How to distress painted wooden Furniture for an aged or 'chippy' finish

Posted by Carolyn Moore on

As you may know by now, on raw wood or any porous surface, milk paint sinks in like a stain, and gives a beautiful, uniquely velvety smooth finish, which in itself has a authentic, period feel to it whilst providing a solid, highly durable coverage. But you might want to go a stage further and give your piece a distressed look, and this can be achieved in a number of ways, either by accident or design!

There are several ways of distressing wooden furniture, either before or after painting with milk paint.

Firstly, for a light distressed finish, you can ‘hand-distress’ a solid paint covering by using fine sand paper around the edges and on details where it would naturally distress over time to reveal the wood beneath. You can make the process easier by applying wax to the corners/edges before painting, so the paint resists in those areas. 

if you have a piece of furniture with old paint or varnish, if you leave the old finish in place instead of sanding it down, the milk paint may resist and flake naturally, resulting in a lovely ‘chippy’ distressed finish which is highly sought after. It can be unpredictable, but for many upcyclers that is part of the fun!

You can actually achieve this chipping effect artificially on a new wood piece, with a bit of help! Sausha,AKA Sweet Pickins Milk Paint explained how she aged a beand new pine mantel from Home Depot:

"I stained the pine mantel so you will see dark wood when the paint chips (I used Minwax in dark walnut), gave it a light dusting of a clear coat (she used Rustoleum Clear enamel, but any clear varnish or know sealer would work) so the paint would resist and then painted with 2 coats of milk paint (Sweet Pickins Milk Paint in Flour Sack).  After my paint was dry, I sanded to get all the loose paint off make the paint buttery smooth and then done!  




As Saush said, any distressing works best when the wood beneath is darker - bright new pine showing through doesn’t look aged, so in that case it is a good idea to stain the wood before painting/distressing. You can even layer paint colours by using a darker colour first and a lighter colour on top, then distressing back to let the darker colour show through – this creates a wonderful effect.

Other products are available such as Antique Crackle Glaze, which is applied between coats to create an ‘alligator’ crackle effect by applying under or between coats of paint. But however you do it, to get a truly authentic vintage finish, always choose a period style paint such as milk paint, which will result in a rich, matt finish as would find on period pieces.


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