Distressed Furniture Painting Techniques

Updated April 17, 2017

If you love the look of antiques but cannot afford the hefty price tag, then distressing furniture may be the answer. Distressed furniture can add character to your decor that new furniture cannot, and can save you money at the same time.

Distressing Before Painting

The beauty of distressed furniture is that many of your existing pieces can be used, or they can be picked up cheaply at yard sales or thrift shops. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, use only real wood furniture; synthetic materials will not hold up under the distressing process or take paint well. And, unless you are good at woodworking, make sure your piece is sturdy. Distressing the furniture is pretty easy and fun, but do not get carried away. To create a natural piece, use a hammer or chain to beat nicks and depressions into the wood and pick strategic spots to run a wire brush across to create scratch marks. All of these marks will affect how the paint adheres to the wood and increase the character of the furniture.


Before painting, lightly sand the furniture. The furniture does not have to be bare for painting, but a rough surface will take paint better. You have a number of choices for painting: Rub bee's wax or paste wax on areas you want to leave bare; corners and places that would normally be handled look the most natural. Or, paint a base coat and a different colour on top. Let all coats of paint dry completely before you apply another or sand.


You can get creative with finishing and make truly unique pieces. If you used wax in any areas, rub an old towel over those spots to remove the excess dried paint. Lightly sand other areas, revealing either bare wood or the first layer of paint. Carefully consider the piece you are working with, and only remove enough paint for a natural look, especially on corners and handles. To further create the illusion that this furniture was recently removed from your grandmother's attic, lightly apply a dark wood stain and wipe off sections of it. The stain will settle in the grooves and nicks you made earlier and take on a weathered look. To keep your newly made "antique" pristine, finish with a coat of flat sealer or glaze.

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About the Author

Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh has been a writer and college writing professor since 1992. She has written for international companies, published numerous feature articles in the "Wilmington News-Journal," and won writing contests for her poetry and fiction. Rayburn-Trobaugh earned a Master of Arts in English from Wright State University.