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How to Do a Distressed Finish on New Wood for a Rustic Look

Updated on January 30, 2013
The finished product. Not the contrasting base color here and there.
The finished product. Not the contrasting base color here and there. | Source

Faux finishes have been a hit for a couple of years now and one of the most popular is a distressed rustic look. If you don't know this look has several distinct characteristics associated with it.

  • Multiple layers of paint
  • Antique or faux-antique handles and knobs
  • Knicks and dings (to make it look older than it is)

There are two ways to create this look on a new piece of furniture. One is fairly simple but doesn't have the detail and the other one is the distressed look with the works. Either one can be used on an older piece of furniture but also compliment new wood and unfinished furniture.

Base Coat
Base Coat | Source

Keep It Simple Sam (KISS)

The simple method requires only paint supplies. You don't have to ding the wood here. Again this version has less detail but over all still have a pretty good effect.

What you'll need

  • 2" or larger paint brush
  • Paint stirrer
  • Two contrasting paint color
  • Sawhorses or plastic (to protect the area where you are painting

This method is a simple painting technique that will give the effect of wear especially around the edges where you might generally have the wear anyway. It is also the method I used in the photos of the headboard.


  1. Ensure that the piece is clean of any residues or loose sawdust. The last thing you want is paint not sticking or getting stuff in your paint can.
  2. Select your top coat and bottom coat of paint. In the headboard to the side and top I used a chocolate brown base and then a light green top. The contrasting colors make the distressed effect stand out a bit more that color that might complement each other or that are only shades apart, like navy blue and black for example.
  3. When painting the base coat the coverage is up to you. Some distressed looks, including the one in the video below allow the wood to show through. However, I painted my thoroughly. My thinking is this: an older piece of furniture is going to have multiple layers of paint and finish on them. If that's the case there's no way you'll ever see the original wood unless you stripped it first.
  4. After allowing the paint to dry you're ready for your top coat. This is where the faux look come in. When you dip your brush into the paint pail only put a little paint on the end of the brush.
  5. As you paint fan out the top coat as thin as you can even. You don't want complete coverage here. Start somewhere in the center and work to the edges of the piece. This will allow the base coat to show through near joints and edges of doors and drawers. This will give the illusion of wear in the usual areas.
  6. Allow this coat to dry and finish it off with vintage looking hardware and you are set!

That's pretty much it. Remember the last thing you want is perfection.

Finished Product
Finished Product | Source

The Works

The works employs similar painting techniques, however, there is much more to the wood prep prior to any painting.

For this you'll need:

  • Hammer and a nail, nail punch or awl
  • Chain
  • Screwdriver
  • Any other object of mayhem

The goal of the works here is to beat your furniture up prior to painting, so really anything that can cause a little damage and would be the last thing you want hear the furniture is what you are aiming to use.

How to do The Works:

  1. First things first here, order of operations for the destruction is up to you. Often times the chain is used last though, to give an effect on the paint.
  2. To use the hammer and nail, randomly drive a nail (a framing nail e.g. 8 penny or 16 penny works well to create a dimple about 1/8" in diameter) in until you get past the angled point and to the shank. The goal here is not to create a hole in the wood just a few dimples here and there.
  3. You can also go solo with the hammer if you like. Randomly bang the hammer here and there to create small divots. I do however, recommend using a normal hammerhead for this step and not a waffle head that usually comes on a framing hammer. You want to show wear not anger issues!
  4. Use a screwdriver to create small gouges and scrapes along the top and sides of the piece. again you're trying to create the look of wear so be judicious with the screwdriver, too many and people will think Freddie Kruger has come to visit for awhile. Don't drive it in, especially a phillips screwdriver, just a few scraps and dings will suffice
  5. Now we come to the chain. It's time to release some of that pent up aggression. This can be done before after the painting has been done (again the painting method remains the same as the simple method above). Take the two ends of the chain in your hand and lightly (or as lightly as you see fit) hit the furniture with the chain. Dents and dings everybody, dents and dings.
  6. Complete your painting with the above method and finish off with some vintage handles.

There you have it a nice piece of faux distressed furniture for any room in the house. Check out the video below for some more ideas for distressing new wood furniture.


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