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This beginner’s guide to distressing furniture the easy way walks you through the exact process to achieve that perfectly distressed look!

tutorial on how to distress furniture

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!

wooden night stand

Furniture Distressing Supplies

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Easy-to-Follow Guide to Distressing Furniture

removing hardware from a night stand

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

sanding a night stand to prepare for painting

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.

cleaning a sanded night stand to prepare for painting

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

rustoleum white chalk paint on a night stand

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.

how to distress furniture with rustoleum chalk paint on nightstand

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.

distressed night stand using sand paper and rustoleum white chalk paint

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!

distressed nightstand with rustoleum white chalk paint

Happy distressing 🙂


All our best,



  1. Kelly

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

    • Kelly

      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. Brianna

    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!

    • North Country Nest

      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!!

      • Brianna

        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 🙂

  3. Veronica Valenzuela

    Hi. I waxed a dining table but think I should of poly instead. Could I go over the wax with poly still??

  4. Shellye C

    Thanks for the walkthrough, we’re getting to work now; we’ll post after finished!

  5. Shellye C

    Okay, so we had a chance to wrap up the project. It looks just like some of the images we found online – super excited! Here is the before an after, we featured it on our article on refurbishing furniture,

    One tip: don’t go crazy and use an electric sander in the prep phase; just a good ol’ fashion rub down by hand ;). Anything more and the paint doesn’t adhere properly. In addition, we found that using a roller is helpful for flat surfaces, but this could just be due to our inexperience with painting.

    • North Country Nest

      Thank you for sharing, Shellye and for keeping me posted! I am so happy to hear it worked for you and your finished project looks amazing!

  6. Anaid

    Hello! I really enjoyed your tutorial. 😀 I was wondering which of the two chalk paints did you use for the dresser? I really liked the chalk paint color you used.

  7. Crystal

    I have been wanting to distress furniture but really felt intimidated but thanks to you I got the courage up and just finished my first coat of paint and letting it dry and I am sooooo excited!!!! Thank you for posting this tutorial.

    • North Country Nest

      Hi Crystal!
      Thank you for commenting! We are SO happy you took the leap and are tackling your first piece of furniture 🙂 Good luck, friend!

  8. kelly a halchak

    i am attempting my first try at a 2 tables we found in my mother in law’s attic leaving the top with the natural wood color and doing the chalked base i like the look of the piece you finished and had been looking for a color that won’t be too bright white would you recommend the linen white or the chiffon cream

    • North Country Nest

      Hey Kelly!
      I dont think the linen white would be too bright. You can always try a test spot and see if you like it. I think the wood top will also help tone it down a bit 🙂
      Good luck!

  9. Lisa

    I am planning on distressing bedroom furniture that was originally white and then painted black. I would like to go back to the white but distressed. Do I do anything different because the furniture has been painted?

    • North Country Nest

      Hi Lisa! Great question 🙂 If you’re using chalk paint, you won’t need to do much different. Just be aware that the black might show through upon distressing. If you don’t want any black showing, I would sand off the black first. Good luck!

  10. Teresa

    Hi there ,
    Thankyou for this easy to follow guide . I started with some glass to use as planters and just finished my first piece .. a vanity . Did you use special brushes ? I used old ones but good ones and they left some bristle marks . I sanded down a bite and it’s good enough . My question is that I am having some challenges re get the distressing going horizontally on the vanity ..What are some words of wisdom when using the sandpaper .. I know it sounds odd I just find that it looks scratchy but not in a good way .. Hoping you can help . .

    • North Country Nest

      Hi Teresa!
      Great question – what grit of sandpaper are you using? If you’re finding that the distressed portions are looking too scratchy, I would increase the grit so it’s more of a fine sanding versus a rough one you get with a lower grit sandpaper.
      Hope this helps!

  11. Stephanie

    I recently was going to pay someone to distress my dressers because she has one of the same pieces. Anyway she can’t now, my grandmother painted them white for me 10 years ago and I miss the original stain. After sanding, is any stain needed? I have never done this before

    • North Country Nest

      Hi Stephanie!
      Great question! You don’t necessarily need to stain the piece if you like the color of the wood but you do need to seal it for protection. You can get a clear polyurethane top coat that will protect the dresser so it lasts! 🙂 Good luck!

  12. Cathy L McNabb

    This is super easy. but I don’t want to use white chalk board paint. would an gloss enamel work as well.


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