How to achieve a distressed paint effect

Painting techniques: Distressing
How to achieve a distressed paint effect

The easiest way to give paintwork an ‘aged’ and well-worn look is to use the distressing technique. This technique means applying several layers of paint to a surface and then sanding through the coats to reveal the different layers of color underneath. Enhance the effect by using three or more contrasting colors which are applied one on top of the other.

Use colors that will combine well together and with the surrounding decor; whether varying shades of one color or totally contrasting colors.


Step 1

Prepare the wood

If you are working on a piece of furniture that has never been painted, apply one coat of sealer to the item and allow it to dry thoroughly. If using a previously painted or varnished piece, sand it lightly with medium grit sandpaper. If the timber has been previously painted in a color you don’t want to be seen, strip the piece completely of all paint or varnish and apply the sealer.

Step 2

Apply the layers of paint

Using the bristle brush, evenly apply one coat at a time of each of your three chosen colors of water-based paint. Allow the paint to dry thoroughly between each coat. The final layer will be the most dominant color.

Step 3

Begin sanding

Begin with the medium grit sandpaper and roughly sand back patches of the top color, being particular to expose areas that would normally receive the greatest amount of wear, such as chair rungs and the front of a seat, legs and edges of a table-top, the plinth or kickrail on a chest of drawers. Using the tack cloth wipe away all the sanding dust.

Step 4

Expose the lower colors

Now change to using the fine grit sandpaper, and work all over the piece to expose the underlying colors and even little bits of the base timber.

Step 5

Blend the colors

Using the steel wool, soften any hard, raised edges or scratches to produce a fine blending of all the colors. Don’t be too aggressive with the sanding. You still want the top coat to remain the stand-out color.

Step 6

Apply varnish

Depending on the purpose of the item, whether it will be for display only or be used and receive an amount of wear and tear, the piece may be left unvarnished or can be protected with a coat of satin varnish or furniture wax. To obtain a smooth finish free of brush marks. apply the varnish with a small roller and immediately work over the surface with a large stipple brush. Allow the varnish to dry thoroughly and sand lightly with fine sandpaper. Repeat the process several times for an extra tough protective finish.

Things Needed
• Water-based sealer
• Sandpaper (one sheet each of fine and medium grit)
• 1 inch (25mm) bristle brush
• Low-luster water-based paints of choice
• Tack cloth
• Steel wool (0000 grade)
• Brush for varnish or small roller and stipple brush
• Water-based satin varnish
• Furniture wax (optional)

Tips & Warnings
• A three-color distressing technique imparts a soft, well-worn appearance.
• To enhance the ‘aged’ effect, dint the surface with a hammer. Use a soft cloth to apply brown boot polish over the surface and wipe off the excess.
• If you are distressing a table top or a tray, it is best to protect the surface from further wear and tear by applying two to three coats of satin varnish.
• On a large area such as a table top, use two people to apply the varnish — one rolling the varnish onto the surface and one using the large stipple brush.


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