How to Crackle Paint to Create a Distressed Look on Furniture

Breathe new life into old furniture with this simple technique.

Wooden chair with crackle paint
Cavan Images / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr, 30 mins - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 hr, 30 mins - 2 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner

The modern farmhouse trend is still going strong. However, if you are not ready to shiplap a wall or install barn doors, consider creating a distressed look on a signature piece of furniture for the same aesthetic. You can do many types of distressing techniques to furniture, but crackle paint is the most common and fun method. Crackle painting gives a painted surface a more worn and aged look than chalk paint does, and it’s a simple technique that anyone can complete. 

What Is Crackle Paint?

Crackle paint doesn’t come in a can. It’s a technique that involves applying a layer of crackle medium between two layers of paint. The crackle medium is a clear, water-based product designed to create various cracks in a top coat of paint to let the base coat show through. You can use any latex or acrylic paint for the base and topcoat. The base coat is what shows through the cracks. Complementary colors work best for this technique.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 sheet 150-grit sandpaper
  • 1 orbital sander (optional)
  • 1 tack cloth or rag
  • 2 paintbrushes
  • 1 paint roller (optional)

Materials

  • 1 container crackle medium or white school glue
  • 1 can primer (optional)
  • 1 can semi-gloss or satin latex paint
  • 1 can matte or flat latex paint
  • 1 paint roller cover (optional)
  • 1 container water-based polyurethane sealant (optional)

Instructions

  1. Select the Piece

    While most people associate wood with a crackle finish, the technique can be used on materials such as concrete, metal, stone, plastic, and more. However, this tutorial will focus on using the crackle paint technique on wood, a material that is exceptionally well suited for the application. 

  2. Prepare the Work Area

    Keep your floors and other surfaces safe by covering them with paper or a drop cloth. Make sure the room is well ventilated, and that you have all your supplies on hand before getting started.

  3. Prep the Surface

    Sand the surface of the wood furniture piece. It’s essential to remove any bumps and roughen up any previous finishes so the paint sticks better to the surface. If you are refinishing a large piece of furniture, it’s better to use an orbital sander. Once the sanding is complete, wipe down the surface with a tack cloth to remove dust or debris.

  4. Apply Primer, If Needed

    If you do not want any of the furniture’s previous color to show through, you will need to apply a primer. (If you do want the previous color to show through, skip this step.) Brush a coat of primer onto the surface and allow it to dry thoroughly.

  5. Apply the Base Coat

    Apply the base coat to the furniture piece, brushing in the direction of the wood grain. Remember, the base coat is what will show through the crackle paint. Allow it to dry and apply another coat of paint if needed. After the second coat of paint, allow the furniture to dry overnight. 

    Tip

    You can use any latex paint base coat color, but a semi-gloss or satin is ideal so that the color shimmers in the light.

  6. Apply Crackle Medium

    For the crackle medium, you have two choices: conventional prepackaged medium or white school glue. Both types of mediums will result in a crackle finish. However, white school glue is more cost-effective.

    Use a paintbrush to apply the medium onto the furniture piece. For finer hairline cracks, brush on a thin layer of medium. For larger cracks, apply a thicker layer of medium.

  7. Let Dry

    If using a commercial crackle medium, it needs to dry for one to four hours before applying the topcoat. However, refer to the directions on the bottle for suggested drying time. School glue doesn’t need to be completely dry for the effect to work, but it needs to be tacky to the touch. 

  8. Apply Top Coat

    Use a clean paintbrush or paint roller to apply the topcoat on top of the crackle medium layer. You should see the crackle effect instantly. Any area with the crackle medium will cause the topcoat to shrink or crack to reveal the base coat underneath. Next, allow the piece to dry. This step may take several hours, but it’s best to allow it to dry overnight. 

  9. Distress

    Once the furniture piece is dry, determine If you want the furniture piece to have a more distressed look. Think about what parts of the furniture sees typically wear and tear, such as corners and edges. These are great places to add some distressed details. Use the 150-grit sandpaper to remove some of the paint in these areas, but don’t go overboard. 

  10. Seal

    Once your item is perfectly distressed, lock in its finish with a protective sealant. Follow the sealant instructions before using the item. Then, brush on a coat and allow it to dry. If you want to allow the furniture piece to naturally distress further with use, skip the sealant coat.