If you love the aged rustic look of weathered wood, you are likely to have wondered how to distress wood or how to distress furniture.
During my DIY adventures, I have tried many techniques to distress wood and furniture, and finally decided to put my favorites all in on article as a reference for everyone, so you and I don’t have to keep wondering: “Vaseline? Sandpaper? Vinegar?”
These distressing wood techniques are my favorites because they are all super easy, give great weathered wood results, and don’t require any special materials or tools. Each one creates a little different look from gently weathered wood to rustic chippy paint. You can choose your favorite based on your project and the style you like.
I have included videos on each distressing technique and detailed comparison on choosing the best method for your DIY project.
There’s something so irresistible about pieces of distressed furniture or chippy painted wood that stirs up our imagination and transports us to another time and place. Distressed wood look beautiful in so many styles of homes from farmhouse, shabby chic, and country, to industrial and modern.
* Some resources in article are affiliate links. Full disclosure here .
Here is our list of 8 easy painting techniques to distress wood and furniture:
Sanding technique, Candle technique, Wet paper technique, Dry brush technique, Scraper technique, Rinsing technique, Wood block technique, and Pouring paint technique.
A big thank you to our friends at Decoart for sending their gorgeous paints for our projects!
1 . Create Weathered Wood with Sanding technique
The most simple and straight forward method to distress wood is to sand some of the paint off. This technique works great on both already painted wood and unpainted wood.
The key is to sand random areas that tend to get bumped or scratched naturally, so it looks organic. You can also repeat the process on the same piece with several layers of paint. Let each layer dry, and sand in between layers. For example:
I used this method to distress a wood nightstand. After sanding the original paint as shown above, I painted the piece blue, then sanded it one more time. Check out the final finished nightstand and full tutorial here.
2 . Distressing wood and furniture with Candle technique
This is a super versatile technique to distress wood or furniture with almost guaranteed great result. It can be used on raw wood or already painted wood and furniture.
It is great for creating either single or multi-layered distressed look.
For example, I have used it in this Ultimate Guide on How to Whitewash Wood, and created an aged wood look with just white paint.
Here I am using this method to create a piece with layers of wood, plus brown, white and yellow paint.
Step 1: Decide on which color for which layer. Start with a piece of wood and the bottom layer color. (I used dark brown.) Paint the wood at random spots. Let dry completely.
Step 2: Take an un-tinted candle and rub it hard at random spots on the wood.
Paint the wood with the color for the next layer. ( I used white here.) Let dry completely.
Use a rag and wipe the surface with some pressure. The paint will come off where the wax was rubbed onto the wood.
The gorgeous yellow is Decoart’s Outdoor Living seriese paint “Harvest”.
Repeat Step 2 for the third layer of color, which I did using yellow.
You can keep repeating this step to add more colors and layers. See video of the entire process below!
3 . Distressing wood using Wet paper technique
Both the Candle technique (see previous) and the Wet paper technique are good alternatives to distress wood or furniture using Vaseline.
All three methods work similarly in the way that they create a resist in certain spots so the paint can be lifted off later.
I actually came up with this method one day because I was too lazy to go out and buy Vaseline in order to start a project!
Got paper? Tear small pieces of paper, vary the sizes and shapes for a natural look.
Dip each piece in water and place it onto a piece of wood.
Before the wet paper dries, paint the wood then carefully lift each piece of paper off the surface. You can do this while the paint is still wet or dried. Below is the video tutorial-
Easy and no mess! You can repeat the process to add more layers, or sand certain spots to create the shabby chic look you want.
4 . Distress wood with Dry brush technique
The dry brush technique is great for creating an aged and scratched look. The key to success is to start with a … very dry brush!
Old paint brushes with hard bristles work great here.
Dip the brush in some paint, and skim off as much excess paint as possible.
Paint in a very fast motion, keep the strokes in different directions, take care not to cover the entire surface. See video below for more details.
I used this distressing technique to create these faux zinc letters as you see in the video below.
I also painted the blue side table this way. You can see more details of the DIY chevron lampshade and side table makeover here.
In this project I also used sandpaper to remove some paints after painting each layer.
5 . Distress Wood with Scraper technique
This method is similar to the first technique, which is sanding. The difference is that sanding removes more paint and wood, and can expose the raw wood. This technique will only remove some of the paint before it dries. I love this gently weathered wood look!
First paint the wood. After the paint dries a few minutes and before the paint dries completely, take a scraper or credit card, and scrape off some paints at random spots.
The beautiful green paint color is Decoart’s Outdoor Living Adirondack which you can get here.
If you are painting furniture, those spots that naturally get bumped onto, such as corners and edges, would be the best places to have the chippy paint effect.
The key is to scrape the paint when the paint has formed a “skin” but the surface is still a bit tacky to the touch.
6 . Create Weathered wood with Rinsing technique
This technique to distress wood creates an elegant and soft aged wood look perfect for farmhouse style. It works best on pieces of raw wood.
Both the Rinsing technique and Scraper technique (above) are removal techniques.
Start by painting the wood and letting the paint dry for a few minutes.
Before the paint dries completely, rinse the wood in water quickly while gently wiping the surface with a rag. The goal is to washed off some paint on the surface.
I really like this piece- it looks like aged barn wood, doesn’t it?
7 . Wood block technique
This is a one step method to distress wood or furniture using the help of a wooden block. It creates more of a chippy rustic look.
Dip the end of a wood block in paint and drag it along the surface. Paint as many color and layers as you want. That’s it! See it in action in video below-
Have you seen furniture and decor made from reclaimed boat wood? This is a great way to make your own “boat wood” that is so full of character!
8 . Pouring paint technique
This is a one step method to distress wood and create a beautiful whitewashed barn wood look. It is great for wood with lots of textures on the surface.
I described it in detail in the Ultimate Guide on How to Whitewash Wood
Now you have see all 8 distressing techniques, there are a few basic tips that you can apply to all the techniques:
- If the surface you are painting on has been finished with sealer, wax, or lacquer, it would be helpful to sand it a little so the new paint will adhere better.
- Don’t fear about messing up: you can always paint things over or sand spots to make it look better. And you can mix up these techniques!
- Practice on some scrap wood or on less visible spots, for example the interior face of a cabinet door, before working on a big piece. Or, jump right in! 🙂
Since we are talking about painting, you may also love some color inspirations here: 25 beautiful kitchen cabinet paint color palettes!
Happy painting! See you next week!