How to Paint and Distress Wood Furniture for a Perfect Patina

Use this easy guide to distress furniture and add a colorful weathered finish to flea market finds and antique treasures.

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 2 days
  • Skill Level: Kid-friendly

For the perfect piece of furniture to give a distressed paint finish, scour flea markets or secondhand shops for something that's solid wood with a stained finish. Don't worry if it has scratches or watermarks; the painted finish will hide those flaws. Look for a piece with lines you love, that will look good in your space.

You'll also need to select two colors of furniture paint. You can choose two shades of the same color, as we did, or for a bolder look, choose complementary or contrasting colors. We chose latex paint for its ease of use; however, oil-based paints are known for their durability and are often the go-to option for wood trim and cabinetry. Once you've chosen your piece and the paint colors, follow our step-by-step instructions for creating a look that appears aged over time.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drop cloth
  • Sandpaper
  • Paintbrush
  • Small container for mixing paint
  • Foam brush
  • Paper towels
  • Tack cloth or rag


  • Wood furniture
  • Paint, in desired colors


  1. prepping the wood surface
    Jason Donnelly

    Prep the Surface

    Place your furniture piece on a drop cloth and lightly sand the wood to create a rough surface. Apply different levels of pressure as you sand, as this causes the wood to absorb more paint in some areas. Wipe the wood clean using a tack cloth or rag.

  2. Apply Base Paint

    Using your darkest shade of paint, apply the first coat to the wood. Spread the paint thin enough to allow cracks to show through. Allow the paint to dry for 24 hours.

  3. creating a paint wash
    Jason Donnelly

    Create a Paint Wash

    Place a small amount of your lighter shade of paint in a container. Mix in water, one teaspoon at a time, until the paint is thin, but not so thin that it bubbles when you apply it. This wash will go over your first coat of paint to increase the layered, distressed look.

  4. applying top layer paint on table
    Jason Donnelly

    Apply Paint Wash

    Apply the wash using a foam brush. For an antiqued look, wipe some areas with paper towels while the wash is still wet. Allow the paint to dry for 24 hours.

  5. distress edges of table
    Greg Scheidemann

    Distress Wood Furniture Edges

    To create an even more antiqued look, lightly sand the edges and corners of the surface with fine-grit sandpaper, concentrating on areas of natural wear to keep it looking authentic. Wipe everything clean with a tack cloth, and you've completed your painted, distressed patina.

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