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How to Distress Furniture

Distressed furniture pieces can help make your shabby chic or rustic design ideas come to life. The idea behind distressing furniture is to give pieces an aged appearance. It's that weathered look that makes you stop and admire its quaint vintage patina. You can easily turn any new or used piece of furniture into a beautiful distressed masterpiece at home. This guide takes you through the steps and provides some neat ideas on how to add them to your décor.

Select Your Furniture Piece

For this first-time project, choose a piece of furniture with a simple design that is easy to work on. Tables have simple flat surfaces that are easy to distress. Perhaps it's time to give an old wood coffee table or end table a new look. Chairs and stools make good practice pieces if you want to start with less prominent. Or, be bold and re-do a cabinet or dresser. Don't worry about making mistakes. This is one of those projects where mistakes can give the piece more vintage character.

Tools and Supplies

Gather all the tools and supplies you need for distressing furniture.

Tools you may need for this project include:

  • Paintbrush
  • Foam brush
  • Roller
  • Paint tray
  • Sandpaper
  • Power sander
  • Rags
  • Screwdriver

Supplies needed may include:

  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Stain
  • Polyurethane
  • Protective gloves
  • New hardware and knobs
  • Tarp for protecting indoor flooring

Step 1: Cleaning and Stripping

Working on a clean surface is important. Furniture may look clean to the naked eye, but it can have residue from various oils and dust. So, the first thing you want to do is remove this residue. Grab a clean rag and proceed to wipe down the entire surface. This prepares the piece for the next step.

If you're working on a cabinet with hardware, this should be removed after cleaning. Use the screwdriver to remove all knobs, pulls and hinges. Keep track of hardware by taping it together or placing it inside of a plastic zip-top bag. Remove cabinet drawers and doors, setting them aside to work on later.

Step 2: Sanding

Distressing furniture begins in earnest with a reliable sander. The main role of this tool is breaking through top layers of surface finish. An electric sander does a better job of this than a strip of sandpaper. Move the sander slowly over the surface to roughen it. You can also use the sander to soften up any sharp edges or corners.

Step 3: Priming

Always prepare distressed pieces with primer before applying paint. Choose a primer that works well for the piece. Most traditional types of primer are suitable for sanded surfaces. For pieces with a laminated veneer, you may want to go with a high-adhesion primer. Apply primer in a single thin coat using a paint brush or roller. Let it completely dry.

Step 4: Painting

At this point, you're ready to give this piece a new coat of fresh paint. White paint is recommended for its versatility. Of course, you can always get creative and experiment with other light colors. White, however, is the easiest choice for beginners. Use a roller and brush to apply a top coat of paint. Go over rolled surfaces with a paint brush to create an authentic hand-painted look. Remember, you're aiming for charm, not perfection. After the top coat dries, you can decide if you want to apply a second layer of paint. Let paint dry completely before the next step.

Step 5: Re-sanding

Now comes the fun part. With a sander or sandpaper, gently sand edges to remove a bit of paint here and there. This is how you give it a "weathered" appearance. Use your best judgement to decide how much wood you want showing through the paint in any given surface area. Allow stain to dry completely.

Step 6: Staining

Staining is going to really give your piece that vintage style appearance that makes it a showpiece. For this step you should put on rubber gloves. Apply one coat of any color stain to the entire painted surface. Wipe away excess stain using straight front-to-back movements. Avoid circular motions. Apply more coats to create deeper tones.

Step 7: Polyurethane

Polyurethane helps seal the stain color and gives the piece a protective finish for durability. One coat of clear polyurethane is all you need. For oil-based stain, an oil-based polyurethane is recommended. Best results are achieved by applying polyurethane with a foam brush.

Step 8: Doors and Drawers

Follow the above steps to distress cabinet doors and drawers. When done, add any new hardware and re-install.

Easy to Distress Pieces

Get a head-start on your first distressing project with easy to work with pieces from our Country Home Collection.

Wooden Stools

Wooden Stools

Stools are one of those furniture pieces that do double duty. You can sit on them, prop your feet up or use them to reach things stored in hard-to-reach places. Our square wood stool has flat surfaces on the top and bottom for easy painting and staining.

Simple Wood Bench

Simple Wood Bench

Wood benches have an elongated surface that makes them a good choice for distressing. We offer benches with painted and stained finishes.