There’s no denying that distressed wood finishes are on trend right now. I’m sure you’ve noticed a lot of distressed decor pieces. And there is no limit to how much an item can be distressed. You can go with minimal distressing for a more modern look or you can distress to the high heavens for a real farmhouse appearance. Creating a distressed wood finish on your DIY projects is a lot easier than you think. Mostly because this type of finish is so forgiving and any level of distressing is acceptable! There is no right or wrong way to achieve a distressed finish! I’ve compiled my best tips for doing a DIY distressed wood finish.
Creating My Distressed Wood Finish Technique
I love the look of distressed finishes on furniture. It’s right up my rustic design style alley. Every piece turns out different. I’ve worked on a few projects now creating a distressed wood finish on them and have developed my own technique. And each new project gives me more experience.
Check out how I built my distressed barnboard console table.
When I first started out I did small projects like diy distressed signs. This helped me build up my confidence in this technique. My harvest sign for fall was the first one, then I did a sleigh for winter. Most recently I did a sign for my in-laws home.
From the signs I moved onto small furniture. The shelf pictured below has a twin. They are positioned at either side of my and my husband’s computer desk. This way we can display some of our geeky collectibles. I was so happy with how they turned out that I immediately moved on to creating a distressed wood finish console table to fit behind our sectional.
Along with distressing furniture, I’ve started experimenting with colored stains and paints. For a fun option, add some color like in this blue chair. This one I finished up right before a family picnic! I arrived with blue paint still on my arms, much to my son’s amusement.
Distressing is very forgiving and great for beginners and established DIYers alike. Plus there are so many neat products readily available to help you achieve any look you desire. If you’re eager to try it out yourself, it’s really simple once you get started! I’ve compiled some of my tips for making brand new lumber look distressed.
1: Choose Your Wood
Some woods are naturally harder than others. There’s actually a wood hardness rating chart called the Janka Hardness Chart. These woods will be more difficult to really distress as they stand up to wear and tear. The softer woods you can really distress and rough up!
Woods with stronger grain pattern (ie. oak)will absorb stains better than their smoother counterparts (ie. maple). The grains will make the overall look seem darker because they will stand out more. Woods with less grain and texture will remain a lighter stain and their grain appearance will be minimal.
2: Choose Your Finish
To stain or to paint? Or both?
Stains will keep your wood looking like wood; the grains and knots will show through.
Painting wood is going to cover and hide those features and imperfections.
There is a myriad of stain options now from browns to greys and even colours. Go with stain if you want the really rustic look. Go with paint if your design style is more modern. Or do a combination, which is how I achieved my finishes. I stained the wood first, then used paint to create the distressed marks. You can really change up the look by using a few different paint colors to distress.
3. Choose Your Tools
Your choice of tools will affect the finished outcome. For staining wood, I like to use a rag that I dip in stain then wipe on and wipe off until I get the stain darkness I desire. I have a “rough” brush now that I use specifically for distressing jobs. It’s an old 3″ wide paint brush whose bristles look like they have seen better days. I like the flaring bristles though because it gives a more random and worn appearance. A smaller and tighter brush will allow for a more precise application.
You can also use chains or nails to mark up your wood more if you are going really rustic. You will also need a high grit sandpaper (80 or 100 grit) to lightly sand between coats for a smoother finish and a lower grit (60 or 80 grit) for weathering the furniture edges if you desire.
4. Step Back Once In A While
It’s important to step back from your piece every once in a while to really take it in. So often you can get caught up in the moment of the project and work it in too much. By stepping back periodically to really eye up the whole project you can get a better sense of when you just need to stop. Yes, you do have to stop at some point and say it’s done!
The Process For Distressing Wood
Step 1: Stain or paint your wood
Step 2: Let it dry, then give it a light sanding. Wipe clean
Step 3: Dip the tips of your paintbrush into your first distressing paint color. Then wipe off as much as you can on the rim of your can. You want a minimal amount of paint on your paintbrush in order to get the lightly feathered distressed finish.
Step 4: With a light hand, softly brush your paintbrush on your wood surface going in the direction of the grain. I like to start at the corners since I know the first touch will be heavier and lighten up as I move along. Go about adding little sweeps of paint along the surface wherever you desire. If you feel like too much paint got onto an area, you have a little window of time in which you can take your stain rag (or a clean rag) and dab/rub at the paint to remove some of it or spread it out more.
Step 5: Let this first layer dry, then lightly sand. You can distress with a second or third color if you want, just follow the same process above.
Step 6: You can use a lower grit sandpaper (60 or 80) to remove patches of paint if you desire a weathered look. This is typically seen on corners, top surfaces, bumps or jut-outs that would be more exposed to wear over the years.
Step 7: Seal your wood with a clear varnish or furniture wax. This will protect it from fading or damage over the years.
Your Distressed Wood Project
Once you have distressed one wood project, you have the tools and knowledge to do more. And I am sure you will be excited to do more too! It really is a fun way to finish projects whether they are big or small. And like I mentioned before, there is no right or wrong way to distress. It’s a personal choice and you do whatever gets you the finish you prefer! Happy distressing!