How to Create Distressed Cabinets in Just 4 Steps

Distressed cabinets can give a new kitchen a warmer, more personal feel. They can add interest as a design focal point or can simply make boring cabinets more interesting. They can give a room a completely different look and atmosphere. Because distressing cabinets is simple and inexpensive, it’s a good way to give your kitchen a new look. Just follow these 4 easy steps and your cabinets will look like custom antiques.

Tools and Materials

  • Sand paper
  • Nails or other sharp object
  • Crackling liquid
  • Paint (optional)
  • Sealant

Step 1: Scrape Paint

The key to creating distressed cabinets is to show multiple layers of finish and uneven texture. In order to create this look, the first thing you need to do is scrape some paint off of your cabinets. To do this, take sandpaper of a medium grade and sand the cabinets. This step takes some work, but it is necessary.

Don’t worry about it being even; it’s not meant to be. Consider the look you are trying to create when sanding the paint. Some edges should look fairly paint-free and the flat surfaces might retain a fair amount of their paint. You can decide how much paint to remove. Be careful not to be too rough, though. You want to remove paint, not wood.

Step 2: Create Texture

Next, you want to give the surface of your distressed cabinets some texture. Use a nail to make small holes on the cabinets. The look should be random and aged, not patterned. You can also make lines or scratches by dragging a nail, key or other sharp item across the wood. Again, make sure not to overdo it, and the idea it to scratch, not chip or crack, so use care. Remember that the texture is supposed to look like it was from use, so avoid straight lines and other clearly intentional marks.

Step 3: Crackling Finish

Another step to create the aged and imperfect look is to create cracks in the finish. To add this look to your distressed cabinets, simply apply the crackling liquid with a paintbrush to cover the surface. This finish can be applied over the entire cabinet or just on specific places with the finish. The choice is yours. You can also use a brush that creates subtle lines to add effect and texture. If you are looking for more drastically distressed cabinets, consider painting cabinets with two or more contrasting colors, then repeating Steps 1 and 2 before adding the crackling finish, this allows more than one finish to be visible and creates more uneven places on the surface, making the cabinets look more heavily used. Consider a nice green under off-white. Or for a bolder look, red over a cream color.

Step 4: Seal the Cabinets

Now that you have the desired look and the finish has dried, you need to protect it. Use a sealer to protect the finish. You can find the right sealer at your local hardware or home improvement store. There are a variety of sealants you can use. Some can be applied just as the crackling liquid was, and others can be sprayed on. Regardless of the type, make sure you get the edges and corners to fully protect your new distressed cabinets.