The scrap wood I used to hang the hooks on wasn't actually 'new' wood from the lumber yard. It was wood I had in the garage, but it looked relatively new aside from a few splotches of paint. The surface was smooth, there were no splinters or dings or nail holes. I didn't want the wood to look this new though, I wanted it to look old, worn, distressed, loved...
To get it looking like that actually took some work. I started by going at it with a hammer. I just banged all over the wood with the hammer. This made circles (from the head of the hammer) in the wood in places which were much more obvious than I would have liked. I wanted this to look like it had naturally been aged. (Once I painted the wood those hammer head marks weren't nearly as obvious.) I used the hammer all over the wood - in the middle, the edges and the corners.
Once I had the piece of wood looking like I wanted it, I sanded it down to smooth out some of the marks.
Then I painted it with white chalk paint. When that was dry, I sanded it down again along the edges and corners to give it a nice distressed look.
And here's what the finished towel hook looks like.
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