The Quick & Easy Guide to Furniture Distressing

There is just something so wonderful about painting and distressing furniture. I love the way the old wood shows through the paint. I love that no two pieces ever turn out the same. I love that a newly painted piece can still have that rustic look with just some sand paper.

Distressing furniture is my absolute favorite. Not only because I love the look, but on a scale of one to amateur, it scores pretty well in the, “anyone can do this and not mess it up” category.

If you’re loving the distressed look as much as I am, but a little unsure of how to get started, I created a super quick and easy tutorial on the basics of distressing furniture. I promise it’s easy and even the most creatively challenged person can tackle it without fear!


The Supplies

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The Process


Step one. If your piece of furniture has any handles, hinges, pulleys, etc., remove those with the screwdriver or drill.


Step two. Lightly sand all surfaces of the furniture. It doesn’t need to be anything too crazy. The object of this step is to rough up the surface so the chalk paint has something to stick to. The positive of chalk paint is that it doesn’t need to go on completely unfinished wood. Some people don’t even sand their furniture before they paint, but I think it never hurts to do a quick once-over.


Step three. Wipe down the entire piece of furniture with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove all the saw dust and dirt.


Step four. After the piece is dry, paint! Depending on the look you are going for, apply however many coats are necessary. I usually like a more even and heavy cover, so I will apply two full coats and may go back a third time to touch-up some areas.


Step five. After the paint dries, grab your sand paper (again, I used 80 grit), and lightly scuff off the paint from the edges and other places that would naturally see wear and tear. Start small because it’s always easier to add more distress than to take it away. I’ve done some pieces with very minimal distressing and others with almost all of the paint taken off. This all depends on what you want and the look you are going for.

Step six. Wipe down the furniture with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove any dust.


Step seven. Apply the polyurthene topcoat. I usually use a cheap chip brush and just throw it away after I’m finished.

Step eight. Re-install the hardware (if you had any) and enjoy your newly distressed piece!

In these pictures, I still haven’t figured out the new hardware, so it’s going bare for a little bit!


Happy distressing 🙂


All our best,


About North Country Nest

Hi, we're Brett & Kelly! We're tackling our first home renovation and would love for you to join us on our journey of reno projects, DIYs and home decor tips.

7 thoughts on “The Quick & Easy Guide to Furniture Distressing

  1. Can I use chalk paint on laminate covered particle board? I don’t know what the item is made of, does it matter?

    1. Hi Kelly!
      Yes, I’ve chalk paint on laminate particle board with great results. I would first go over the entire piece with a 60-80 grit piece of sandpaper just to rough it up a bit. Good luck

  2. I love your step by step guide! You make it so simple and make painting with chalk paint more desirable! One thing I noticed in other people’s blogs and tutorials when using chalk paint is they typically finished with wax, not polyurethane. I really wanted to avoid using wax because it seems it’s a much more labor intensive process and doesn’t hold up in the long run from everything I’ve read??!! I really don’t want to refinish my furniture every year with wax after taking the time to do it all once, so I was so excited to see your post with a different option!! I wanted to ask you if the polyurethane was okay to be applied only one time for the lifetime of the furniture or if two coats would hold up better? I would be refinishing a set of bedroom furniture if that helps.

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Brianna! Thank you so much for the kind words; we’re ecstatic to know this guide has helped you out! For your bedroom furniture, I would assume one coat is fine for the poly. I only put one coat on the night stands featured in this post and it’s holding up really well. If you were doing something that was going to see a little more wear-and-tear, like dining room furniture, I wold opt for two or three coats. Good luck and please let us know if you have any more questions!!

      1. Thanks so much for your response! That sounds good! It helps to know that the one coat is working out good for you guys with your bedroom set. And I’m glad you said that because the dining room set is actually on my list of our furniture I want to refinish after I tackle this first project! Lol thanks again for all your advice 🙂

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