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How To Distress Furniture

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Distressing Furniture

Distressing Furniture

Photo: Mati Martek

Sometimes the way to liven up your old furniture is to make it look even older. Distressing furniture is the art of adding the look of age to a furniture piece. "But, Dear Designer," You say. "My kids can distress a furniture piece in under an hour." Yes, Dear Reader, but is it artistic and does it improve the look of the piece? If you want a distressed piece that looks like an expensive antique instead of kid casualty, just follow these simple steps.

Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: Varies

Here's How:

  1. Don't begin your experiment in distressing with your Grandma's prized cherry tallboy. Instead try a new unfinished piece in solid wood or a thrift shop find. These can be found at much cheaper prices than comparable finished pieces.
  2. Even though you may think the piece is smooth, start by sanding it with fine sandpaper anyway. Be sure to sand in the direction of the wood grain. This will greatly improve the look of your finished piece.
  3. After sanding, clean with a tack cloth (available at any home improvement center). This removes all the dust from sanding so the finished piece will be smooth as satin.
  4. Apply a coat of primer using a brush and painting in the direction of the grain again.
  5. After the primer is dry, lightly sand with a fine sandpaper again. Repeat cleaning with a tack cloth.
  6. Apply your final coat of primer and get ready to have some fun!
  7. Various distressing techniques (be sure to wear safety goggles when working with these tools):
    • Sand the edges of the piece to remove any sharp corners and simulate wear
    • Use an ice pick or nail to simulate wormholes or insect damage.
    • Want to simulate fly specks? Use a toothbrush dipped into black ink and rub a toothpick along the top of the brush. Use this technique after you stain the piece.
    • Take a hammer and lightly add depressions to the piece.
    • A screwdriver can add holes in random areas
    • Use other tools around the house including a pizza cutter or chisel
  8. Now you want to emphasize the marks you made. Clean the surface using that tack cloth you bought. Then apply a wood stain. I use a damp cloth, but a sponge brush would work just as well. Work on one small area at a time and wiping the stain off with a cloth before moving on. Wiping the stain off leaves behind just enough stain to collect in the holes to emphasize the distressed wood.
  9. After the stain left behind is dry, apply a sealer or polyurethene finish with a sponge brush. Once that is dry, the piece is ready to enjoy.

    Want another way to make that plain jane furniture into a showpiece is by decoupaging it. You will find the easy instructions in my article, How to Decoupage Home Decor.

Tips:

  1. Always clean after each step with a tack cloth.
  2. If you don't have a brush, try using old lint-free rags to add stain.
  3. There's a difference between distressing and destroying. Use a light hand with the hammer and other tools.

What You Need:

  • Furniture to be distressed
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Quality stain
  • Safety Googles
  • Quality Primer
  • Distressing Tools like hammer, ice pick, nails, toothbrush, chisel
  • Permanent Ink
Related Video
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