DIY Distressed Wood Countertops

To build inexpensive, distressed wood countertops like I did in my Workshop, I do everything I ordinarily try NOT to do in the finishing process.

Sand against the grain and unevenly.  Create dips and crevices.  Hit the finished piece with all kinds of tools and object in order to scratch, scrape, mark, marr, dent and ding it.

Stain it, then smack it around again…stain it again.  Top coat and wax it.

Doesn’t that sound like fun?  It actually is a fun process and feels really “artsy”.  I love working the wood over and over, watching it transform into something more beautiful with every coat.  It’s therapeutic.


But you have to build the Wood Countertop before you can distress it so let’s refresh.  I first built a solid MDF Countertop Base.

I then added inexpensive Pine planks.


I didn’t do anything technical.  I just glued and nailed the pine planks onto my MDF base.

I covered the exposed sided of the MDF base with a piece of pine that was wide enough to span the thickness of the entire countertop.  (About 2 1/4″ wide with 2 layers of MDF and the pine on top.)  Again, just glued and nailed.

Then I sanded the entire thing like a mad woman.  I used a heavy duty sander with 80 grit sandpaper and then a random orbital sander with 120 and then 220.  I wanted it smooth and all the seams level.  (I don’t own a planer– so I sand!)

After sanding, I filled everything that made it look like I’d glued and nailed several planks of wood together.  Like the cracks in the seams and the obvious nail holes.


Then I sanded again.  Lightly.  Then I vacuumed and dusted off all the sawdust.


Now here’s where it gets fun!

I used a bunch of tools to beat up my countertop.  It’s just pine.  Pine is soft.  It’s going to get dinged and scratched REALLY easily as I use it which will just make it look older and more worn.

I rubbed some black stain all over it and then sanded it with my orbital sander PURPOSELY creating swirl marks to add to the distressing.  The black stain also filled up all the initial dings (etc) that I put into the countertops.

Then I stained the whole thing again with dark brown.  Then black again.  Then some more brown.  Like I said before, it’s an art.  I wanted it REALLY dark and I used two tones to add depth and character.
(*The stain must dry completely between each coat…read the directions.)
Once I achieved the color I wanted, I started the oiling process.  I used Tung Oil.  I’ve talked about Tun Oil before but I’ll say it again, “I love Tung Oil”.
I love that you don’t have to sand between coats, that you can re-coat at any time without any prep and you can just touch up an area of your surface – not the entire surface (and without sanding it down first)!
Yup, I love it.

Just MAKE SURE YOU WEAR PROTECTIVE GEAR because it is serious business if you inhale the vapors/fumes/whatever and it’s nasty on your skin and in your eyes!  (**Read the directions!)

You can brush it on or use a lambswool applicator.  Wipe it on.  Wipe it off.  Let it dry.  Wipe it on.  Wipe it off.  Let it dry…

It takes about 24 hours to dry between coats *and proper ventilation is A MUST.


With every coat, your surface changes.  It gets deeper, darker, glossier and more awesome.


My Distressed Wood Countertops after one coat of tung oil.

…and after three coats.


I think I stopped at three or four.  The Tung oil penetrates the wood so it takes less each time you add another coat.   It’s cool!

The thing I love most about these Distressed Wood Countertops is that all the marks, dents, dings and scratches, will just make it look even older.  It’s easy to fill those “blemishes” with a touch of Tung oil tinted with a little oil stain or wipe on a little black wax.


Well, that’s how I do it anyway.


*Cross ventilation is necessary for proper curing of tung oil.  It HAS to have oxygen in order to dry.  For more technical and fascinating information, I invite you to read  Waterlox FAQ’s page to learn all you ever need to know about Tung Oil.

**While Tung oil is food safe after it has cured, people with Nut allergies might want to steer clear.  Tung oil comes from the “Nut” of the Tung Tree.  Just FYI.

***Not all Tung Oil is the same.  Tung oil products are mixtures of this and that and some mixtures are more of “this” and less of “that” and visa versa…If you know what I mean.  Waterlox is my fav Tung Oil Product but it’s here and there and NOT everywhere.  I wanted Tung Oil NOW when I was ready for it and just picked up what was available at the home improvement store.  It worked fine in a pinch.


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  1. Thank you so much for that !!! I started with a dark walnut dye ( not stain ) but it’s not dark enough and when I wanted to start using brown and black stain someone ( unfortunately…) mentioned that stain might be a bit toxic and can’t be used on kitchen work tops where food will be in contact…what’s your view on that ? ( please tell me it bullsh***) !!!

    • I’m sure it depends on the stain. Tung oil is also not great if you have nut allergies in the house — I’ve heard.

  2. debbie Fleming says:

    Superb instructions. Getting tung oil and a new mask today! Thanks

  3. Christine says:

    Hi! Just found your blog via somewhere I can’t recall right now. I’ve been avidly reading, because I’m rebuilding after a fire, alone. I’ve got more tools than HD & Lowe’s, luckily, more material than some of those, too. Including a hand and tabletop planer, but I sanded :) I just built a 16′ maple, BB countertop from wood I found at a reuse center. ($2.5 to $5.00 each!) They’re roughly 2″ wide, and between 8; to 12′. It turned out beautifully. I’m afraid to stain it, ghough because I keep reading maple will be splotchy.
    I’d like your recommendation on staining the wood. I’ve managed a fabulous gray brown, aged look on oak cabinets I made, and on my manogany front door. I’m angling for that with this countertop.
    Thanks for your advice!

  4. How do you get the planks to meet up so nicely?! The gaps you showed pictures of are not bad at all!! What’s your secret?

  5. Love love the countertop! Which brown stain did you use?


    • I mixed a walnut and black together. It’s the same combination I use on every single stained project I ever do. I just love DARK stain. :-)

  6. I agree that this is the most helpful post I’ve seen on how to do a distressed countertop. So many posts use terms and equipment that I’m clueless on. I’m just a emerging DIYer that wants to take on something bigger with a limited budget. That being said, I came across enough old hardwood planks to make a 3 ft x 8 ft kitchen island. I will do the double MDF base, as described but am wondering if I should seal it first before gluing and screwing the planks into it? The are approx 8″ wide by 36″ long and 3/4″ thick. There will definitely be gaps between all planks so what do I fill with? Last, there will be a significant overhang – 3 ft of length that I plan to support with legs. Will I get bowing with the MDF? Thank you!

  7. I dont understand why you buy new wood and put all this “work” into it.
    why not find some old second hand wood planks and re-work those with smoothing and sanding?
    when doing this what are good kinds of second hand wood to look for?

    • I’d LOVE to find enough old wood to reporpose for a countertop. This one is about 11′ long by 2′ wide so I’d need quite a lot. Coming across reclaimed wood in abundance is like hitting the jackpot. I’ve never hit the jackpot but if you do, by all means, use it! You could use any kind of wood. I just used the pine because it was the cheapest. It’s definitely NOT the best wood for wear and tear because it is so soft. BUT, since I distressed it anyway, I won’t mind dings and scratches. It’s all a matter of what you like. I personally dislike the woodgrain in red oak very much so don’t like to use it. But that is a personal choice. Everyone has different style, likes and dislikes.

  8. Looks amazing!


    Jan @door251

  9. paperkite says:


  10. Another quick question: could you router the edge to make a decorative edge for a kitchen counter? Or would that compromise the joint of the edge piece and the main counter?

    • I think if you glue and clamp it will be a pretty strong joint. Especially if you’re gluing to a solid back like I did (as in 3 3/4″ of countertop: 3″ of MDF and 3/4″ of pine.) Once dried, that shouldn’t budge. IMO.

  11. Your line “Stain it, then smack it around again…stain it again. Top coat and wax it.” reminded me of the daft punk song Technologic.

  12. Beautiful! This could become the counter for my laundry room or my powder room. Is it hard enough for a kitchen? If you used a harder wood? Would it hold up well? I would do the outer counterss in my kitchen as those cabinets will be cream colored – the island will be dark cabinets so I imagine doing a lighter counter.

  13. This is by far the most helpful post I’ve read all day!!! I have this hutch in my dining room that has an ugly old formica top, and I was thinking I was going to have to rip it off and replace it with a whole new oak countertop. BUT after reading this, I’m so stoked! I can just use that as my base and put my pine boards right on it! GENIUS! You are a genius. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!


  14. Sandra, would EVER suggest these in a kitchen? We want to do butcher block, but I am LOVING the look of these!!

    It looks amazing!

    • I’m planing on it! I may not use pine as I will want my kitchen countertop to hold up to a little more wear and tear but I’m totally doing the Tung Oil finish. (Like I said though, not for people with nut allergies.)

  15. The countertops are stunning. It never occurred to me to just join planks of wood together. Somehow this method seems less daunting for cutting angles and sink holes than a big piece of butcherblock. Did you use a 3/4″ MDF base (x2)?

  16. I love tung oil, too! Although, I’ve not used the tung oil “finish,” only pure tung oil (which I mixed with orange oil to thin it a bit). It doesn’t have any of the explosiveness or vapor issues that the “finish” has, but I’m sure it isn’t as hard a finish, either. I used it on my daughter’s hardwood floors in her bedroom and it has performed beautifully. My favorite part is that I can touch up a scratch with a little more tung oil and it blends right in.

    Your countertop looks amazing and I’m waaaay jealous of your new workshop.

    • Nice. I did a Tung oil finish on walnut flooring in my Texas house and LOVED it. The fact that you can “spot treat” scratches without sanding down your entire floor was my reason for choosing that finish. It’s the bomb! LOL

  17. angie @ seriouslyahomemaker says:

    this looks really, really beautiful! i think you might be inspiring a whole new wave of women to put these countertops in their kitchens! would you recommend that?

    it is looking so very awesome in there. i love that you have tackled the “back corner” areas of your home first. the closet, and now the workshop. its crazy to think how effective you are going to be at getting dressed AND building stuff once these two are done. :-)

    angie @ seriouslyahomemaker (who is soon to be Angie in the Thick of It)))))))

    • LOL Angie, I have gotten VERY efficient at getting dressed!
      As always, you make me laugh!!! :-D

      Tung oil is food safe after it’s cured and it pretty heat water resistant so it’s a common finish on wood islands and countertops in kitchens. Just not for people with nut allergies.

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