During our mini house renovation we opened up the wall between the kitchen and living room. We wanted to put a fairly inexpensive but nice island to last a few years until we do a more extensive renovation on the kitchen. It took some pondering to determine what materials and design would blend with both the newly remodeled living room and with the older kitchen.

Design

Kitchen Island Distressed Wood

The island design is pretty simple: 4x4's for the legs, a couple shelves on the kitchen side, distressed wood decorative panels, and the Hammarp solid beech countertop from Ikea.
Kitchen Island Distressed Wood design

We cut and joined the 24" wide Ikea countertops to make it 36" and rounded the corners.
Kitchen Island Ikea countertop

What you'll need

The distressed wood panels took the most amount of time. I went through blog after blog about how to distress wood with various stains and spent hours testing. Here's what I used:

Hammer your heart out

I went all out hammering the boards with whatever tools, screws, nuts, mallets, etc that we had. Pine was by far the easiest to dent since it's so soft, and it happens to be the cheapest wood. I made sure to hammer the edges of the boards so that there's texture where the boards meet. I sanded with 100grit sandpaper before starting the staining process.
Distressed wood hammering

Base Stain

Most of the time for the whole project was spent testing various wood stains. I ended up using a walnut stain first to darken the pine, then a sunbleached stain on top. It took a lot of testing to figure out exactly what dark stains (dark walnut, jacobian, oak, etc.) and what bleach stains to use, and what amount of time to let those stains sit for. If you're going about your own distressed wood, I highly suggest testing and testing, since there's huge variations on how different wood takes stain.

Distressed wood base stain walnut

After hammering and sanding, I used Minwax prestain for 15min, followed immediately by Minwax Special Walnut stain for 15min. I made sure to get the walnut stain in the dents, then wiped off after 15min and let dry overnight. I found that the Special Walnut gave the least red hue of other stains and wasn't too dark--I didn't want the stain to be too red/brown since the kitchen has dark wood cabinets, brown tile, and is painted orange, and I didn't want the stain to be too dark (Jacobian and Ebony were too dark).

Bleaching-effect stain

Next stain was Varathane Sunbleached. I tightly wrapped an old t-shirt around a sanding block to apply the stain--if I applied with just the t-shirt, the bleach went into the divets and was too consistent for what I wanted out of distressed wood. I let it sit for 3min and then immediately wiped off.
Distressed wood sunbleached stain

Sand

I let that sit overnight to dry, then lightly sanded with 100grit sandpaper to bring out some of the wood grain some more. I also hit the edges with sandpaper, which made the boards stand out from one another when placed next to each other.

From left to right: Special Walnut stain, Special Walnut + Sunbleached, then with the final sanding.

Distressed wood sanding

Finishing

I put 2 coats of Minwax finishing paste and glued the boards to the island!
Kitchen island assembly

Finishing paste is for the side boards only. The top of the counter is finished with 3 coats of Varathane Crystal Clear Polyurethane.

Summary

  • Hammer the wood boards with screws, nuts, etc
  • Sand with 100grit sandpaper
  • Minwax prestain for 15min
  • Immediately follow with Minwax Special Walnut. Let sit for 15min, wipe off, and let dry overnight.
  • Varathane Sunbleached for 3min, immediately wipe off, and let dry overnight.
  • Lightly sand with 100grit to bring out some of the wood grain.
  • 2 coats of Minwax finishing paste