How to Distress Unfinished Furniture

Try some of these tips to give unfinished furniture a distressed look.

Here are some tips and suggestions on how to distress furniture:

sand arm edges of furniture to create rounded look

sand arm edges of furniture to create rounded look

Start by studying the antique you want to duplicate. We used an old child's chair to detect some signs of how antique furniture becomes distressed. On this chair, for example, at the point of each arm there was some loss of color and rounding of the edges. That is a great clue for something to do to the new chair or piece of furniture. Also consider duplicating any chips and marks that can come with age – a child's heels on the slats of a chair, for example.

Be sure to check the legs of furniture. Wear and tear can create nicks and rounded edges. These are great to duplicate as well.

The first step for distressing the new wooden furniture is to apply a clear coat of satin sealer. Remember that all antiques start out as new furniture with a new coat of finish.

Start the distressing process by sanding the arm edges of the furniture to create a rounded look.

Don't use a power sander for distressing furniture.

  • Repeat the sanding process for any foot rung that may exist. Do only the front portion because feet can't reach the back.

  • Use a coarse file to round off and scruff up the feet or runner of the chair.

  • Create some slight dents in the arms of the furniture with a hammer.

  • Use a 1/16" drill bit to place "worm holes" in the legs of the furniture. Four or five holes clustered together should do the job.

  • Another great distressing technique is to take a fine-point black marker and create a few specks on the legs and arms.

  • A special technique for creating black rings is done by spraying black paint on the bottom of a tin can, then pressing the can on the wood to create a black ring. Note: This works best on tabletops, not chairs. This works better than placing a water glass on the surface and waiting forever for a ring to set in.

  • The last thing to do for distressing furniture is to apply a coat of paste wax. It's best to use a dark paste wax to create an antique look. The wax brings out those worn areas created by the distressing process.

Be Smart: Don't go overboard with distressing furniture. Too much can be detrimental to the process.

Next Up

How to Use Gel Stain to Spruce Up Cabinets, Lamp Bases and More

Looking to update cabinets or wood furniture. Consider using gel stain, it has many advantages over traditional stain and won't cover the wood's natural grain like paint.

How to Refurbish an Old Dresser

Learn how to give an old piece of furniture new life using a combo of paint and stain.

Woodworking FAQ: Clear Finishes

Learn how to choose and use wood stains and clear protective finishes.

Wood Finishes 101

Follow this advice on the various types of wood finishes and when each one is used.

All About the Types of Paint and Finish

Learn what types of paints and finishes can be used on a variety of different surfaces.

All About Green Paints and Finishes

Green paint, or eco-friendly paint, is becoming a popular option for home decorating because it doesn't contain harmful VOCs. Check out the different types of natural paint to help you choose the best one.

How to Stain a Deck: What You Should Know

Properly staining and refinishing your deck will help protect it from harsh elements, thus extending the life of your deck and protecting your investment.

What's the Difference Between Polyurethane, Varnish, Shellac and Lacquer?

These terms for a finish or top coat are often used interchangeably, but there is a big difference. Learn when and where to use the correct one.

Tips for Choosing the Right Paint Finish

Paints come in a variety of finishes: flat, eggshell, semigloss, satin and high gloss. Learn tips on how to choose the best finish for your painting project.

All About the Different Types of Wood Finishes

Natural wood finishes enhance rather than cover the grain of the wood. Learn more about the different finishes to help you choose the right one for your home.

Stories We're Following

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Discover Made + Remade

See the latest DIY projects, catch up on trends and meet more cool people who love to create.

Make It. Fix It. Learn It. Find It.