DIY · Painted Furniture

Top 5 Techniques for Perfectly Distressed Furniture

Whenever I talk to a budding furniture painter about the process of refinishing & distressing furniture, it seems that they all get really intimidated and nervous about the distressing step. This is by far my favorite step in the furniture process and I’m here to break it down for you. I promise in no time you will have the confidence to take that piece of sandpaper to your freshly & newly painted piece of furniture and distress the heck out of it. Plus, distressed furniture can only look better when the movers ding it up – win win! Here are some of my favorite techniques that are guaranteed to give you amazing results.

Top 5 Distressed Furniture



Sandpaper or a Sanding Block are my favorite tools for distressing furniture. When you’re first starting out, it’s best to stick to the fine or super fine grit sandpaper so you have more control over how much paint you’re removing from your piece. They even make these really cute little sandpaper holders that fit perfectly into your hand and keep you from giving yourself a “flat tire” while using sandpaper. Start out by making sure you are wearing a paper dust face mask or respirator. You never know what chemicals or treatments the furniture had done to it before you bought it. Even if you’re using an all natural paint, make sure you protect yourself from inhaling the dust you will be creating. Move your piece onto a drop cloth and start at the areas where you would naturally begin to see wear & tear : corners of drawers, feet and any detail on drawer fronts is a good place to start. Take a few steps back from your piece while you are distressing so you can see the big picture of what you are creating. I really like all the detail and corners of a piece to be distressed but often when you are just starting out, less is more while you’re getting a feel for it. If you take too much off you can either continue like that for a heavily distressed and aged look, or simply touch up the spot with more paint. After you have distressed the corners and any detail, switch to a medium grit sandpaper or sanding block and lightly rub it all over the entire piece to even out any brush strokes and remove paint drips.

sandpapersandpaper holdersanding block

Orbital Sanders or Palm Sanders are the universe’s gift to busy refinishers. If you are confident in your ability to control an electric sander, this can be a great tool to use when distressing (and especially if you’re trying to finish a huge buffet the night before a weekend long event…not that I have done that or anything). Whenever I use a palm sander I only use fine grit sanding pads just in case I get a little too carried away with the ease of the tool. These really do make fast work of the sanding process and simply follow the same steps as you would when using sandpaper or a sanding block….just be sure to constantly check how much you’re removing.



Petroleum Jelly Technique  – This is by far my least favorite method for distressing but it still made the top three because of how easy it is to do. The reason why I personally don’t use this as a go-to method is because Petroleum Jelly sort of freaks me out unless I have chapped lips and I hate getting it on my hands. Start by painting one coat of paint on your furniture. Allow to dry completely then (put on some gloves) and lightly, with thin swipes, rub it on the areas you plan to distress. Apply another coat of paint in a different color and allow to completely dry. Dampen a lint-free cloth and gently wipe the areas that you applied Petroleum Jelly to and voila : the paint rubs off and you have perfectly distressed and uniquely shabby piece.

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Paint Scraper – This technique works the best with milk paints. Be sure to not add a bonding agent to your paint and completely paint your piece with as many coats as desired. After a few hours the paint should naturally fall off and you can simply help it along with the paint scraper in areas that you would like more distressing.

Create damage & dings on your own by using screwdrivers, hammers, chains….really anything you can find in your garage or basement. Industrial and worn is so “in” right now so if your piece is lacking character or charm, simply add it yourself. When my husband and I built our farm table, I used chains and lightly beat the dickens out of the tabletop so it would look older than it was. Same goes for painted furniture, just don’t get too carried away and demolish it!

Any of these techniques will give you a truly custom and one-of-a-kind finish for your furniture that you will never find in a big box store. Do you have a favorite technique for distressing that didn’t make it onto the list? Leave a comment for us in the section below and we just may try your technique and feature it in our next review!

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