How to distress painted furniture

Updated November 21, 2016

Distressed furniture adds a great touch to any room trying to achieve an old world, country, natural, or shabby-chic look. It's easy to distress furniture, and there are several different ways that you can do it and different materials you can use. You may choose to do only one of these distressing treatments, or to combine a couple of them for a very aged and weathered looking piece.

Take an old furniture piece that you have painted, or have found painted. Wipe it down with a damp rag to clean it.

Repaint the piece in a crackle paint finish. Apply crackle medium to the furniture with a paint brush according to the instructions on the can. Before the crackle medium dries, paint the furniture with interior latex paint in a new colour that contrasts well with the old colour. As the paint dries, the crackle medium will cause cracks to appear, and the old paint job will show through.

Distress the paint with sandpaper. Start with a medium grain sandpaper and begin rubbing in in places where the piece would naturally be worn down if it were decades old, such as the corners and edges, or surfaces where people would work or sit. Do not sand it uniformly. Sand it more heavily in some places than others. Finish off with a fine grain sandpaper to smooth over the edges of the remaining paint.

Hammer a nail into some areas. Then remove the nails and discard them. This will create "worm holes." Don't space them out uniformly; just choose one or two spots to make a small cluster of them.

Bring your furniture outdoors to a wide open space. Wear your goggles to protect your eyes should any piece or chip fly off. Take the end of a chain, such as a heavy bicycle chain or towing chain, and strike the furniture with the chain. This will create many interesting dents, scratches and chips in the surface. If you like, you can also use a hammer. Just be careful not to hit it so hard that you break the furniture.

Use a rag with some black or brown shoe polish to rub on any carved or detailed areas of the furniture. Then, use a clean rag to wipe away excess. The shoe polish will settle into the cracks and carvings to make them look like years of dirt have settled in and stained it.

Use a blowtorch to age and distress the paint by applying quick bursts of heat to make the paint bubble and discolour. Keep the blowtorch moving; do not keep it focused on a single spot, or the furniture may catch fire. Direct the flame along the edges or back and forth across the surface. Instead of torching the whole piece, just pick a few spots for a dramatic effect. If you are choosing this method, it is beneficial to have some experience with a blowtorch, or have someone around who has experience. Be sure to wear protective gear, a fire extinguisher handy, and work outdoors or in a safe work shop.

Things You'll Need

  • Painted furniture
  • Rag
  • Crackle paint treatment
  • Paint
  • Protective goggles
  • Sandpaper
  • Metal chain or hammer
  • Nails
  • Shoe polish
  • Paintbrush
  • Blowtorch
  • Fire extinguisher
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author