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How To Distress Furniture Without Distressing Yourself

How To Distress Furniture Without Distressing Yourself

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Distressing is the finishing effect that gives an unfinished look. You might be wondering just why would anyone want to spend time creating something that looks old? In fact, the goal (and when done properly, the end result) of distressing is to create a vintage, one of a kind piece that looks nice and rustic. You can distress wood, plastic, glass, metal, concrete, stone, and plaster. This style fits into many home decors including shabby chic, Middle Eastern, and southern living.

Yes, decorating an entire house in this manner would truly seem to be a home in distress. Generally, distressing is done in moderation, one or two items in a room to add interest to an otherwise well-decorated room layout. In fact, distressing furniture is a good way to get that antique look without the problems that come with time and age. To complete the look, use specific period accents for style effect.

Focus on areas that would usually get the most wear and tear such as around knobs and handles, latches, key holes, edges, corners, feet, arm rests, and foot stands. Accent items such as candlesticks, picture frames, ceiling beams, door jambs, window frames or slight edges to a cabinet front are also great for creating the effect you want.

The basic idea of distressing is 'directed wear and tear'. Here is how to distress furniture in the most straightforward manner. Sand the wood so that there is a good surface texture for the paint/stain to stick to. After sanding, wipe clean with a rag and make sure to remove all dust and particles. Next, gather a collection of heavy chains, hammers, belt buckles, nails and other solid objects. When you've amassed a sizeable collection, bang these items against your furniture in a specific manner. Beaten with these metal objects in a bag or by hand, your furniture will begin to have just the right worn out look that is the latest craze known as the distressed finish. Remember that it usually takes several steps to achieve the desired distressed finish, so don't be surprised if you don't love the look after this initial stage.

After you have gotten out your aggression. . .that is. . . beaten the item to the desired extent, you will want to use a wood stain to emphasize the marks, indentations and chinks that you've created. Apply the stain to small areas at a time, and wipe off before it dries onto the surface so that only a thin layer of stain sticks to the indentations that you made. You don't want the entire effect of the stain to sink in or to be on too large a surface area. That would result in a newly polished look, which is contrary to the intended style. You can apply a sealer to finish the project if you like. Some people will even go so far as to run an acetylene blowtorch over the surface of the distressed item to further the aged look.

Some other forms of distressing wood include:

The painted distressing technique is another one of the most popular distressing techniques. Many people don't like the pristine look of a freshly painted surface. Distress wood that has been recently painted to give it that well-used and country style appearance. This is done with either one or two layers of paint. With one layer, the paint is applied, left to dry, and then chipped away in common fade areas. This allows the natural wood to see through the paint. With two layers, a bright color of paint is applied, left to dry, and then another color is applied on top. When this layer dries, it is chipped off in high traffic areas as mentioned above. This allows the brighter paint layer to peek through the top layer.

Crackle varnish creates a cracked surface similar to the damage caused by moisture

Whitewash uses rubbing alcohol to fade color out and expose slight washes of white paint.

Impressions such as cup rings, water stains, even dirt stains.

Woodworm holes are holes bored into the wood.

Waxing is done in conjunction with the above mentioned paint distressing techniques. Here's the basic procedure. Sand and paint background color. Rub melted wax over prominent or high-traffic areas, and repaint the entire surface with your foreground color. Peel, chip or iron off the wax (use a paper towel under the iron so the wax doesn't stick to it) to allow the darker paint to show through. Buff the surface so the new layer of paint doesn't look pristine.


- Sand with the grains and do not shave off a large amount of wood.

- Use different sized drill bits and drive the drill into the wood at an angle to make woodworm holes more realistic.

- Distress gently and carefully or, instead of the chic and attractive furniture piece you were hoping for, you'll be left with a banged up piece of junk.

- Wipe away dust and small flecks after each step for the best finished results.

- Don't try to distress laminate furniture; it won't come out pretty.

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