How to Distress Wood For Shabby Chic Style | DIY Crafting

The process of "shabby'ing" up your favorite piece of wood furniture or decor is not at all difficult, and the end result - that beautiful rustic appearance - is always fabulously delicious.

Distressed Vintage Jewelry Box
Painted with Ivory Chalk Paint
I've been distressing jewelry boxes, jewelry organizers, pictures frames and decor for a while now.  I have learned it's not always easy on the hands, especially fingernails, so I recommend you wear gloves of some sort.

Since most of what I work on is fairly small wooden pieces, I use rubber gloves, and a lot of the time just on my right hand.  A glove just makes life easier and keeps my hands looking "church ready."

Remove Gloss and Shine

The first thing you will have to decide is if the piece you will be working on has been finished with a glossy finish from shellac
or some sort of varnish.  If it does, you'll need to remove that to some extent so the paint will adhere better.  The last thing you want is for your paint to just 'slide' off in big chunks.  Arrrgh!

There are a couple of ways to do this. This post I did provides a bit of instruction on how to easily de-gloss wood and make it ready to work on.

Now Comes The Fun Part - Painting and Distressing

Once your piece is dry (from the de-glosser) and/or dusted off (from the sandpaper), you are ready to paint your piece!  Fun!  Choose an awesome color - whatever color you like. I like using chalk paint made from acrylic paint, and I make my own. Not only does it sand well when you're trying to reveal the darker wood underneath, but I love the bright colors and the finish of acrylics.

You can also use regular latex paint or purchase pre-made chalk paint like Martha Stewart's or Annie Sloan's. 

You will probably have to paint at least a couple of coats.  If you're going light paint on dark wood, you may need to do 3 coats.  Give the paint at least several hours to dry, more if it is humid.

Now you are ready to start distressing, by sanding around the corners and edges to whatever extent you want your finished piece to be.  It can be very lightly distressed, or medium or heavily distressed.  And where you have embellishments in the surface, those make the most gorgeous areas of all.
Levels of Distressing from Light to Heavy

A lot of times I will start with a fine grit sandpaper and experiment to see how well that grit reveals the under layer.  Obviously heavier grit sandpaper will take off more, which is perfect if what you want is a heavily distressed piece.

Waxing and Buffing For A Beautiful Finish

I use a paste wax, like Minwax or SC Johnson paste wax, or some sort of varnish to give it a nice finishing sheen.  Minwax comes in a neutral tone, and also a darker tone that will darken the wood a little, which looks good when the wood I am using is a blonder wood (like above).

Use old rags to apply the wax, making sure to completely cover the piece. I use old sweatshirt fabric. Then let it dry at least 20 to 30 minutes. Cooler room temperatures or high humidity may require a little bit longer dry time.

Once the paste wax has dried, buff it with a different soft rag.  Again, I use old sweatshirt fabric or soft cotton (terry cloth sometimes leaves fuzz behind). Make it nice and shiny!

One thing I found is that the clear wax sometimes collects in the nooks and crannies of the wood, and after drying, may show up as white specks.  They're not always evident to the naked eye, but if you take a closeup picture (as you will need to do if you are selling it online) and put it on your computer screen, believe me they'll show up there.

Or hold it up for inspection in bright sunlight.  If you have a good stiff finger brush, that sometimes works to clear away the dried wax.  But I've also had to resort to a wire brush for more stubborn areas.

So, that's the process.  Happy crafting, and I hope you have fun!  And send me pictures of your finished pieces.  I would love to see and share them!