Shabby Chic, Distressed, Aged, Farmhouse and French Country furniture. What do all of these styles have in common?
They all have some version of distressing, some slight and some heavy. Distressed furniture is still a hot trend and seems it may not be going anywhere real soon. Whatever your preference is for distressing, you learn how to distress furniture like a pro with 5 easy techniques.
Technique 1: Hand and Electric Sanding
Hand sanding tends to be the most used form of distressing. It is fairly easy, especially with chalk paint formulas that distress very well unlike a latex paint that is rubbery when sanding.
It is easiest to use a sanding block to distress furniture, sanding blocks are easier to hold in the palm of your hand. You can also use the sanding block long after it has worn out by wrapping a piece of sandpaper around the block.
Tip: Clean your sanding blocks with water after each use by gently rubbing together with another sanding block.
After you have finished painting your furniture piece, lightly sand places where distressing would naturally occur with a medium to light grit sandpaper, like a 220 grit or higher. Start by sanding the edges of drawers and the body of the furniture, then work your way towards the raised details. It is better to start with minimal sanding, step back and look at the piece and continue to sand as needed. It is much easier to sand more than having taken too much off and need to paint over.
If you want a really heavy distressed piece of furniture or wood, you are better off using an electric finishing sander, otherwise, it would take too much elbow grease to remove this much paint by hand sanding. Make sure the item is completely dry since you are using a power tool to remove paint, it will come off very easily if it is not completely dry.
Tip: Use fine grit sandpaper for the finishing sander and don’t push with a heavy hand. Sometimes it does not take much pressure to remove the paint, especially on the edges.
Technique 2: Wet Distressing
Using a lint-free cloth, lightly dampen the cloth and start rubbing on the areas you would like to remove the paint and distress. Wet distressing works really well with a freshly painted item.
Tip: Use baby wipes to wet distress, works great because they have the perfect amount of moisture.
Technique 3: Resist Distressing
Resist distressing occurs by using vaseline, beeswax, candle wax or any type of oil-based products. Resist distressing works great with a 2 tone distressed look. Paint your base coat and let dry completely. I like to cheat when I do a 2 tone distressed look. I don’t paint the entire item in the base coat, I only paint in the areas I want to distress. This saves time and money on paint products. Apply the oil-based product of your choice to the areas on the item that you want distressed.
Tip: A little vaseline goes a long way, you do not have to apply a lot of the oil-based product.
Paint the topcoat and let dry. After the topcoat is completely dry, use a lint-free cloth and wipe down the item. As you are wiping the item, the paint does not adhere to the areas where the oil-based product was applied.
Technique 4: Brush distressing (Naturally Worn)
The above piece was naturally worn by distressing with a paintbrush. On items that I know I will be distressing, I like to do a brush distressing. Brush distressing occurs when you don’t paint the entire piece and distress afterward, you distress as you go by controlling the paint that is painted on the furniture.
You can achieve this look by using very light coats (2 to 3) and a blending paintbrush. Make sure the brush you use is made of synthetic materials, they do a better job of applying a smooth blended finish. The natural bristle round brushes are great for waxing.
Want to see this technique in action and learn how with step by step details? I teach this technique in my online furniture painting video, How to Distress Naturally,
Technique 5: Milk-Paint Distressing
Using milk paint is a fun way to distress a piece of furniture because you never know the end result. There are many types of milk paint on the market; Miss Mustard Seed, Old Fashion Milk Paint, Amy Howard, and Sweet Pickens. All pretty much work in the same manner by mixing the dry milk paint powder with water, painting the furniture and watching the drying process as the milk paint begins to chip and distress in different areas on the furniture. This is the one method that is hard to control the amount of distressing. Sometimes it is too much or way too little and you may need to help it along with the other methods above.
Sometimes you can even use a glaze to achieve a distressed look. How to glaze furniture is for another post and you can check out my “How to Glaze Furniture” online workshop for an in-depth, step by step process of glazing furniture.
#1 Advice – Look at a lot of old aged, naturally distressed furniture and pay extra attention to the details and the areas in which the distressing happened naturally over time. The last thing you want is a spotted piece of furniture with random marks of distressing.
Good luck with your distressing techniques and don’t be afraid to try something new. What is your favorite way to distress?
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