftwood Highboy

antique driftwood highboy
Stripping and sanding the difficult areas.
Stripped highboy piece
Almost all stripped.
Driftwood Weathered Wood Finish applied to top drawer but still drying
Driftwood Weathered Wood Finish applied to top drawer but still drying
Antique driftwood highboy
Stripped and sanded; application of Driftwood Weathered Wood Finish.

The original hardware was brass and my original intention was to create a “rusted” finish.  I thought driftwood finish would be a nice backdrop to rusted hardware.  I attempted many solutions to create a rusted finish including soaking the hardware overnight in baths of vinegar and baking soda; vinegar and salt; and ammonia.  While I didn’t get a rust finish, I did get a somewhat verdigris finish.  After soaking the hardware pieces overnight and letting them air dry, I then applied a product by Modern Options called Verdigris with a paintbrush and dried it using my heat gun.  This seemed to increase the verdigris finish somewhat although I did not use the product according to their directions.  I did not apply their base product.  I have since found that the hardware’s verdigris finish has continued to turn quite a bit.

distressed hardward
Distressing the hardware
finished driftwood highboy
Finished driftwood highboy

 Driftwood highboy

So there you have the final driftwood highboy refinishing project.  It came out even better than I had expected and I’m in love with this piece but now my bed no longer matches.  Just when I thought I was done with refinishing projects for awhile…

How to Refinish Driftwood

To me, the beauty of driftwood comes from having its surfaced worn away, bleached and sculpted by the elements.  Real driftwood would never have an intact shiny finish.  I definitely prefer a non-shiny finish in the pieces I create from actual driftwood found along the shore or even furniture pieces I have stripped down, sanded and re-created with a driftwood finish.  Nonetheless, there are times when you may want or perhaps need a protective finish like when you have a tabletop that will get lots of use and will be subjected to water marks if not protected.

I’ve contacted many woodworkers and companies that specifically make finishes in an ongoing quest to find a good product that would ultimately protect the finish while not darkening the color.

A lot of people will use polyurethane on their driftwood furniture or even driftwood sculptures.  This is one of the worst looks in my opinion.  The polyurethane tends to be heavy and makes it look artificial and plastic-like.  So what does one do?

I have found that lighter woods such as pine or birch handle some protective coatings better than others.  And by better, I mean the color you get once you apply the protective finish does not get as dark as other woods, but still gets darker.  I tried a product called High Performance Top Coat by General Finishes in a satin finish and I applied it over the Driftwood Weathered Wood Finish used on a piece of pine, birch and walnut.  I was happy with the outcome on the pine as it was only 1-2 shades darker, but the walnut was 10x darker and even the birch became too dark for my liking. So, I would recommend this finish if your driftwood piece is pine.

I also tried another product called Safecoat® AcriGlaze Matte by American Formulating and Manufacturing (AFM), a company dedicated to safe green products.  I ordered a sample bottle and tried the product on different sample boards of pine, birch and oak over the Driftwood Weathered Wood Finish.  I was very happy with the results considering everything else I have tried produced a very dark finish.  With the AcriGlaze Matte, I could see where I had applied the product but it really didn’t darken it by much and left no shine.  On some samples, I could not even tell I had applied any finish at all.  I am impressed with this product and would recommend it for use on bare driftwood or over a driftwood finish.  The above link will take you directly to Amazon where it can be purchased in quarts or gallons but make sure to get the matte finish.

Here is a description taken from their PDF:

DESCRIPTION: Safecoat® AcriGlaze is a special mixing medium and finish suitable for use in the display, art and show fields. It is mildew resistant, odorless and dries clear. Ideal for restoring old finishes to their original brilliance, sealing and preserving painted work, faux finishing and as an adhesive for paper mache. Dries clear. Available in gloss and matte sheens. USE ON: Clear finish for masonry, brick, plaster, wood, paneling, etc., where a soft low luster finish and sealer is desired. May be used both interior or exterior as a reducer for any type of waterbased paint. Excellent medium for artist colors and universal tints.

After trying many products, we came to realize that the best way to preserve the color of the Driftwood Final Finish Liquid Waxfinish was to use a product that does not contain solvents or oils.  They can be hard to find which is why we also decided to release our Driftwood Final Finish Liquid Wax.  It contains no solvents or VOCs but does contain carnauba wax for a very hard and durable finish, plus it’s in liquid form so it’s easy to apply and the finish is a soft satin finish.  It usually takes about two coats and that depends upon how thirsty your wood is.  Driftwood Final Finish Liquid Wax 

Another suggestion, although I have not tried this and could find very little info on the internet to make me want to try it, is to dilute authentic hide glue pellets with water – 1 part glue to 10 parts water and apply.  Again, I have not tried this but I did buy the glue and I will try it at some point in time.

Another option might be Rust-oleum’s fairly new product, Neverwet which can be used on wood.  I did see raw pieces of pine that had been sprayed with the Neverwet.  It definitely  resisted water but I did notice the “haze” which Rust-oleum states you will get.  It might be acceptable on a driftwood piece that already has a bleached out and grayed look – the haze might not be as noticeable.  It could be a viable solution to get a protective finish against water marks.  You will have to periodically re-apply the Neverwet if you are constantly washing off your table top.  The other big consideration is that it may be an unacceptable health risk.

If you still want to finish driftwood so that it is protected and preserved for years to come, and don’t mind the “shiny” look –  read on.

refinishing driftwood

Step 1: Smoothing the Surface of the Driftwood

You will need to begin by smoothing the surface of the wood using something like a 220 grit sandpaper to take off any rough spots. Nature will already have done most of the hard work for you, but there are usually a few spots that need a little bit of extra work. If the particular piece of driftwood you are working with has any sharp or broken ends, then these too need to be sanded away, to create a rounded and smooth surface.

Step 2:  Pre-Treating the Driftwood

Next, you will need to treat the wood before it can be stained – if indeed you are going to stain the piece. For this you can use a wood conditioner, but do not apply it directly to the wood. Instead, soak a cloth in wood conditioner and then rub it into the surface of the driftwood. Once the wood has been generously coated, leave it to dry for 15 or 20 minutes. Some people are tempted to skip this stage and move straight on to staining their piece. Do not be tempted to do this. Applying a wood conditioner is essential to ensure that, when the stain is added, it will create an even finish.

Step 3: Applying the Stain

Time to apply a stain to your wood. You will want to put on rubber gloves for this step, so that you don’t end up with stained hands and, as with the wood conditioner, put the stain onto a cloth first, and then rub in into the wood. Apply any stain with a circular motion and rub it well into the wood. Once applied, leave the stain to soak in for between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on how deeply stained you want the wood to be.

Once you have the color you are looking for, rub any excess stain off using a dry rag, and set the wood to one side for several hours, until the wood is dry when you touch it and no stain comes off when you run your fingers along the surface.

Step 4: Applying Polyurethane

The final stage is to apply two thin coats of polyurethane to the whole surface of the driftwood piece, allowing 6 to 8 hours for the first coat to become dry before applying the second coat.  Keep in mind that applying polyurethane or even beeswax polish will darken your finish considerably.  I would test an area first if possible to make sure you like how dark it will become.

Your driftwood will now last for years and provide you with a wonderful and uniquely sculptured ornament to enjoy.