Tuesday Tutorial: Furniture Distressing

Note: Sorry that Tuesday’s Tutorial was not up on Tuesday!! We are excited to say that we were away Tuesday into today to watch our son compete in the PIAA State Golf Tournament with his high school team. They placed first in their district and region which earned them a place at states. We’re now home after watching him play a great 18 holes and their team placed 4th in the state!! We are incredibly proud of them. Here’s our young golfer in mid-competition:

Anyhow, on to this week’s tutorial:

Looks change, right? When Cathy and I were first setting up our home, everyone wanted wood and anything made from oak commanded top dollar. While many of us still enjoy the look and warmth of natural wood, there has also become a widespread acceptance of anything painted, particularly when it is distressed.

Distressing is the act of artificially aging something to make it look old and worn and it looks something like this:

Music Cabinet Before Decoupage

We have been distressing furniture for years, in fact, we always jokingly say that we distressed before it was cool. We also have very clear ideas about how distressing is most artistic and how distressing can enhance the beauty of a piece. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but we do believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to achieve this aged look. We use a certain line of products to achieve this distressed look but there are also other products that can be used. We have used other lines of paint including chalk paint. All have their virtues and their limitations. Use whatever products you would like. This tutorial is designed for the person that would like to distress furniture but isn’t quite sure how to do it. Follow this tutorial like a recipe and you can’t go wrong. One word of advice, always make sure that each step is thoroughly dry before proceeding to the next step.




Step 1

Clean the surface. Scrub the piece with warm, soapy water and 0000 steel wool. This treatment will take off dirt and wax build up. If it is a particularly dirty surface, I would also clean it with Denatured Alchohol.


Step 2

Sand the surface. Use a medium grade sandpaper and sand the entire piece to provide a tooth for new paint.


Step 3

Apply one coat of Heritage MultiMedia MultiSurface Sealer. I always apply a coat of sealer to provide assurance that the new coat of paint will stick to the old surface. This may not always be necessary but sealer is inexpensive and I would rather be “safe than sorry.”


Step 4

Underpaint if necessary. Part of our distressing technique is that you will remove some of the top layer of paint through the “chippy paint method” or through sanding. I want the underlayer of color to be a good color. I personally don’t like shiny varnish peaking through a painting treatment that is to look distressed. I will apply an underpainting, usually brown, in various places on the furniture piece. I usually quickly slap some brown paint on the edges and corners of the furniture piece. These are the same areas that I will sand to remove the top layer.

Step 5


Use Chapstick as a distressing tool. Use Chapstick or any other Petroleum Gel and apply it in small areas over the brown underpainting. When the top coat of paint is applied it won’t stick to the Chapstick and will result in a “chippy paint” look.

Step 6

Overpaint the surface. Choose the general color that you would like your furniture piece to be and paint that color over the entire piece including the underpainting and the chapstick. The entire piece will look “brand spanking new” until the distressing is complete.

Step 7


Steel wool the piece. Using a piece of 000 steel wool, go over the entire piece removing the paint where the Chapstick was. This will definitely result in a chippy paint look.


The piece looks a little strange and incomplete at this step. Have faith and stick with it.

Step 8

Sand. Further distress the piece by sanding the edges and corners of the piece, particularly over the brown underpainting. This will really make the distressing look more natural.

Step 9

Glaze the piece. You do not want your paint to look too new, especially with all of the sanding and distressing. You need to glaze the color down a bit so that it looks old. We covered this step of the process in detail in a previous tutorial. Follow this tutorial for an authentic old paint look.

Step 10


Drybrushing. This is the last and final step toward making the overpainting look old and worn. Pick up some darker color, usually brown, paint on a totally dry brush with no water added. Tap the paint into the tip of the brush and work most of it out on a paper towel. Lightly brush the brush across the surface of the piece barely making contact with the surface. The dry paint will pull off of the brush picking up the granulation of the wood.

Do as much or as little drybrushing as you would like. This is a great technique for making the overpainting look old and worn.

Step 11


Protective coat. Some people wax, but we always apply two coats of Heritage MultiMedia Varnish as the last step. This varnish is waterproof, non yellowing and UV protected. It will provide the best level of protection for your heirloom furniture.

Dry well and enjoy your new “old” piece.

Stay tuned for a future post in which we’ll show you our finished distressed shutter. It’s a beauty!! We can’t wait to show you. If you have any questions about today’s tutorial, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Thanks for visiting,


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