DIY: Give Wood a Rustic Look with Acrylic Craft Paints

There are many ways to take an unfinished piece of wood and give it a weathered, rustic appearance. In my quest for the perfect rustic look, I have tried many of these techniques. Though some people use expensive stains or chalk paints, I’ve discovered that it’s just as easy to use inexpensive acrylic craft paints. Unlike stains, acrylic craft paints do not have strong fumes and are not as messy to work with. They also don’t need a wax finish as in the case with most chalk paints. You can see some examples of the different projects I’ve made using different acrylic  color combinations in the photo above.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to which colors to use. The more you experiment with the possible combinations, the more you will get a feel for what looks good for your particular project or for your particular décor style.

I would not necessarily recommend acrylic craft paints if you will be working with large furniture pieces. There are a variety of paints better suited for furniture refinishing. However, this method is ideal for small décor pieces such as wood curio shelves, picture frames, wood signs, and even small accent tables.

Let’s get started with a basic project that uses a combination of dark brown and black acrylic craft paints.

Here’s What You Will Need

  • An unfinished piece of wood
  • An electric hand sander with fine grit sanding paper
  • Paint brush with 1″ to 2″ wide bristles
  • Basin of water
  • Paper towels
  • A piece of foil or foam plate to use as a paint tray
  • 2 oz. black acrylic craft paint
  • 2 oz. dark brown acrylic craft paint
  • Hair blower (optional) to speed up the drying process
  • Spray polyurethane sealant (clear satin or clear matte finish)
  • Damp rag or dish towel

Step One

Start by sanding your unfinished piece of wood on all sides. Take a slightly damp rag and wipe the surfaces of the wood to remove the sawdust.

Step Two

Apply one coat of dark brown paint to all sides of the wood. Allow the first coat to dry. Use a hair blower to speed up the drying process, if you would like to do so. After the first coat is completely dry, apply a second coat of dark brown paint. Allow this to completely dry.

Step Three

Once the two coats of dark brown paint are completely dry, apply one coat of black paint over all surfaces of the wood. Allow this to completely dry, using a hair blower, if desired.

From left to right: (1) Unfinished wood; (2) wood with two coats of brown paint; (3) wood with two coats of brown paint and one coat of black paint; (4) how it appears after sanding

Step Four

This next step involves the use of an electric hand sander. You may want to step outside to do this, since sawdust will settle over the entire room. I would also recommend using a sawdust mask and/or protective eye goggles for safety reasons.

Turn on the sander and move it along the flat surfaces of the wood in a right to left motion. Start on one end, and move to the other. Avoid allowing the sander to spin in one spot too long since this will create “swirl” patterns in the paint. It will also take off too much paint in one area. Keep your motions smooth and consistent as you work all sides of the wood. This will help you to keep control of how much paint is removed.

The idea is to remove areas of the black paint to allow the dark brown to show through. You will still want some black paint to remain. This is what gives it a rustic look.

Step Five

After the flat surfaces of your wood are sanded to your satisfaction, it is now time to sand the corners and edges. To do this, tilt the sander at an angle and run it along the edges and corner. This will remove paint along the edges to give the wood a worn look. Slightly round the corners using the sander. This all helps to create a worn or aged appearance.

Once the wood is completely sanded, use the damp cloth to once again remove any sawdust residue. Examine it to make sure that it looks the way you want. If not, use the sander to touch up any places that need extra sanding.

Before and after

Finishing Up

The final step is to spray the wood with a spray sealant such as clear satin polyurethane. (I recommend Helmsman brand.) Be sure to spray outdoors in a space that is protected from wind. The fumes are very strong, and you will not want to inhale them in a closed or un-ventilated space. Spread out some newspaper to protect the surface on which you will be spraying. Follow the directions on the can and spray to apply. Allow the sealant to dry for several hours.

Until next time! ~ Susan

About S.R. Williams

S.R. Williams is an artist and writer who lives in a cabin in the northeast Georgia mountains where she is inspired with joy and inspiration by the natural beauty of the surroundings

View all posts by S.R. Williams