How to achieve a distressed finish on painted furniture

Hi! The Nienhuis clan has returned from vacation and we are feeling refreshed for Spring.  But Spring cannot and will not be taken over by the cold! Spring is here and It's time to think about sprucing up our furniture.  Your home refresh this spring doesn't necessarily mean purchasing new items though.  Using today's painting tips, you'd be surprised to see the potential in your twenty-eight year old dresser, or "hand-me-down" end tables!  Today's post is a follow-up to my recent blog post titled, "13 Must-have staples for your next painting project".    In that post, I provided a list of must-have supplies for your furniture painting projects.  If a painting project is in your future and you missed that post, no problem. Just click HERE

In today's post, you'll learn how to achieve a distressed finish on your piece of furniture.  Not all of us love the distressed look though.  You might prefer a glossy, shiny finish on your furniture. If that sounds like you, I have another step-by-step guide for you at this link:  www.novodecorco.com/blogposts/glossy

If you love the distressed style of furniture, then read on for this simple "how-to" guide:  

Painting and distressing furniture is my favorite method of painting.  It's fun to "let go" with the paint brush, and see the awesomeness unfold as a piece of furniture is painted and strategically sanded.  The distressed method allows a little "crazy" with your paint brush, and that is why I love using this method!  There are many tricks to distressing furniture, but in today's post, I'm providing you with some basic tips to get you off to a great start! 

Paint

When using the distressed painting method on furniture, I always use chalk paint.  I happen to use a "home-made" chalk paint.  To learn how to make chalk paint, click on my blog post titled:  Chalk Paint: how to make your own There are also store-bought chalk paint options. Several reasons I am biased toward home-made chalk paint:  1.  Reasonable price2.  Easy to make  3.  Great results

Furniture Preparation

There is little preparation involved with a piece before using the distressed method.  Be sure your piece is clean and that any damage is repaired before you start painting. Cleaning the piece should take no more than 10 minutes and can be as simple as using an old (dry) T-shirt. And this next part is possibly the best part.......are you ready for it?   Sanding your piece before painting is not required when using chalk paint! Another great thing about using this method!    

Brushing Technique

When applying chalk paint, quick and light brush strokes work best.  Because the consistency of chalk paint is a bit thicker than regular paint, brush strokes should not be overlapped.  Coverage of your piece does not have to be (nor do you want it to be) complete and perfect when using this technique. Seeing the natural wood peek through your paint is what makes this method awesome.  You can always go back later and add a little more paint, once your first application is dry. Additionally, If your paint coverage is too thick in some areas, then simply sand those areas to remove some of the heavier paint.   Your goal is to achieve uniform coverage on the entire piece.  Uniform coverage does not mean complete/solid coverage over your piece.  It means a consistent paint brush stroke appearance on the piece.  Remember, you can always add more paint to areas that appear "bare", or you can go back and sand areas that appear too heavy with paint.   Paint brushes with shorter, stiffer bristles work best when using this method.  

Drying Time & Sanding

Chalk paint dries quickly!  Make sure your piece is completely dry before sanding.  Dry time for a chalk painted piece is as little as 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on its size.  Allow more time for drying in humid conditions.  If you like the look of your piece with just a single layer of paint, and a single sanding, then you can move on to the protective topcoat step. (see below) If you aren't satisfied with your piece, consider applying a second coat of paint, and then sanding a little more.   I typically apply light sanding to the entire piece, then I sand the areas I want to appear "distressed".  The whole point of using this method is that the piece should appear worn and weathered.  Sanding is recommended in areas that would naturally wear.  Examples include corners, edges of tables or chairs, and around legs of pieces.   Apply the sand paper lightly and be careful not to sand off the original wood finish underneath. The goal is to sand just enough so that the original wood finish peeks through the paint.   Use fine grit sand paper.  I usually use a 200 or 250 grit paper for distressing.  

The Final Step:  Topcoat

All painted pieces require a protective finish that prevents chips, stains, smudges, and fingerprints.  Topcoat is your final layer, after your painting is complete and you are happy with the paint coverage.  There are so many types of topcoats out there that it can get overwhelming trying to determine which type to use.  Here is a look at two pieces that were painted using the same distressed method described in today's post, but have different topcoats:

In the above example, there is a slight shine to the piece, even with a "matte" finish topcoat that was used on the piece. Topcoats labeled "gloss" or "satin" finish will give a shinier finish to your piece.   In the photo below, the light blue color is protected with a wax finish.  The surface appearance using wax is a bit less shiny than when using polyurethane finish.  

In the above example, there is a slight shine to the piece, even with a "matte" finish topcoat that was used on the piece. Topcoats labeled "gloss" or "satin" finish will give a shinier finish to your piece.   In the photo below, the light blue color is protected with a wax finish.  The surface appearance using wax is a bit less shiny than when using polyurethane finish.  

Below are the two topcoats I used on these pieces. The first is Johnson Paste Wax.  This is wax topcoat that is applied using a lint-free cloth.  Old T-shirts work great for applying this wax.  To use, apply a thin and even layer of wax in smaller, circular motions, or, in the direction of the wood grain.  Then let dry (you'll know it is ready to be buffed when the surface appears hazy). Finally, buff the surface using a clean, dry piece of T-shirt.  Buffing in the direction of the wood grain seems to yield the best results.  There is no need to apply a second layer of wax. The surface will be slightly shiny after buffing. 

The second topcoat is Soft-Touch Polyurethane by Varathane. (matte finish, crystal clear).  This is a water-based product (which makes it even greater, because of its easy soap and water clean-up).  It is applied using a brush (as if you are painting) with brushstrokes applied in the direction of the wood grain.   A second coat can be applied after a two hour drying time.  There is no need to sand between layers.  This topcoat is not recommended for outdoor surfaces.  If your piece is meant for the outdoors, purchase a topcoat designed for outdoor use. 

*Important:  Once you've applied topcoat, you should not paint over the surface with paint!  That is why it is important to be completely satisfied with the appearance of your painted piece BEFORE you apply topcoat! 

The Result

Distressed furniture is beautiful and can be great in any room, any home, and with any style. Having a mix of furniture styles in a room is what makes any room great.  Out with the matching sets and in with eclectic mixes of side tables, coffee tables, and accent pieces with character.  One way to achieve character in your old dresser or accent table is to try the distressed painting method.   It's time to see the potential in your tired furniture! Get my supply list HERE and start with a small piece.   Then, share your result at www.facebook.com/novodecorco

Antique head board/foot board in its original dark finish above....painted and distressed with chalk paint to achieve a new look below......

Antique head board/foot board in its original dark finish above....painted and distressed with chalk paint to achieve a new look below......

Jump outside that box and take a look at your furniture.  What can you start with?  

If painting is not on your radar, I'd love to help you!  Click below to reach me!  I provide complimentary home consultation to view and assess your piece of furniture!