How To Distress Wood

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Have you ever wanted to make your furniture look old and distressed? If so, you're in the right place. Several projects can be completed using this technique, from wooden letter blocks to nightstands and coffee tables. As long as your furniture is made of hardwood you shouldn't have any problems with this method.

In this article,  we will be discussing how you can distress your wood furniture using an easy technique. With a few simple tools and supplies, you'll be able to create beautifully distressed furniture in no time at all.

Let's get started. 

Step 1: Wood Selection

Select the hardwood that you want to distress. Oak is typically the best choice, but you can use any wood type you like. Make sure that if you use oak, it's an unfinished piece of wood, because applying this technique to finished wood will destroy your finish. If you do not have access to unfinished oak, cedar is also great for distressing. Pine and MDF are good choices as well. 

How to Make New Wood Look Old: How to Make Distressed Wood
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If you are dealing with cabinets when distressing wood, you should specifically consider the best wood for painted cabinets. This type of distressed furniture is great to give your kitchen, living room or any other room a more rustic feeling.

 Step 2: Gather Your Supplies & Get Ready To Paint.

Here are the supplies you'll need for this project. You will also need: some newspaper, several sanding discs (80-120 grit), and a tack cloth to apply your finish.  How to use tack cloth? We will help you in that!

You can use almost any paint color that you'd like on your furniture. However, keeping it simple with just grey and black is often best. This is totally up to you though; so choose whatever colors work best for your project. As long as your paint is in a flat finish and not high gloss, it will work fine.

With spray paint, you need to make sure that the surface is clean, so sanding is necessary. You'll want to smooth down the wood surface and give it an even texture. If there are any greasy or oily spots on the piece of furniture, wipe those off with some white vinegar. Don't forget to cover anything around your project; both fabric and flooring can get messy with this process. 

Step 3: Spray Paint/Stain & begin staining:

You will be spraying several layers of paint onto your furniture; however, before applying any paint you should stain the wood first – this gives depth to the piece.

First, we stained our shelves; it's important to note that you can use a brush and stain or you can just spray it on. Just make sure that you apply several layers of stain to keep the brown tones darkish/vibrant. Apply stain in thin coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying another one. Sanding between layers is crucial.

spray paint on wood
Image Credit: Kitchen Infinity Photo

Step 4: Applying The Paint – 1st Layer

Now that you have staining done, you are ready for the first layer of spray paint. Spray your unfinished wood pieces with black paint. We chose this color because it gave a graphite grey color when distressed and added character to our vignette-style shelf unit project.

This first layer of paint is all about coverage. If you are using a brush to apply the paint, then you will want to use long strokes in the direction of the grain and leave no visible brushstrokes behind. You will repeat this process with your second coat as well.  

With spray paint, you need to make sure that your surface is completely covered; there are a few ways that you can do this. You can lightly sand in between layers, or move your piece further away from the wall during each spray session. 

Step 5: Applying The Paint – 2nd Layer

To complete your distressed wood project you'll need at least one more layer of spray paint using black paint on every surface. Again, use long strokes and cover every inch of your wood piece. You might want to apply the 3rd layer of spray paint using black on all surfaces; again, make sure that everything is covered completely. 

This process will take a while (especially for large pieces) so set yourself some time aside to get it done correctly.

Step 6: Wipe off any dust/dust bunnies.

Now that your project has been painted, let it dry as long as possible before the next steps. Dust will be plentiful, so make sure to wipe off anything that you don't want painted black.

Step 7: Add a stencil design to your furniture

Once the paint has dried, add additional detail by creating some awesome designs using spray paint and stencils. If you are doing this project for yourself, it's fun to try random colors or a pattern like stripes. For a gift for someone else, be sure not to use any detailed patterns because they might apply the finished look themselves, especially if they're a little artsy.

You can also use an interesting saying that relates to the recipient – this would work well with art prints and other pieces of decor. 

You can find some cool quotes or sayings online, trace them on paper, then cut them out around your chosen words using a craft knife. I would suggest using this method on cardstock before applying directly to your furniture project.

Step 8: Sand/Strip The Paint 

After you have made your stencil design application, sand down any areas where you want the paint to show through more like edges (top shelf) and corners. This gives depth and makes the colors come to life.

Step 9: Seal with Polyurethane

Once your stencil design is complete, seal it by applying 1-2 coats (3 if you want an extra shiny finish) of polyurethane. We love this stuff – especially because it gives a clear gloss to anything that you apply it to. It also protects the paint from fading over time, which is nice.

What is the difference between distressing and rusting?

Distressing vs. rusting is a common question – distressing is sanding down your furniture to give it imperfections. This technique will not work with metal or plastic; you can only distress wood, paper, or rubber products (such as candle holders). On the other hand – rusting is purely for looks; real rust occurs when iron or steel reacts chemically with air and water, causing the formation of oxides. It can be applied to items such as products made out of the tin (baking trays) or iron (plant boxes).

What are some good wood backsplash ideas to try out?

The best wood backsplash ideas to start with, include spray painting sections of your kitchen countertop in a similar color as other items in the same room. This will allow the two areas to flow together. If you have stone or quartz counters, you can try using stencils and paint to get the job done.

How To Distress Wood Paneling
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Final thoughts on how to distress wood

In conclusion, when attempting to learn how to distress wood, give yourself plenty of time and try not to rush. 

Even if you don't want to make furniture, taking some time to practice these techniques can pay off in other areas of your life. It's the same principle as learning any new skill; it will also boost your creativity.

Kevin Farrugia

Kevin Farrugia

Kevin is a household and appliance enthusiast and loves to follow the latest trends in kitchen and house decoration. He also loves to walk the isles of Home Depot and Lowes to review products and materials in person. Before joining Kitchen Infinity, Kevin owned a handyman company.

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