How to Distress Painted Furniture (2 EASY Techniques)

6 Materials
2 Hours

In this HT tutorial, I show you how to distress painted wood furniture using 2 easy distressing techniques.


I built 2 identical console tables using scrap 2x4s and 2x6s for some friends.

Since the 2 console tables are not my design, I didn’t record or document the build. 

In order to match the rustic and shabby chic decor in my friend’s home, I used 2 different furniture distressing techniques on each console table.

Distressing painted furniture usually involves applying stain, wax, and/or sanding the painted surface.

Essentially, distressing techniques make new furniture look old.

At the end of this post, please leave me a comment and let me know which technique you like best!

Paint Furniture

Keep in mind, this step is only needed for unpainted furniture. If you have a piece of furniture which is already painted, you don't need to do this step. I still encourage you to read the info in this step to learn about which paint is easier to distress.

First, I painted each piece of furniture with white semi-gloss paint.

This is the first step for both distressing techniques. Furthermore, it makes no difference if the painted furniture is old or new.

I find semi-gloss or satin/eggshell paint works best for distressing painted furniture.

The semi-gloss sheen makes it easier to wipe off wood stain or wax as I’ll show you in later in this article.

Keep in mind, flat or matte paint can be distressed. However, I find I work harder and don’t have as much control over the distressing process.

Additionally, I always use the cheapest paint I can find when I know I plan to distress wood furniture. 

Ultimately, it makes no sense to paint with expensive paint for furniture distressing projects.

Technique 1: Distressing Furniture with Wood Stain

For the first distressing technique, I used varathane weathered gray wood stain.

I like using gray wood stain on white paint because it produces a vintage look.

Also, this blends well with antique and farmhouse decor.

Ultimately, any color stain works for distressing painted furniture. 

For example, I used light blue and coral wood stain to distress furniture for a coastal beach look.

I use light stain on dark paint and dark stain on light paint.

Technique 1: Distressing Furniture with Wood Stain

First, I applied the gray stain with a chip brush in small sections in order to prevent the stain from drying, which makes it difficult to remove.

I use chip brushes to apply stain simply because they are cheap. 

Also, brushes work better than rags for this furniture distressing technique.

Technique 1: Distressing Furniture with Wood Stain

I used a shop rag to wipe the stain.

Stain absorbs into the paint regardless of how much I wiped the surface. Essentially, this is supposed to happen.

It’s also difficult to remove the stain from the seams, corners, and other hard to reach places with a rag. Again, this is supposed to happen.

Ultimately, this makes the furniture appear as if it were naturally distressed.

As a quick tip, I find it helpful to have 2 or 3 rags available. It becomes difficult to remove stain as the rags get saturated with stain.

Technique 1: Distressing Furniture with Wood Stain

Once I achieved the distressed look, I moved to the next section.

As I mentioned previously, the Semi-gloss paint really allows me to control the distressed look and work much faster.

Technique 2: Distressing Furniture with Dark Creme Wax

For the second furniture distressing technique, I used the same process as the first technique.

However, I used dark creme wax instead of stain.

This wax is normally used with chalk paint, but can be used on raw wood or painted surfaces as well.

Technique 2: Distressing Furniture with Dark Creme Wax

First, I used a chip brush to apply the dark creme wax to the painted furniture.

I noticed the creme wax dries very quickly. Consequently, I worked in smaller sections. Additionally, it blends more deeply into the paint than stain. 

Technique 2: Distressing Furniture with Dark Creme Wax

Since the wax dries very quickly, the chip brush became stiff after the first 2 sections.

As a result, I used my hand with a latex glove to apply the wax. I found this to be much easier and faster as well.

Technique 2: Distressing Furniture with Dark Creme Wax

I removed the wax with multiple rags until I achieved my desired distressed look.

Protective Finish for Distressed Furniture

To protect and preserve the distressed finish, I used 3 coats of polycrylic.

I lightly hand sanded with 220 grit sandpaper between coats.

Furniture Distressing Technique Comparison

Ultimately, both furniture distressing techniques produced awesome results.

Wax Distressing Technique Summary

The dark creme wax produced a more distressed antique look.

I used the entire can of wax for the console table and the can was 10.00.

Also, the wax required a bit more elbow grease. In other words, it was more physically demanding

Wood Stain Distressing Technique Summary

The stain produced a vintage look and was a bit easier to apply and control.

Also, the stain goes a very long way. I could probably distress 15 to 20 console tables with one can of stain. 

The 32 ounce can of stain was 16.00.

My Favorite Furniture Distressing Technique

In summary, I prefer to distress furniture with stain. It’s more forgiving, cheaper, and I like the vintage style look.

I hope you learned how to distress painted wood furniture using these 2 furniture distressing techniques.

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Jeremy Hoffpauir

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Have a question about this project?

1 question
  • GBK
    on Jul 21, 2019

    I never mix oil and water based products, because they delaminate. Why have you sandwiched an oil based product between 2 water based ones? What is the longest time it has lasted before you've seen changes to the finish?

    • Jeremy Hoffpauir
      on Jul 21, 2019

      Ive done countless pieces using this method (9 highly used pieces in my own home) without issue. The oldest piece I have is a breakfast table I distressed in 2007 that gets used daily and still no changes to the finish.

      The only time I’ve had an issue was when I used oil based paint with oil based stain and an oil based finish about a year ago. The finish degraded very quickly, but this could have been my error by not allowing it to dry completely.

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