Saturday, March 5, 2011

How to distress furniture and home decor

I recently received a question asking "how I distress"...I then realized I always mention when I distress a piece, but I never describe how I do it. There are probably hundreds of different methods that everyone uses. I will describe the method I use, but please know, there are other ways to go about this.

First, you really need to know your sandpaper. There are different grits/textures. The lower the number on the sandpaper, the higher the grit. For the most part, the grit number is printed on the back of the paper.

So, as you can see from the above photo this is a 60 grit sandpaper.

There are also sanding blocks....

For the majority of my projects, I use a palm sander. You can get ones at reasonable prices from $60-$75. Well worth the investment if you plan on using it often.

I personally determine the grit I will be using depending on the project I am doing. If I am sanding a finish right off the piece I use a very textured sandpaper. Usually a 50 or 60 grit. For example, I used it on this round table I just recently did. The before photo has a very thick maple color stain on it. Most likely a few coats. It took me about a 1/2 hour to sand this finish off refreshing the paper once.

The finished table can be seen HERE.

When distressing the painted finish on painted wood such as a piece of furniture, I use anywhere from a 100 to 120 grit. On large pieces I use my palm sander. I rub the sander all along the edges and areas that would have naturally worn over time had these been pieces that were 100 years old. You will learn how to use the sander through trial and error.

You can see on this hutch below that the sander got the edges of the entire piece. I am also sure to highlight any knicks and dings. For these, you angle or use a corner of your sander to get these areas. In addition, I lightly use the sander to the entire piece to fade the paint and give it a more natural appearance.

I also use my palm sander on my signs. I reinforce the edges by pressing harder with the sander, but also fade the lettering and any imperfections on the wood. The palm sander works perfect for these and again, I use about 100 grit on these. You will get the feel for the sander the more you use it. Please note also that you do not have to use a palm sander on any of this. You can literally just fold your sandpaper to a comfortable size and do it by hand. It just takes a lot longer and more elbow grease.

When doing metal, silver, tin, etc., I use my sanding block which was the second photo shown above. The reason I use this is because it has a smooth surface. The grit on sandpaper tends to scratch or dig into metal. I like to use a sanding block with an angled edge to get into hard to reach spaces. Again, I emphasis the distressing on edges and any embellishments. Here are some samples with the sanding block.

Distressing is not difficult, but definitely takes trial and error as mentioned above. I still paint over parts I have distressed that I am not happy with. It's simply a matter of getting comfortable with the sandpaper and areas you are working with. If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.


  1. Thank you for useful discussion on distressing home decor by sanding and various ways of sanding, along with clear photos.
    - Joy

  2. Thank you so much for the tutorial! Your table looks great! Is it possible to sand a piece by hand without a sander, or would that just take too long?

  3. @sharmin

    Hi Sharmin...Yes, you can definitely do it by hand. It is more time consuming, but if you do a piece here and there it is manageable. I just do so many pieces that it is easier for me to use a palm sander for the majority of my projects.....

    Thanks for your question....

  4. Great tips, Lisa! I'm thinking I need a new sander because whenever I have run mine all over a newly painted piece, it leaves circular bites~does yours ever do that, or do I just have a dud? :)

  5. @Kim @ Second Time Furniture

    To answer your question Kim,

    Are you using a circular sander or a palm sander? When I use my husbands circular sander I get those marks too so I stopped using it. My palm sander leaves those marks every now and then, which is why I tend to use a lighter grit. I'm sure you are like me and can feel out the types of pieces this will happen with. When that is the case, I use the palm sander for the edges and the sanding block just to tone down and fade the large areas. Make sense?

  6. Thanks for the great tips, Lisa! :) Your treasures are beautiful!

    xoxo laurie

  7. As I've said before, you are the master distresser :)

  8. Thank you for sharing this im about to attempt my very first furniture revival & distress so this is really helpful thanks

  9. This is a very helpful post--thanks for all the details. I have painted a few small pieces of furniture recently, and have not been happy with the distressing, so I keep painting over it! It's definitely a technique that requires practice. For me anyway. :)

  10. Thanks for the tut! I'm going to try my hand at building a table from scratch for my entry way (my Goodwill has been dry as a bone for months, darn it!), but I want it to look old and distressed (which isn't something I have a lot of experience with yet). Thanks again!

    Also, thanks for the sweet comment on My Yellow Umbrella. Appreciate it!

  11. Okay, I am in the trial and error stage. I feel I have sanded way too much resulting in too much of the under color showing. I am trying to decide whether I should try a antiquing brown stain over everything to tone down the visible under color, or if I should start over, and do way less sanding. Any thoughts?

  12. @bikeglass

    Hi there...It is really a preference. But, if you are really bothered by the way it turned out, I would start over. Only because if you add the stain and you don't like that, then you have wasted more time. Trust me when I say that in the beginning it is just a lot of trial and error...Soon you will have it all figured out...

    Take care,


  13. I wanted to thank for this great read!I really enjoyed reading
    roofer fort worth tx

  14. I am going to attempt my first disstressing project on an old nightstand. I was told to put car wax on the piece of furniture, then paint it and then sand it. Ever done this?

  15. Wow... that hutch is GORGEOUS. I've recently got this huge interest in refinishing every piece of furniture in my house. ha. We do have a hand sander. I have this idea of re-doing what we already have, as many of our pieces could look country-chic if they were redone. Why buy new? And then, of course, We will look for some funky old pieces to mess up too. Curious - what kind of paint do you use on your pieces? Any specifics? Thanks! Cassandra @

  16. oak dresser
    That is amazing. You do such an excellent job, so innovative.This is a very helpful post--thanks for all the details.

  17. I have painted a few small pieces of furniture recently, and have not been happy with the distressing, so I keep painting over it! It's definitely a technique that requires practice.Hotel furniture

  18. Thanks a lot for blogging this, it was unbelieveably informative and helped me tons. Furniture Repairs Bolton


  19. I really like the furniture above this is pretty much awesome than the modern
    Multiple Rattan Conservatory Furniture
    i would prefer this picture above in terms of designing


  20. Great post i really appreciate this post it seems that there's a lot of interesting on this site.
    i really like the furniture above it seems that's was fit color to my home garden.
    i really love home designing in fact in my home kitchen i got the best kitchen sinks and kitchen taps. we have to think what's the best design for our home so tha it will become more decent to look and clean. :)
    well anyway's i will bookmark your site for more interesting post. keep posting really interesting about home, user or readers
    will really appreciate it :)

  21. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that i have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. used office cubicles ft lauderdale

  22. Love the shabby chic look and a great post. Rattan Cube Sets

  23. We offer quality Cayman made furniture, mattresses, at the affordable prices. Find the perfect furniture to make your home complete at Cayman's Mattress and Furniture Gallery. For more info Email @caymanmattressexperts
    Mattress Experts Cayman

  24. what do I use to paint silver-plated items

  25. The comprehensive collection included paint, furniture, wall coverings, and lighting. He then, and even now, strives to create an experience with his Home collection, rather than just selling products.Demir Leather

  26. ** Download 16,000 Woodworking Plans & Projects
    16,000 Woodworking Plans With Step-By-Step Details, Photos, Materials Lists And More!