Distressing Paint Techniques

Updated February 21, 2017

If you want to give your home a "shabby-chic" look, you might wish to achieve a distressed effect on wooden surfaces and furniture. However, be sure that shabby-chic is really what you want before you start, as restoring wooden furniture and surfaces to their original condition is a more difficult process.

A Simple Distressing Technique

The use of sandpaper or steel wool is a simple way to give existing wooden surfaces a distressed effect. If you rub the surface gently, you will lighten the colour. This gives the impression that the surface has been exposed to light.

However, if you are trying to create a truly aged effect, it is important to remember that some areas of real antique furniture show dramatic signs of having been exposed to light while others which have spent more time in the shade do not.

The effect will look less contrived if you rub some parts of the surface with coarser graded sandpaper or steel wool. This exposes underlying layers of colour. These contrast with the areas where you have achieved the less dramatic lightening effect.

Creating a Distressed Effect Using Fresh Paint

If you want to achieve a distressed effect on fresh paint, you will need two shades of acrylic paint, one lighter than the other; fine graded sandpaper; a white wax candle; a vacuum cleaner; and a solution of warm water and mild detergent.

The first step is to sand the wooden surface or piece of furniture on which you wish to achieve the effect. Remove all the sanding dust with a vacuum. The simplest way to do this is to attach the dusting tool to the cleaner and run it over the surface.

To ensure the surface is completely clean, wipe it with a cloth wrung out in a solution of warm water and mild detergent. Let the surface become completely dry.

First Coat of Paint

It is important to use the lighter shade of acrylic paint for the first coat. Once you have applied this coat, allow it to dry. Rub the candle over parts of the surface. If you are creating a distressed effect on furniture, apply plenty of wax to edges and corners. On antique furniture, these areas have suffered the most wear, so a thicker application of wax will give a more realistic effect.

Finishing Your Distressed Effect

Apply the darker shade of acrylic paint for the second coat, including the areas where you have rubbed in candle wax. Once the second coat is completely dry, sand the entire surface, applying extra pressure to the areas which have been waxed. Make sure you remove all the sanding dust with the vacuum. Finish it off with a coat of protective clear varnish, which will greatly increase the durability of the distressed effect you have achieved. Make sure that the furniture or wooden surface is bone dry before placing anything on it.

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About the Author

Belfast-based Neil Greenlees was made redundant in March 2009 after working as a reporter for 26 years. For most of his career he was a senior journalist with ''The Ulster Star," a weekly newspaper covering the Lisburn and South Belfast areas. Greenlees holds the National Council for the Training of Journalists Pre-Entry Certificate.