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Common Mistakes When Distressing Furniture


In my previous article for this site, I’d outlined how you could take some brand spankin’ new furniture and “age” it until it looked like it had been in a cabin on the HMS Beagle. This process, while both easy and fun, is fraught with danger. It’s all too easy to get carried away and end up with a table that should just look distressed, but instead looks like Bruce Banner lost a game of Scrabble on it. Here are a few of the most commonly made mistakes that people new to the furniture distressing game make.

Going Hard on the Paint

This might be the only time you’ll see Waka Flocka Flame paraphrased on a furniture website, but it’s germane. Getting too enthusiastic with sanding/scratching/chipping the paint job will make the piece look destroyed as opposed to well-used. You want to achieve a finish that suggests a lifetime of use, so when sanding, a lighter touch is often better. Stay away from sandpaper with too rough a grain, and remember to focus the heavy sanding on parts of the piece that would have seen use (corners and edges mostly).

Using a hammer to add scratches and scrapes is an easy way to achieve that natural wear and tear look, but a light touch is all that’s needed. No swinging at the piece like David Ortiz. You want scratches, not gouges. A friend of mine once showed me a table that he’d purchased brand new, and then distressed with a hammer. It looked like he’d flipped it on the side and cowered behind it as a werewolf tried to chew through it. He ended up throwing it out (and getting me to help him carry it to the dumpster).

Like all aspects of distressing furniture, sanding is really fun, and once you get into it it’s almost comically easy to get carried away. Your end result is a piece that looks like it’s been a part of a family, not one that someone learned to juggle chainsaws over.

Jumping the Gun

You need to find the fun in watching paint dry, because nothing looks worse than a piece that’s been worked over while the paint was still wet. If you go at it before it’s dried completely, you run the risk of bunching the paint up unnaturally, making it look like slow-running lava.

A different effect that premature sanding can have is paint flaking off. As someone who wants their furniture to look like it has aged naturally, this is anathema to you. Wait at least eight hours after painting before doing any sort of sanding, and you can avoid these mistakes.

Not Embracing the Irony

It is ironic that we’re talking about avoiding shortcuts in the process of artificially aging furniture, but the truth of the matter is that this takes time. Whether you’re running out the clock while the paint dries, or you’re slowly and methodically applying scratches to the surface of a piece, the idea is to take your time and not rush any steps. Remember, it’s still a bargain to buy a new piece and take a few days making it look 150 years old, than actually buying a 150 year old piece. Why hurry?

Conor Robert Nally is a Gothenburg-based writer and editor. Visit his site here

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