How to paint a distressed look on antique dressers

Written by gail marie
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If your antique dresser doesn't have a distressed look already, you can give it one yourself. Technically, distressing is considered a refinishing method, although instead of refinishing a dresser to make it look newer, distressing involves refinishing to make it look older by intentionally marring the paint job. This is good news for those who don't normally paint furniture--perfection is not the goal!

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Dust sheet
  • Sandpaper
  • Wire brush
  • Damp cloth
  • Paintbrush(es), two to three inches wide
  • Latex base coat (light-coloured)
  • Latex top coat or wood glaze (darker-coloured)
  • White candle
  • Paste wax
  • Rag
  • Medium or fine steel wool

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  1. 1

    Lay down a dust sheet and set the dresser on top of it. This is your work area.

  2. 2

    Remove the drawers from the dresser and take off any hardware.

  3. 3

    Sand the dresser thoroughly to prepare the surface for paint; remove stubborn grime with a wire brush if necessary. Then wipe off the sanding dust with a damp (not wet) cloth.

  4. 4

    Apply two coats of a light-coloured latex paint (like beige or cream) to the dresser and drawers, painting in the direction of the wood grain if possible and allowing the first layer to dry before applying the second.

  5. 5

    Rub the candle on areas of the dresser you imagine to have been handled the most over the years: the edges, around the hardware, etc. You can also use a rag to rub a thin, even coat of paste wax onto your dresser and drawers on these same areas. If you want the entire dresser to look distressed (not just the areas that are touched the most), rub the paste over the entire dresser. Allow the paste to dry for one hour.

  6. 6

    Paint the dresser and drawers with a darker-coloured paint. The wax will repel the darker paint, allowing the lighter base coat to show through. You can also use a wood glaze instead of a darker-coloured paint.

  7. 7

    Brush the steel wool over the painted (not glazed) waxed areas before the paint has dried to remove the wax and complete the distressed look. If you used wood glaze instead of latex paint for the second layer, allow the glaze to dry overnight before sanding the waxed areas lightly in the direction of the wood grain--this will remove the top layer of the glaze and leave the bottom (painted) layer showing through.

  8. 8

    Consider using steel wool on non-waxed areas of the dresser to give the entire piece a rougher texture and look. You can also use a rag to haphazardly wipe away some darker paint before it dries so that the lighter colour shows through. Keep the darker colour in corners and cracks to help make the distressed look appear more realistic.

  9. 9

    Allow the dresser and drawers to dry completely before putting the hardware back on and inserting the drawers.

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