Introduction: Distressing Wood Furniture for an Antique Look

We built this simple rustic bench for our mudroom, which is the main entry to our house, since no one uses the front door.  For the complete instructions on building the bench itself (sorry no photos but feel free to comment with questions!) visit my wife's blog,  This Instructable is just about the antique finish she did for it.

Step 1: "Aging" the Wood

Since nothing screams "newly built!" like sharp corners and edges, the first step is to soften all those hard lines.  We're trying to make the wood look older than it is, and anyone who's moved a few times knows that the corners are the first things to get dinged up.  So start by taking a hammer and hitting the corners and edges of the seat and legs.  Then, I took the hammer and dropped it from about 18" above the seat, to add in gouges and nicks to the seat top.  You can also take the claw end of the hammer and drag it along the surface for longer scrapes and scratches.  Since this bench was made from pine lumber, the wood was soft enough that it didn't take much force to soften the edges and corners, but if you're working with a hardwood like cherry or oak, then you'll need to apply a little more force.

Step 2: Adding the First Coat of Paint

We used two coats of contrasting paint to make the bench look like it had been painted over in the past.  So we went with white underneath, and then added the turquoise on top of it once it was dry.  We just used paint we had on hand that was leftover from painting the new baseboard trim and back door to the mudroom.  We used Behr Premium Plus Paint + Primer in One in Satin finish.  You don't want anything glossy since it's supposed to look aged.  You can do additional "old layer" coats if you want, or stain the wood before applying the white coat.  

We applied the white paint with a 2 1/2" angle Purdy brush, literally just slapping it on.  It doesn't have to cover every single spot of exposed wood, since you're going to paint over the entire thing in the next step.  Be sure to get it on the legs, too.

Step 3: Adding the Second Coat of Paint

Once that first coat is completely dry, you can add your second coat with the other color.  This will be your "main" color for the piece of furniture you're working on.  Go over the white areas you just painted and fill in the spots where there's still bare wood showing.  You want to leave some of the white exposed, so that it shows through as if the top layer has worn off through the years.  Below is a close-up of one of the corners that has been hammered, then covered with the second coat of paint but still allowing a little of the white underneath to show through.

In the photo, you can see there's a little bit of shine from the satin finish paint.  Don't worry, we'll take care of that in the next step.

Step 4: Sanding and Distressing

We used 220 grit fine sandpaper to scratch up the surface of the whole piece of furniture, to sand out the sheen from the satin paint.  Then, we went around the edges and quickly rubbed them with the fine sandpaper to expose the white paint and the raw wood underneath.  CAUTION: When using sandpaper quickly, it heats up fast and can burn your fingers, so wear work gloves during this step!  

The more you sand, the more of the raw wood underneath will show through; sand lightly and you'll just expose the paint underneath.  Vary the amount of sanding you do in spots, since not all edges wear evenly.  Think about how the piece is used in day-to-day life.  I sanded the front edge of the seat, the corners, and the front edge of the cross beam at the bottom (kids like to put their shoes on things!) more than say, the underside of the seat or the back of the legs.  You don't want a perfectly straight or even wear on the edges.

Step 5: Finishing Up

Once you've got the distressing looking the way you want it, wipe the whole piece down with a clean dry cloth to remove excess sanding dust.  You can finish it with a coat of Paste Wax (we like this stuff from Minwax, which we used on the Farmhouse Table and Console Table projects), or a low-sheen polyurethane.  Or not coat it at all, like we did, since it's not going to be subject to a ton of wear and tear and we don't have kids.  As you can see, one of our "kids" is checking out the new piece of furniture.

It's a great addition to our mudroom, and will be handy this winter when we have to put on boots to go walk the dogs or feed the chickens in the snow.

For more how-to projects and photos of renovations we've done so far, check out my wife's blog at