How to Create a Distressed Wood Finish

Woman repairing a teal chair
  • 3-20 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-5,000
What You'll Need
Paint remover
Damp cloth
Paint brush
Plastic gloves
Clean cloth or tack cloth
Paint primer
Steel wool pad
Dark paste wax
Wood protective sealer

A distressed wood finish on furniture can create the impression of an expensive antique—but without the high cost. If an aged appearance of a piece of furniture will give the décor of your home that appearance you desire, you can age your own furniture quite easily. With a little money and time, you can have a piece of furniture that will appear quite authentically antique.

For practice, you may want to consider purchasing a piece of furniture from a second hand store or yard sale. With one or two trial experiences you can work on a piece of low cost furniture, develop your skills, and make mistakes without concern for ruining expensive furniture. But whether the piece you work on is new or old, you can learn to distress it and create the antique look by simply following the steps below.

Step 1 - Begin by Sanding

To remove an existing coat of varnish, apply paint remover with a paintbrush. Allow the paint remover to sit for a while, then scrape it from the furniture surface. Finish removing paint remover and dissolved varnish with a damp cloth. When dry, use fine sandpaper and sand the entire piece of furniture in the direction of the wood’s grain.

Step 2 - Remove Sanding Dust

sanding an antique table

To remove the dust after sanding, use a clean, dry cloth or a “tack” cloth that can be purchased at your nearest home improvement center. You will want to make sure there is no dust remaining on the furniture surface. It should be clean and smooth and ready for a primer coat.

Step 3 - Apply Primer

Apply one coat of primer to your furniture with a brush. Again, brush in the direction of the wood’s grain.

Step 4 - Allow Primer to Dry

Allow the primer time to dry completely. Drying time will depend on the instructions by the manufacturers of the paint you use.

Step 5 - Sand and Clean

distressed paint on drawers

Repeat steps one and two above.

Step 6 - Apply Second Coat of Primer

Apply a second coat of primer to your sanded furniture.

Step 7 - Distressing Techniques

There are various techniques that can be used to create a distressed look. A hammer or mallet lightly pounded to add depressions on your furniture is one method that will work. Beating a chain against your furniture is another. If you want small holes that look like worm holes, stab the surface with an ice pick. Sand on corners and edges to create a worn appearance.