How to give oak veneer & engineered wood a distressed look

Written by mark morris
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How to give oak veneer & engineered wood a distressed look
Distressed finishes add character to veneers. (wood textures 1 image by Jim Parkin from

Distressed furniture has become popular in recent years. Creating the shabby chic look on veneer pieces requires a bit more finesse than distressing solid wood or painted furniture. Most veneers are less than 1/8 inch in thickness, and large areas of damaged veneer can be obvious. Find a piece to practice on or use a small unseen area, such as the inside of a door or drawer, to perfect your skills without damaging the look of the piece. Everything you need can be found in your local hardware store.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Ball-peen hammer
  • Chain
  • Sander
  • Butane lighter or stove burner
  • Metal tools
  • Soft cloths
  • Wood stain
  • Brushes
  • Cotton-tipped swabs
  • Clear furniture finish
  • Liquid sander
  • Gel stain or acrylic paint

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    Adding Texture

  1. 1

    Add texture to your veneer surface with a ball-peen hammer or chain. Beat the surface lightly to give it a dented, well-worn look. Avoid overly aggressive blows, which can split or chip veneer and manufactured wood beyond repair.

  2. 2

    Sand the edges to round them over slightly. Again, be careful to avoid breaking through, sometimes referred to as burning, the veneer except in small areas that can be easily masked with stain.

  3. 3

    Use a butane lighter or a stove burner to heat screwdrivers and other metal implements. Press the hot metal into the wood surface, holding it long enough to leave a scorch mark. Space these marks out over the surface. This technique should be used sparingly and must be kept separate from any use of lacquer or other wet solvents.

    Staining for Age

  1. 1

    Use a soft cloth to add dark stain to the edges of the piece, being careful to leave large, open sections and high points free of dark stain. Rub most of the stain off with a second clean, soft cloth.

  2. 2

    Rub dark stain into the dented areas created by ball-peen hammer or chain with a small artist's brush or cotton-tipped swab. Follow up by rubbing excess stain from the surface with a clean, soft cloth.

  3. 3

    Add stain, in a lighter colour, to the rest of the furniture. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for best results. Use a high-quality bristle brush to get the best finish.

  4. 4

    Allow the stain to dry thoroughly before adding at least two coats of clear polyurethane or other clear furniture finish to the entire piece to protect the finish.

    Distressing Previously Finished Pieces

  1. 1

    Apply a liquid sander product to the surface to degloss the existing finish. Doing so allows stain to adhere more easily.

  2. 2

    Beat, burn and sand the veneer as described in section 1 to add texture to the surface and age the piece. Make sure all liquid sander is completely dry before burning the surface with hot metal.

  3. 3

    Use a gel stain, rather than a penetrating stain, to darken distressed areas and edges. Water-based acrylic paints can also be used. Remove excess stain or paint with a soft cloth.

  4. 4

    Coat the entire piece with clear polyurethane or other furniture finish to protect the piece.

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