How to Distress Wood

person holding a off-white cabinet with distressed finish
What You'll Need

You may need to know how to distress wood if you have some items made from wood and you would like to give them a look that make them appear a bit old. You can distress anything made out of wood, e.g. beams and furniture. Distressing will help to enhance the character of the room as well as that of the entire house.

Step 1 - Purchase the Tools

Make sure that you buy all the tools and materials needed to distress your wood. It is important that you have everything in front of you before you start the project. Prepare the wood that you wish to distress and check that you can access it easily so that when you start working, you will not have any trouble.

Step 2 - Paint the Wood

man painting slats of wood with paint next to him

You can choose to paint the wood with any color that you want. Keep in mind that most wood needs to be painted first in order to be distressed. It is much better if you paint the wood olive green or white. You do not need to apply primer to the wood. After you finish painting, allow the paint to dry thoroughly for no less than 24 hours.

Step 3 - Start the Distressing Job

Focus your work on the parts of the wood that are more worn out than others. Form a few dents into your wood by using a hammer and a mallet. You can also use a chisel on the corners and edges, and twist the chisel into the opposite direction of the grain.

Make sure that you apply different pressure on different areas of the wood because, old wood does not have a uniform appearance. Place some small rocks into a sock and form a few marks on the wood in order to make it look less uniform.

There are several other distressing techniques that you can use to make your wood look old and weathered. For example, you can use a chain and beat the wood in the same way as you would do with the sock filled with rocks. If you do not have a chain, you can also use a padlock or a pizza-pie wheel. Any heavy object made from metal will also help to give a distressed look to the wood.

Step 4 - Use the Sandpaper

pile of sandpaper pieces

Sand the wood in different areas with different grits of sandpaper. For this reason, make sure that you have a wide choice of fine and coarse sandpaper. Focus the sanding on the edges of the wood so that the old distressed look of the wood will be much more realistic. You can also use 100-grit sandpaper on the wooden corners and edges that you had previously chiseled.

Step 5 - Stain the Wood

Use a damp cloth to cover the surface of the wood with stain, especially the parts that you had distressed with your tools. Let the stain dry completely before applying a protective finish to help you preserve the wood.