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Paint the piece with various colored layers of paint, at least two or three. Play up the color combinations that were signature to different time periods -- it's also a great way to use up leftover house paint. Don't rely on just a brush or roller to apply paint. Try using a palette knife or painting spatula to apply one of the layers. This enhances the random breaks in the color when it's sanded down.
Sand layers using a power palm sander. Experiment with the different grits of sandpaper for various effects. Even a worn-out piece of sandpaper can give interesting results. Vary the pressure you apply to the sander and the way it is positioned. Sand down to the bare wood here and there for an additional spot of color.
Use a liquid paint stripper that can be controlled while pouring over the piece. Let it puddle up where desired; tip the piece to allow for drips. Experiment with the length of time leaving the stripper on before removing it to alter the ways the layers are removed. The stripper gives a clean break through layers of paint, which is something that can't be achieved by sanding.
For harsher wear and tear, there are different bits for a power hand drill, like wire wheels and grinding stones, that will rough things up even further.
Add a decorative stencil or lettering and then sand it back off slightly to give it a worn, aged appearance.
Create ring marks with paints or stains using lids and rims. To distress the mark, sand over it lightly.
Finish off distressed pieces with a couple coats of shellac to seal.
It's always fun to mix the old with the new, so I like to add a few modern paint touches to my distressed pieces. Use soft body artist acrylics to create colorful drips on the front of drawers. Paint skins, also known as acrylic sheets, can be made and added to furniture for an unexpected punch of color. Use them as arm covers, back plates to drawer pulls or simple random additions. To create skins, puddle up paints on a piece of glass, let dry and peel back. Toss or splatter paint onto your piece for that artful touch.
Adding years to decor is not reserved for just wooden furniture. I've also taken the sander to painted vinyl and heavier upholstered pieces to knock back the paint and give them a more aged appearance. All of the above techniques can be applied to cabinetry, trim work and doors.