How To Get The Distressed Look

Ever wondered how they got that distressed, old, antique, well-worn look on old furniture pieces. It's easier than you think.

In just 8 very simple steps, you can transform that boring piece of furniture into something hip and unique.  Let's get started.  


Find a piece of furniture or even just a piece of wood you think will look good with a distressed look.  I like to cruise estate sales or even just the curb for trash.  

Quality furniture or "actual" antique furniture I might try to restore to its original condition. Usually, I'll try to add the distressed look to cheap and less-expensive furniture that doesn't have character on its own.  

What You'll need

8 Easy Steps to Distress any piece of Furniture

how to distress wood

1. Disassemble Furniture

This doesn't mean tearing the entire thing apart.  Remove knobs, handles, drawers, and basically anything that is easily removable.  

The entire process will go significantly smoother if you take the time to do this step.

how to distress wood

2. Sand Furniture

Sand the piece down so whatever color of paint you choose will adhere to the surface.  

how to distress wood

3. Paint Furniture

Pick a color you think would look good distressed.  Generally bright, vibrant, or lighter colors work best.  But, if you're using a light colored stain, a darker color could look cool too.  

It's always best to use 2 different colors as well, applying the darkest color first (again not gospel) because, as you'll see in a later step, the first layer will have a chance to show through.  

A few bits of advice...check out the "mis-tint" section at the hardware store.  Mis-tints are generally custom mixed paints that were done wrong or returned for one reason or another.  If you're not too picky you can get pints or gallons for anywhere between $1- $10.00.  However, try not to get glossy or enamel type finishes as they are much more difficult to sand.   ​

This is where you get to be creative and design an original piece.  ​

how to distress wood

4. Add Water to dark shade of paint

This is probably around a 1:10 ratio.  That would be 1 part water to 10 parts paint color. Essentially, you want to water the paint down enough for it to be much thinner.

how to distress wood

5. Lightly Paint Thinned Color On Furniture

You're going for a wood grain type look.  I find it best to use a cheaper brush because the bristles tend to be less uniform.  

Just go slow and barely touch the surface with the brush using long strokes.  Vary where you begin and end to prevent the pattern looking too consistent (this is one of the few times "inconsistency" is a good thing).​

how to distress wood
how to distress wood

6. Repeat step 5 with a lighter color

Follow the exact same method as in step 5, but with a light color (white, cream, light blue, etc..).  I would also use a more watery mix (3:10).

how to distress wood

7. Sand Furniture

Sand with a medium to light grit sandpaper.  Be sure not to completely sand away the thinned (wood grain pattern) paint.  

I like to sand the edges and corners all the way down to the wood (again inconsistently).  It gives the piece a well-worn look.​

how to distress wood
how to distress wood

8. Apply Stain and Polyurethane

Generally, you want to use a lighter colored stain, and a semi-gloss polyurethane.  But, again it's up to you.  

This step is really what tops off the distressed antique look.  ​

how to distress wood

You're Finished

how to distress wood
how to distress wood
how to distress wood
how to distress wood
how to distress wood

Watch the full tutorial from Beach Bum Livin here!

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About Brandon Potters

Hi, I’m Brandon and I can’t express how excited I am that you chose The Saw Guy as your resource for project ideas, tool reviews, and all-around guide to the world of DIY. I spent years in the construction industry refining my knowledge of various trades and even spent a few years working at a major hardware store. ​If there is anyone who can help you make a well-informed, unbiased, budget-conscious decision, it’s me and my team.

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