Simple Tips on How to Distress Wood and Furniture the Easy Way

How to Distress Wood and Furniture the Easy Way

Are you looking for a new way to decorate your furniture? Distressing furniture can do the trick. By distressing it, you will have your piece of furniture looking weathered. The process gives your furniture an aged, yet chic look and gives it a rustic look. The question you may have now is of the process on how to distress wood. The method is easy and takes less time than you can imagine. You can do it yourself on a free weekend and complete it within a good amount of time. The piece will look like it has been passed down to you for generations.

There exist different techniques to do this magic. We will discuss some of them. But, there is one easy and popular way that we are going to talk about first.

Simple Tips on How to Distress Wood and Furniture the Easy Way

Tools and Materials you need

  • Your piece of furniture
  • Drop cloth
  • Candle
  • Stain (optional)
  • Sandpaper
  • Polyurethane
  • Paint
  • Rags or a tack cloth
  • Paintbrush and roller
  • Steel wool


Step 1: Prepare Your Surface

We will start by first preparing our work area and the piece of furniture. First, place your furniture on a drop cloth and ensure that it is clean.

Step 2: Removing Furniture Hardware

If the furniture has metallic handles, knobs, pulls, or other hardware, remove them. Store them in one good place that’s out of your way to fix them when done.

Step 3: Sanding the Surface

Sand your piece of furniture using the sandpaper. You do not need to use so much energy if your piece is unfinished. However, if the furniture appears painted or coated in polyurethaned, it will require thorough sanding.

Where there are rough edges or corners, ensure that you soften them in this step. When done, remove the crustiest and dust off by wiping your piece of furniture with a tack cloth or rag.

Step 4: Painting Your Piece

There are two questions to answer before we get on with this step. Do you want your piece to have the wood visible when distressed? That is its current state.

Would you rather see a different paint color on the distressed wood? That is, making it look like it had been painted when the layer appearing at the top is distressed.

If you would like to consider (A) above, you will require only one color of paint. Paint then allow the piece to dry. If you are up for the second option, (B), you will need two paint colors. The base color or the color you want to see as opposed to the wood in (A), will show off when the top layer of paint is distressed. When done, allow the paint to dry off.

Step 5: Waxing your piece and applying a top layer paint color

For the look with a second color showing through, you will candle wax. Rub the wax on the various parts where you would like to see the first coat of color showing through. Also, rub the corners and edges as well. Now paint your piece with the second color. There’s no need to worry, the second coat will not stick on the areas where you applied candle wax.

For the look that shows off wood, first, ensure that the first coat of color is dry. Now, use sandpaper to sand off the parts you would like them to appear distressed. Do not forget the corners and edges as well.

Step 6: Distressing the Piece

In this step, we will be using sandpaper and steel wool. Make sure that the wood is dry first. For one color, use the sandpaper or steel wool to remove the paint. This will allow the bare wood show through.

If you applied two colors, steel wool will be used to remove the second coat of paint on the waxed areas. By doing this you will be exposing the base color. You can use the sandpaper in certain areas to add more damage if you like.

Do not forget the sides and corners in this step as well. Add as much damage to achieve your intended result. When done, use a rag or tack cloth to remove any dust.

Step 7: (Optional) Applying a Stain

You can skip this step and go straight to the last step. Applying stain will give your furniture a more ancient look. Apply only a coat of stain. Using a rag, remove the unwanted stain or that which is in excess. Avoid wiping off in circular motions. Instead wipe off the excess dye in a straight motion. When done, let the stain dry.

Step 8: Applying Polyurethane on the Piece

Apply polyurethane to protect your furniture as well as the colors or color. When the polyurethane is dry, you can now put back the metallic handles, knobs, pulls or other hardware. You can as well get new hardware to match the new look and give your piece a gorgeously fresh appearance.

As said earlier the methods to distress wood are quite a number among the many, there are three most common.

  • The mechanical technique
  • The vinegar and tea technique
  • The commercial stain technique

They are easy DIY techniques doable in 2-5 steps as explained here.

Benefits of Distressing Wood and Furniture

  • It hides away any scratches. Interestingly, real wear and tear will not be noticeable as is the case of other wood.
  • Smooth finishes are likely to easily show scratches and blemishes.
  • Distressed furniture adds more style to a house and one is at the liberty of customization. One is also free to incorporate their style.
  • It is way cheaper than buying new furniture since the process requires inexpensive material.
  • One can as well use wood that is of a lower grade. Furthermore, you do not need to hire experts to do the job.
  • Older furniture that is genuine is likely to last longer as compared to the kind that is in the market today.
  • Distressed furniture and wood is much easier to clean. Hence, a cheaper maintenance cost.

Disadvantages of Distressing Wood

  • Most often, they are hard to clean. Some furniture or wood may be finished with minor blemishes or scratches to add more style. Such furniture and that with rough finishes are usually harder to clean. They can also hide more dirt.
  • Some wood material can be difficult to seal or finish.
  • Without good know-how on how to do the job, the end product may appear phony and somewhat tacky.
  • Especially when dealing with larger pieces of furniture, like chests or wardrobes, the process may sometimes consume time. Sometimes, it will take days for the final product to be completely finished.

Simple Tips on How to Distress Wood and Furniture the Easy Way

Tips to Consider When Distressing Wood

  1. Before settling on one procedure of distressing, have a spare piece of wood with you. The piece is to be used to test several techniques. It can also be used to test paints that you intend to use. On top of that, if you are to use stain, you can first test it on this piece.
  2. Be careful when using polyurethane. The product can be harmful to your health. It can cause skin irritation, lung problems among other health problem. It is not friendly to the environment.
  3. What makes a piece of distressed furniture look unique is its features. When considering furniture or wood to distress, pick those with stripes tarnished, those with knot holes, or unique grain designs. These make the end product appear more noticeable.
  4. Distressing will have the same result on new wood and the old kind that has lost its shine. This is because the process is natural.
  5. When looking for furniture to distress, consider secondhand items from garage stores. Also, you can check out flea markets or antique stores. Pick those that can be brought to life by distressing. First, you need to clean or air them out. This will remove the dirt and drive away any small animals residing in there. You should fix the parts that need repair before working on them.
  6. Ensure proper storage of your distressed furniture. This will avoid damages and make sure that your piece lasts even longer.
  7. Ensure you are working in a well-ventilated room. Wood finish and paints are usually smelly. This requires working in an open space or one that guarantees good circulation of air.
  1. Wear protective gear when distressing furniture or wood. Gloves will ensure the dust from sanding does not get into your eyes. Gloves will keep your hands off paint. A mask will prevent you from inhaling the smelly paint or finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to distress wood?

Distressing wood means, giving it a rustic yet fashionable and stylish look. This is done by weathering it using chemicals, materials and tool. The weathering gives your piece of furniture character and age, making it look ancient. No machines are necessary; it can be done by hand.

How do I darken my piece of furniture?

Use stain, white vinegar or paint. Paint applied in two coats, will give you a rustic and weathered look when sanded. Stain makes the piece appear darker and gives it an antique look as well. White vinegar, on the other hand, will give your piece of furniture a kind of silver-greyish look.

Is it possible to distress without waxing?

As mentioned earlier, waxing guarantees that the second coat of paint does not completely stick when applying two colors. Expert’s advice that a layer of wax be applied on the wood first. This helps in reducing the amount of dust because sanding paint can be quite dusty.

Can petroleum jelly be used to fix stains on my distressed furniture?

Yes, apart from fixing squeaks, petroleum jelly can be used to get rid of watermark rings. It can also remove stains, white spots and small scratches on your newly installed furniture. Using the petroleum jelly, apply a thick coat and leave it like that for 24 hours. Wipe off the excess and rub the jelly against the piece. When done, apply polish to finish.

How can Vaseline be used to make a piece of wood or furniture look older?

Apply a thick coat of Vaseline on the areas you would like to appear older or distressed. Paint the piece with the color of your choosing. Wait until the paint dries up. You can now wipe off the Vaseline coat using a rag or tack cloth to reveal the distressed parts that will make the piece look older.

What kind of wax do I use in distressing wood while using chalk paint?

In most cases, clear candle wax works best. Lightly apply a thin candle wax coat on the piece of wood. Thin clear wax helps to keep the color of your piece. The wax also offers a shield against any environmental elements. Interestingly, you can also use bee wax pucks in this process.

Are there alternatives to polyurethane?

Yes. Various alternatives can be used in the place of polyurethane. Five of the most common ones that are capable of sealing wood include;

  • Linseed oil
  • Tung oil
  • Candelilla wax
  • Bio paints
  • Danish oil

Also, the above are all non-toxic alternatives of distressing wood as opposed to polyurethane.

Can I use other kinds of paint aside from chalk paint?

You can use any kind of paint you prefer. However, chalk paint is considered the best at this procedure. Chalk paint is easy to use since it does not need any preparations. It easily mixes with water making it even easier to clean the brushes used with water and soap.


Distressing wood is the easiest and cheapest method to add style to your home. The process takes no time on smaller pieces of furniture and wood. The tools and materials to be used are cheap and easily available. Do more research. There is tons of information on distressing wood and furniture out there. Annie Sloan is one of the renowned experts on decorating and designing furniture. Check out her blog and other insightful materials to learn more about how to distress wood. Also, you can pick up other new techniques. With all the tips in hand, distressing wood is rather easier now. Go on and have a blast.