How to Distress Painted Wood Furniture (or Cabinets): How-to’s and Photos

How-to Distress Painted Wood Furniture (or Cabinets)

(If you still need to paint your cabinets, then look at this post How to Paint Wood Cabinets and Furniture)

Super Quick How-to Video:  How to Distress Painted Wood Furniture or Cabinets


Otherwise, read on my friend!

 van gogh chalk paint bole painted and distressed buffet rust colour


Something to consider BEFORE you distress…

If you are wanting to distress something that has primer underneath, you need to make sure that the primer and the paint on top aren’t high contrast with each other.  In other words if you have a piece that’s painted black and you used white or even light gray primer, you should think twice before you distress.

Because the sandpaper has to cut through the primer BEFORE it gets to the wood finish underneath, there will be areas where snippets of the primer will be exposed (and nothing you can do about it…)  The same applies if you are painting over a previously painted underneath.


black buffet hutch painted and distressed before and after photo

This piece above has more Distressing than the average piece – it’s all about personal taste!


vintage bookshelf painted robins egg blue painted and distressed

This piece shows an average amount of Distressing.



  • Palm Sander and an extension cord (along with requisite dust mask)  I personally love The Mouse by Black and Decker
  • Sheets – to cover the surrounding areas to capture atleast some of the dust
  • 150 grit sandpaper
  • Touch-up paint and paint brush
  • Screwdriver to remove handles / knobs


Before you get down n’ dirty, find the least noticeable place on your cabinets / furniture and just tap the sander to the edge of it to see how it removes the paint.

If the paint gets gummy – it’s too soon – you need to let your paint cure enough before sanding. (Curing time varies depending on coats of paint and humidity).  Most pieces are ready to be distressed 24 hrs after the final coat.

If that paint gets a ‘peeled’ kind of look rather than a ‘worn’ look, then you did not prep well enough.  If you did not properly your paint will strip off faster than a showgirl.  What to do then?  Keep on sanding, get all of that paint off and start again.


And now on to distressing your furniture or cabinets…

painted bench black and distressed

Step 1Remove the handles if your piece has any, this will make it easier to manouver your way around the doors.  Yes, you could remove the hinges and take the doors to the garage, however I hate taking things off of hinges more than I have to as it can be a bugger to rehang them straight and without stripping the holes unnecessarily, so think twice about it.


Step 2 – Using 150 grit sandpaper, place the palm sander on an approx 30 degree angle – just enough to hit the edge without scuffing the surrounding areas.  Do not put any excess pressure on the sander and basically let it do the work for you.  Run it over the edge once at a rate of about 1 edge (30″) of framework every 5 seconds.

Keep a tight eye on the angle of the palm sander.  If it’s on the wrong angle, it can scuff up the paint and if you waver too much it can skid off and put a blemish on the finish – just go smooth and steady.

Once you get the hang of things, you can practice slightly rocking the sander slightly to blend your distressing into the paint and widen the path of your distressing.  However, to start – just keep her straight and steady.

Be prepared to go through quite a bit of sandpaper as this type of edge sanding really wears the paper away.


Step 3 – Wipe away the dust from all of the cabinets so you can see where any scuffing is.  Use your leftover paint and paint brush to feather out these areas and blend them in.

*Take it easy on the distressing, you can always add more after the fact and it’s more difficult to fix it after it’s done. 


chalk painted dresser halo distressed


And that’s it, that’s all!

If you want a bit more detail or information, please view my quick video…How to Distress Painted Wood Furniture or Cabinets

If you like this post and want to see more quasi-weekly updates, please consider subscribing to my site!  You might also enjoy this post here…Painted Wood Furniture and Cabinets – A Gallery of Before and Afters


Happy Decorating (and painting…and distressing…)

Legal Notice:    All the information and Kylie M Interiors watermarked images are the property of Kylie M Interiors, all rights reserved.  Please just ask if you would like to borrow any of my images (with full credit) and I’m sure that I’ll be happy to oblige


  1. Lorraine Audet says

    Hi Kaylie. I was surprised there were no empty Bailey’s bottles in that corner!!!!!!!!!!!! I love what you did with this room. I wished I’d had this info before we changed our cupboard doors.

    • says

      I think my allegiance has switched to red wine! Much more affordable (and healthy…in moderation…) Thankyou for the compliment, I’m really happy with them too! And don’t worry, your kitchen is looking very beautiful:)

    • says

      Thanks Scott (BTW for everyone else, Scott is a great local Realtor). Yes, the kitchen is always a big deal when selling and it can also be the most expensive room to update – it’s great to save money where you can!!!

  2. laura c says

    Thanks for posting these pictures and the information about paint and primer. We’re about to start a reno and I needed something just a little distressed and earthy to balance out the look I’m going for….this is just the right amount of distressed in my opinion. Love the color too. Some of the stuff I’m finding online is just waaaay too distressed for me.

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