Here are some of the main tips I can give about distressing furniture pieces in order to have them look antiqued and to achieve a natural distressed look instead of an artificial one:

1. Start With a Non-Electric Hand Sander

If you are unsure about where and how to start and are scared to overdo it, start with a non-electric hand sander.  I use a handheld drywall sander.  Once you get the hang of where you want to distress and how much paint you want to remove, you can move to a mouse sander, which is what I use to distress most of the time.  You can also use an orbital sander.  I use that too sometimes, but if you aren’t experienced, it can remove a lot of paint quickly and you may end up messing up your piece before you know you removed too much paint.  So, I would recommend a mouse sander.

2. Use 220 or 320 Grit Sandpaper

For a little more aggressive sanding, use 220 grit sandpaper.  If you only want to light sand or lightly distress, then use 320 or even 400 grit sandpaper.  Don’t forget to change the sandpaper often.  It will fill up with paint quickly sometimes and need to be replaced maybe 2-3 times during your distressing on one piece.  If you don’t change the sandpaper then it won’t remove any paint.

3. Go over all edges, corners and places that might get dinged naturally over time

I rarely distress flat areas that would not naturally get distressed over time, like recesses or flat areas of the piece, unless they are close to an edge.  I like to go for a more natural distressed look.  Sanding edges and corners really brings out the detail in an interesting antique piece of furniture and makes it more interesting to look at.

4. If you mess up, just use a little paint to touch it up

– If you remove too much paint in one area, it’s not a problem.  Just use a small brush and touch up the paint.  Since you are sanding, you’ll be able to go back, once the paint is dry and smooth out the area to give the paint an even sheen again.

5. Clean & Seal

Once you have distressed the piece, clean the whole piece thoroughly with a wet washcloth.  Make sure to remove all dust.  Then, once the piece is dry, apply a coat of wax or whatever clear coat you would like.  The clear coat will also darken the wood a little that is showing through from the distressing.  This will help the piece ‘pop’ a little more 😉

The piece shown in the image above was painted with Mudpaint.