For the last few years I have been slowly making my way around the house singling out unloved, unpopular or outmoded pieces of wooden furniture for a “distressed” makeover. Distressing is basically a technique to make a piece of furniture or object appear aged or “weathered”, adding character and charm to your home. Having gain confidence in my own DIY ability with my initial foray … Miss E’s Junior chair, I decided nothing in the house was off-limits … and have been feverishly searching high and low for my next “victim”. So today I thought I would share with you a quick guide on how to distress furniture using sandpaper.
While there are a number of different methods for achieving a “distressed” look, I have found the “sandpaper” method a simple way to build your DIY confidence and add character. I took my initial lessons from painting my trim and applied the same principles to my wooden furniture “makeover”. The below distressing technique has served me well.
Distressing using sandpaper
- Start with simple prep
- Add a primer and 2 coats of paint
- Use sandpaper to “distress”
- Finish with a coat of clear polyurethane for added protection
1. Start with simple prep
I always take the time for some simple prep before beginning to paint anything … even when distressing furniture. This will give you a great, lasting finish and you’ll be pleased in the long run that you took the time. My key tips for prep are:
- Fill in any obvious gaps, nail holes, cracks etc. in the wood with ready-made filler.
- Sand well to smooth out any filler used, remove any flacking paint or finish, as well as proved some “tooth” for the paint to grip to.
- Finish by cleaning with a grime remover (I like to use Sugar Soap and water). This will remove any remaining dirt, grease or grime and allow the paint to adhere to the surface properly.
I struggle with filling in visible screw holes from “flat-packed” furniture. One tip I recently leant is to counter-sink the screw heads a few millimetres and then add the filler. Be careful when using brute force to counter sink screws, this can sometimes split MDF. You may need to drill a shallow depression first … I will try this technique out next chance I get.
2. Add a primer and 2 coats of paint
Using a good quality bonding primer will help ensure a smooth even finish and a paint job that will look good, and last for years. It takes a lot of time and energy to paint a piece of furniture, so take the time to prime it to. Leave to dry for a good 24 hours.
Then apply at least 2 coats in your choice of paint colour. I like to use paint with a matt finish. Allow each coat to dry for about 24 hours.
A great tip I picked up from my early mistakes … lightly sand between each coat of paint with fine sandpaper (220 grade) This will help give a smooth and even finish. Allow each coat of paint to dry for about 24 hours before sanding. After sanding, clean well … I like to use a microfibre cloth.
After your final coat of paint, allow the piece dry thoroughly … leave for as long as you can (2-3 days). Some pieces of furniture I leave for a week, but this may have something to do a busy lifestyle than anything else.
3. Use sandpaper to “distress”
After all your hard work to achieve a smooth and even finish, it’s time to grab some fine sandpaper (220 grade) and start to “distress” the finish to add the appearance of age. Sand the newly painted area. Rub gently at first to see how much pressure is needed, then press harder in some areas to reveal more of the underlying wood. The key to distressing, is to sand the edges, corners and bevelled areas. Think about what areas or edges would naturally get knocked and worn over time … where the paint would get worn away over time … and sand there. But remember … there really is no right or wrong when it comes how much, or where you sand.
Don’t go too heavy handed with the “distressing” to begin with. You can always go back over an area or edge to remove more paint … it’s much harder to put paint back on if you’ve sanded away too much.
4. Finish with a coat of clear polyurethane for added protection
Once you are happy with the amount of distressing, or ageing you have created, clean the piece thoroughly to remove any dust from sanding (I use a microfibre cloth). For a highly used piece of furniture such as a chair or table, or if you would like to add some sheen and protection, apply a couple of coats of clear polyurethane (I like the “satin” finish). Clear polyurethane will add a layer of protection to your furniture, and comes in a couple of forms (spray or tinned), I like the tinned version you apply with a brush.
Once the first coat of polyurethane is dry, rub very lightly with very fine steel-wool (00 or 000 grade), and apply another coat. After the final coat, finish by again rub very lightly with very fine steel-wool … this will give you a lovely smooth finish. I hope my tips on how to distress furniture using sandpaper have helped with some ideas on one way to add character to your home. I’ve been amazed at the difference a little distressing can do … taking some functional but unpopular pieces of furniture at home …. and transforming them!
What are your favourite tips when it comes to distressing furniture? What other methods have you tried to create the “distressed” look?