How to Distress Wood Furniture

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 28, 2022
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Distressing is done on wooden furniture to give it an old, “weathered look.” It makes the furniture portray an antique and artsy vibe. A rustic, vintage look can often be what you strive for, and distressing helps you to achieve that unique look.

The distressed look has become a trend in modern furniture designs. Often, the old and vintage look can give your furniture a rich and premium feel. That’s why a distressed finish is a highly sought-after finish by many people. The final look achieved by distressing is called “Patina.”

It is basically the technique of wearing down a furniture’s finish manually. In a sense, it is contrary to a finished and polished look, as it is intentionally done by destroying a furniture’s finish. But this look is often more preferable over the squeaky and shiny look.


You can achieve this look on your furniture staying at home easily. With the proper equipment and tools, distressing a piece of wood furniture would be a piece of cake. We will now teach you how you can distress your wood furniture.

Tools and Equipment Required

The required tools and materials to get started on distressing wood furniture are-

  • Sandpaper.
  • Paint.
  • Rolling brush.
  • Flat paintbrush.
  • Paint wax.
  • Drop cloth or rags.
  • Polyurethane.

How to Distress Wood Furniture

Distressed look on your furniture might be a look you desire for. The vintage, worn-out look isn’t as difficult to achieve as you might think. In fact, it is actually quite easy to pull off. Make sure you are positive about distressing your piece of furniture as it would effectively ruin the furniture’s finish.

There are many techniques for distressing wood furniture. Some of them are-

  • Decoupage.
  • Gold leaf or gliding.
  • Texturizing.
  • Liver of sulfur.
  • Wood stain.
  • Graining.
  • Trompe l’oeil.

These techniques are used in a lot of distressing works to achieve the perfect look. You can distress either pre-painted furniture or paint furniture and then distress it. Regardless of it, we are going to guide you through both processes so that you can do it effortlessly without any hassle.

How to Distress Already Painted Wood Furniture

To distress wood that has already been painted, you need to use the sandpaper to wear down the finish of the wood. Basically, you have to roughen the wood and scrape some color of the piece. In the end, it is the worn out, destroyed look that you desire.


We will now guide you step-by-step on how you can distress painted wood with sandpaper.

  • Prepare your piece of furniture for distressing. Make sure the paint is properly settled in the piece. It is better to wait a while, maybe a few days or so if the wood is recently colored. Clean the surface of the wood properly so that it remains smooth and doesn’t cause accidental scratches while distressing. Be sure to uninstall any hardware or knobs along with the furniture.
  • Don’t forget to wear personal safety equipment like a mask, protective eyewear, gloves, etc. Distressing can cause dust to fly around, which can get into your eyes or nose. Again, you can get paint on your hands if you don’t wear gloves, which can be a big hassle.
  • Take sandpaper or a sanding block or a sanding sponge. You can also use a piece of wood and wrap the sandpaper around it. In any case, it should work flawlessly in distressing the paint.
  • Then, start to rub the wood with sandpaper. Don’t be too harsh as that can take off the paint way too much and leave you with a bad finish. Instead, go with smooth, confident rubs so that you are left with a nice finish.
  • Focus on distressing corners and edges more that surfaces. Naturally, paint around those areas wear down quicker than other places. Therefore, it would only be natural to apply more rubbing in those areas over other areas.
  • Rub softly when distressing around the middle of the wooden surface. Those areas don’t look so good when too much distress. A subtle wear down of color can make those places look great and expressive. Applying too much pressure around those areas would take off paint in great quantities, which may ruin your look.
  • Keep distressing around the furniture until you like the finished piece. You can always distress more or less in certain areas according to your preferences.
  • Staining the furniture can add some antique feeling to the piece. Therefore, you can consider adding some stains to your workpiece.
  • If you distressed too much paint off an area, you can always paint that area again and perform subtle distressing.
  • Finally, after you’re done with the piece, apply a coating of clear polyurethane to protect the color and finish of the piece. Then, reinstall any hardware or knobs that you have detached earlier.

There you have it, you have successfully achieved a distressed finish on your furniture.

How to Distress Furniture with Chalk Paint

When you want to distress natural wood furniture, you can apply chalk paint and then distress it for a unique distressed look. In such a case, you need sandpaper to distress the paint.


Let us discuss how to distress furniture with chalk paint.

  • Firstly, prepare the furniture. Take off all the pieces of furniture, including hardware and knobs. Then clean the furniture properly of any dust that has been accumulated in it.
  • Wear personal safety equipment. They include a face mask, gloves, apron, and safety goggles (these are great!). You are going to be painting on a wooden surface, and so you should use the mentioned equipment to prevent color from touching your body.
  • Begin by pouring down the chalk paint into a pan. Use the roller brush to apply coats of paint on the wooden furniture.
  • Then let the paint dry out. It would take no longer than a few hours. Chalk paint usually dries really quickly so you can get back to work in a jiffy.
  • Apply a second coating of paint to make the surface really smooth. Then, let that dry out for a while longer.
  • Now, you are ready to start distressing your piece of furniture. Take a sandpaper or sand block and rub it across the desired areas. You have freedom on distressing the furniture however you want. Distressing more around the grooves and edges might give your furniture a more natural and defined look.
  • After you’re done distressing the furniture, take a dry rag to brush off the paint and dirt. Once the furniture is clean, reassemble the knobs and hardware.

Now you can distress wood furniture using chalk paint as well.

Final Thoughts

A distressed look on wood furniture is a unique look. It is a unique form of art and aristocracy. That makes it renowned among designers and people who pay attention to home aesthetics.

Going through the process isn’t much hard of a thing to do. In fact, distressing wood furniture is really easy for a job. It doesn’t take much to pull it off. If you know the proper steps, you should be just fine. You can also let your creativity flourish by doing things like adding stains, scratches, etc.

We hope that after reading our article on how to distress wood furniture, you are confident about distressing your own furniture.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.