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How to Distress Painted Wood Furniture (or Cabinets)

Posted on January 9, 2019 by KylieMawdsley

Whether you love the rustic charm of ‘lived-in’ furniture pieces or want to cover up your lacklustre painting efforts, distressing painted furniture is a great way to add charm to your home!

But, before you get started, if you want to distress a piece 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 primer, you should think twice before you distress.

How to paint and distress wood furniture. Example on retro, mid century dresser

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. The above piece had gray primer and the layered look is on purpose.

Buffet painted bole by Van gogh (1)

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

How to paint and distress wood furniture (1)



  • 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 at least some of the dust
  • 150 grit sandpaper
  • touch-up paint and paintbrush
  • screwdriver to remove handles/knobs

Before you get down n’ dirty, find the least noticeable place on your cabinet/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.

benjamin moore stone house with black painted and distressed buffet hutch with green accents

And now on to distressing your furniture or cabinets…


Remove the handles if you haven’t painted them, this will make it easier to manoeuvre 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.


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.

How to paint and distress wood furniture (4)

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. Once the sandpaper has a lot of paint on it, you’ll want to get a fresh piece.


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

How to paint and distress wood furniture (3)

*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. 

And that’s it, that’s all!

Chat soon,

Kylie M Interiors Edecor and Edesign


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The Best Paint Colours for Cabinets

The Best White Paint Colours from Benjamin Moore

5 Budget-Friendly Ideas to Update Your Home 




  1. 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.

    1. 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:)

    1. 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. 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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