Water-Mark Stain Distressing

Suggested ways to imitate the look of antique water stains in new work. March 29, 2008

Anybody know how to make those water marks you see in antique finishes? I'm building and finishing some heavily distressed alder cabinets that will have a stain and glaze with a water based lacquer finish. The designer wants these very light water mark stains that look like a small (quarter to half inch) ring throughout the work.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
Just like you said, they are water marks. When I have to do them, I sand the unit to 150, then just drop drops of water on it where you want the marks, let it dry, and voila. When you stain it, the stain will highlight all the watermarks.

From contributor R:
You can do it on a glaze step by wiping on an oil based glaze made with UTC and mineral spirits. Keep the color light, and experiment with the color on samples to match the look you are after. The trick is to sprinkle vm&p naphtha on the glaze before you seal it. This will cause cissing, a look very much like water marks. Let everything dry and then you can use a scotchbrite pad to take off anything you don't like. Once you seal it, that's it. The same effect can be done with water based glazes by using alcohol. Experiment and do some samples. This is also a great way to do some marbleizing backgrounds.

From contributor E:
The way I do it is this. I use a nitrocellulose finish which is the only one that works for me. Finish (stain, seal, glaze, etc.) all the way and apply one lacquer topcoat. Let that dry overnight.

Pour some mineral spirits into a shallow dish - just enough to make a small puddle and put a glass, vase or whatever object you want to duplicate into the mineral spirits. Put the object on the lacquered surface and bring it back up, leaving the mineral spirits in the watermark shape.

Immediately spray lacquer. When the lacquer hits the mineral spirits it will kick the NC out of solution and it will turn white. It may take some practicing to get it right and sometimes the kick-out isn't immediate.