How to Use Paint to Create an Antique Finish on Wood Furniture

how to make wood look old

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Overview
  • Working Time: 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 52 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $20 to $40

Have you ever bought something new but wished it looked antique? You can't buy character, but you can fake it with an antique paint finish. It is quite easy to antique a piece of newer wood furniture and make it look distressed by using paint and stain. 

The trick to making wood look realistically weathered is to not overdo it. The finish won't look natural if you attempt to create an overly distressed look. Our example aims at a distressed wood finish with a subtle charm. The painting technique described here can be applied to wood, laminate, or any furniture you want to look aged.

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What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sanding blocks, 150-grit and 220-grit
  • Power sander (optional)
  • Paintbrush

Materials

  • Painter's tape
  • Clean rag
  • Wood stain or brown paint
  • Matte paint, chalk paint, or milk paint

Instructions

  1. Prepare the Furniture

    First, remove all hardware and mask off any areas that you don't want to paint, using painter's tape. Carefully clean the item of any dust or grime. Make sure that the furniture is completely dry before you go onto the next step. 

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  2. Sand the Existing Finish

    Lightly sand the entire surface using a 150-grit sanding block. Sand just enough to remove any sheen, which will help the paint stick. 

    Next, use the sanding block completely remove the existing painted finish or stain in areas that would be prone to heavier wear, like the edges and high points. The goal is to get down to the raw surface of the wood so that the coloring agent can penetrate. If desired, you can use a power sander to make the process a bit faster.

    Tip

    If your furniture piece has multiple layers of caked-on paint that you don't want to show through, you can opt to strip the entire piece down to the bare wood. You can do this work yourself, or have the piece "dipped and stripped" by a professional, who will submerge it in a vat of solvent to remove the paint.

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  3. Color the Bare Wood

    Once the preliminary sanding is complete, apply wood stain or dark paint as a coloring agent to low spots and areas where wood has been exposed. Our project used walnut oil, but you can use any type of wood stain or dark paint for similar results. If you are using dark paint, thin it down a bit with some water. The best way to apply the coloring agent is with a clean rag. Wipe away any excess.

    Don't worry if the coloring overlaps onto surrounding paint. The next layer of paint will cover this. 

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  4. Apply the Main Color

    Next, coat the entire piece of furniture with a thin layer of your selected paint. The thinner the layer, the easier the next steps will be. We opted to use a matte-finish paint, which works well when you don't want to use a primer. Chalk paint or milk paint provides a similar sheen, but it may need to be sealed with a wax finish. 

    Tip

    If you are applying latex paint over a varnished finish, or one previously painted with oil-based paint, a thin layer of paint primer applied before painting will help the latex paint adhere.

    Remember, the lighter the hand, the better this antiquing will turn out. Thick coats of paint will make it harder to sand and achieve the look you seek. Let the first coat dry for 24 hours before proceeding to the next step.

    how to distress wood to make it look old
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  5. Apply a Second Coat

    Applying a second coat of paint will ensure that all the excess coloring has been thoroughly covered and isn't bleeding through, making your end result look more natural. Also, if you are working with a piece of unpainted wood furniture, you may opt to use a different color for your second coat, so that more layers show through when you distress the wood.

    The second coat should also be applied in a thin layer. Allow it to dry completely before proceeding.

    how to antique wood to make it look old
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  6. Sand and Buff

    This next step is where the magic happens. Using a 150-grit sanding block, buff down the edges so that the dark areas start to peek through. Start slow and take a step back every so often to evaluate the distressed look. Avoid the temptation to sand excessively.

    Next, take a 220-grit sanding block and lightly sand to remove a little more of the top layer of paint near the edges. This step is going to reveal the original finish, which in this example is white paint.

    Finally, soak a rag in coloring agent and buff it into the edges. Immediately wipe away any excess. To make the finish look even more aged and rustic, you can lightly buff more coloring agent into the matte paint throughout the entire piece.

    how to distress wood to make it look old using paint
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  7. Add Finishing Touches

    The final step is to use a 220-grit sanding block to very lightly sand the entire piece. If you wish, you can also use a butter knife or other tool to scrape some areas to add more character. Try to distress areas where a piece of furniture naturally experiences such damage. In our example, we nicked the corners on several drawers for a natural look. 

    how to antique wood using paint to make it look old
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