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How to distress furniture

Instead of dishing out bags of money for the same product at a store, why not do a bit handy work? Grab some old furniture and a bit of paint, and find a method to age furniture that works best for you.

distressed dresser

The old sandpaper trick

This is probably the most popular method for distressing furniture and is quite easy to master. Paint your piece in the colour of your preference, and make sure your paint fully dries; otherwise you run the risk of chipping. Depending on the effect you’re going for, it’s best to use 120-grit sandpaper or higher. Regardless of whether you use a mechanical sander or do it by hand, this method is best for edge work (like corners and drawer sides), but you can also apply it to the entire surface. Do so with caution, though, and sand down areas that would naturally age first.

The problem with using sandpaper is that the distressing often looks fake and unnatural. It might also leave deep scratches in your furniture piece, so watch out for that.


Turpentine is difficult to handle at first, but it is a great distressing trick to know. This method must be done in a well-ventilated area, and you must wear gloves. Paint your piece, and remember it’s best to use turpentine when the paint feels dry to the touch. Apply the turpentine to a soft cloth, and rub the areas you want to distress. Keep in mind it might take some time.

The great thing about using turpentine is that it really gives your furniture a realistic aged look, without looking intentional. It takes time and patience, but it’s worth it in the end.

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Steel wool

Tip: If you’re looking for an impeccably authentic feel to your distressed piece, grab a hammer and a pry bar, and use them to create dents and scratches for a more worn look. You can then paint on top or simply emphasize the damage with a dark wood stain.

Steel wool is usually overlooked when it comes to distressing furniture — people most often jump right to the sandpaper — but it actually leaves a very natural-looking, soft finish and can even be paired with any of the aforementioned methods.

Use steel wool (wear gloves!) after applying the paint and it feels dry to the touch. We recommend using the fine grade steel wool — from 0 to 000. It won’t scandalously scratch off your paint. Simply rub the steel wool pad on the surface you wish to distress. It’s an easy process.

Note: Steel wool leaves a grey residue behind, so abstain from using it on light-coloured pieces of furniture. Dark colours will be fine.

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