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Modern wooden coffee table and cozy sofa with pillows. Living room interior and home décor concept.

How To Distress Furniture: DIY Complete Guide

Originally contributed by Brandi Radulovich • last updated 1/15/2021

Steps

Distressed Furniture is one of the easiest ways to breathe life back into your room and put a personal stamp on your home that is both modern and timeless. Have you ever seen old antique furniture and thought to yourself how amazing it would look in your house, but then gasped when you saw the price tag? Never again! Here are a few simple steps you can follow to learn how to distress furniture in your own home, so that you can achieve a weathered look that gets everyone else gasping!

The first thing you’ll need when learning how to distress painted furniture is of course the item you’re trying to distress. Maybe it’s a wooden chest or dresser that needs a little spark of personality given back to it, or maybe your outdated cupboards need a bit of a confidence boost! Whatever it is, this Distressed Furniture DIY is all you need to become your own distressed furniture expert. The following lesson will show you how to distress individual pieces of wood, but the techniques and methods described can be applied to just about any piece of furniture in your home!

Let's Make It

Equipment

  • Putty Knife
  • Sand Paper
  • Clean Cloth
  • Old Sheet or Cardboard
  • Disposable Gloves
  • Face Mask
  • Safety Goggles

Materials

  • Wood Stain
  • Paste Finishing Wax
  • Latex Paint
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Sanding

Making your own distressed furniture starts with a very important first step: sanding! To begin, sand all of your chosen pieces of wood using up to 120 grit sandpaper, removing all old paint or finishing if there is any and revealing the bare wood beneath. 

Depending on how large the piece of furniture is that you’re trying to distress, you may want to wrap the sandpaper around a block of wood to aid with this process, or even opt for an orbital sander in places where you need to cover a large area.

Once you are done sanding, wipe the dust from the surface of the wood so that you have a clean surface to begin staining.

It’s important during this process to make sure you’re wearing all of the proper PPE to protect yourself! I recommend always wearing a mask and safety goggles while sanding and spray painting to ensure that you’re protected and aren’t breathing in any toxic material. 

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Stain

Wearing a pair of disposable gloves, apply your stain directly to the wood you wish to distress, using a clean cloth to rub it into the surface. The brand I’m using is called Briarsmoke by Verathane, but you can use any kind you like in whatever color suits your project best! 

Allow the stain to dry completely. Briarsmoke takes approximately one hour to dry, but read the label on your stain for its brand specific drying instructions, and wait the allotted time before moving on to the next step.

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Paste Finishing Wax

One of my favorite ways to create distressed furniture is using Paste Finishing Wax. I use the MinWax brand, but you can use any finishing wax that you have on hand. If you can’t find any at your local stores, petroleum jelly can work in a pinch!

To apply the wax, use a putty knife and scrape it across the surface of the wood, letting it break and streak in a variety of interesting textures and patterns to really achieve that antique weathered look. I like to experiment with scraping both vertically and horizontally along the wood in order to get a number of interesting effects, as seen in the image above. 

Don’t worry if the wax appears cakey or rough during this process, after both it and the next layer of paint dries we’ll be scraping it off with our putty knife in order to see the stain beneath. 

Once the wax has been applied, set your pieces down in a place where it’s safe to spray paint, either on a board, sheet, or piece of cardboard, and let the wax dry completely. Minwax Paste Finishing Wax dries quickly and shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes, but make sure to read the user instructions for the specific brand of finishing wax you’re using.

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Painting

Using a paint color and brand of your choice, cover your pieces of wood completely. I really love Rust-Oleum spray paint in satin and gloss finish, but this technique works perfectly well with any latex paint, brushed or rolled. As for color, I’ve chosen to go with a simple bright white spray paint, but feel free to use whatever color works best in your home.

If you’re stuck, read some of our Color Inspiration ideas to find the best colors for your home in 2020 to really set your room apart! 

You may notice while painting that your paint starts to bead over the areas you applied the paste finishing wax, but don’t worry, we’re going to be scraping it off in the end in order to achieve the authentic distressed look we’re going for! 

Finally, be sure to let your paint dry completely before moving on to the next step, following the specific user instructions for the brand of paint you’re using.

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Removing The Wax

Using your handy putty knife, scrape along the surface of the wood, lifting up the wax that you applied earlier and revealing the stain beneath it. 

As you're removing the wax, make sure you have a paper towel or cloth on hand in order to remove the wax from your knife and avoid buildup!

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Distressed Furniture To Call Your Own

Your wood is now distressed! I really love this look, the weathered effect is perfect for a farmhouse style decor and works on just about any kind of furniture. It’s super quick, simple, and effective, and I’m in love with the result and personal touch it can bring to my home.

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