Welcome back to the Start to Finish Series! Today, we’re going to tackle distressing and topcoats.
Step 4 – Distressing (optional)
Once your piece has been painted, you have the option of distressing it if you wish. Distressing is the process of removing paint from your piece to simulate years of age and wear. How you distress and how much paint you remove is completely up to you.
You can distress with a wet rag and rub the edges of pieces while your paint is slightly wet. This is a no-dust option that doesn’t create the scratches that sandpaper sometimes leaves behind.
You can also use 000 steel wool to distress your piece, although I haven’t had much luck with this technique. I typically relegate steel wood to cleaning up raw wood with mineral spirits after I have stripped it.
Sandpaper is the most common tool to use for distressing, and it’s my go-to. The tougher the grit, the more aggressive your distressing will look. Fun fact – Sandpaper grit is actually the number of granules per square inch on a piece of sandpaper. The higher the number, the more granules. They have to be smaller to fit in the same size area, so you get a finer finish with higher grit sandpaper and a rougher finish with lower grit sandpaper. So 80 grit has 80 granules per square inch and they’re large, giving you a very rough finish. 400 grit has 400 granules per square inch and they’re much smaller, giving you a much smoother finish. I recommend distressing with 200 – 400 grit sandpaper.
Aren’t you so glad you know all about sandpaper now?
Tip – If you can see paint lines in your finish, go over your piece with 400 grit sandpaper. It will smooth it out and your surface will feel just like buttah!
I always distress before I put on a top coat (unless I’m doing a technique called wet sanding). I don’t want to gunk up my sanding pads, so I distress first, vacuum, and then put on a topcoat.
With all that said, I did NOT distress my cabinet, but here are examples of pieces where I did:
Distressed with sandpaper then waxed.
Distressed with sandpaper then hemp oiled.
This end table and trunk were actually wet sanded. Wet sanding involves brushing on hemp oil and then sanding over top of it. The oil acts as a lubricant and it smooths out your surface and protects it in one step. After you’re done, simply wipe away the excess oil and admire your ultra soft finish!
Here’s some light distressing on the edges of my sheet music dresser. This piece was waxed afterwards.
Here’s a bit more aggressive distressing on my English yellow dresser.
Step 5 – Topcoats
Once you have distressed your piece (if so desired), you need to seal your beautiful handiwork. To date, I have never left a piece without some sort of topcoat. I’ve heard of people leaving items raw, but I really don’t recommend that if you’re using chalk paint®. You’ll see scratches on dark colors and your dresser/table tops will have next to no protection.
The options for topcoats range from waxes to oils to water-based. Each one has its benefits and tips for application. When deciding what kind of topcoat you want to use, you need to take into consideration what you’ll be using your piece for, how much wear and tear it needs to stand up to, and what you feel comfortable using.
For example, I used 4 coats of water-based topcoat for stained wood, like the tops of these dressers. I wanted them to be protected because I knew people would put pictures, jewelry boxes, and books on them.
I’m a huge fan of hemp oil as well. It deepens colors and hydrates dry wood like a dream. The body of this buffet was sealed with hemp oil, as was the inside. Once cured, it provides excellent protection on your most cherished wood pieces. It’s all natural and completely wonderful.
I decided to go with Miss Mustard Seed’s White Wax for my little cabinet. I’m a big fan of white wax too. It’s a great highlighter and brings nicks, dings, and knots to life.
Look what it did for this midnight blue buffet:
The lines on this piece popped once white wax settled into them. Didn’t notice them before, did you?
Miss Mustard Seed’s White Wax is soft and very easy to use. It has a pleasant smell too! It’s mostly beeswax with a bit of carnauba wax mixed in.
I applied the wax with a small wax brush over the body and the top of my piece. I took care to work it into any crevices so it would stand out. You can also use an old t-shirt or lint-free cloth to apply it.
So you basically brush (or wipe) it on,
and wipe it off. Wax on, wax off. It would make Mr. Miyagi proud.
See how it settles into grooves beautifully?
Once I was finished with the body, I turned to the top. At first, I planned to hand-sand the top and finish with hemp oil, but after seeing the potential for it to sing with white wax, I changed my plan.
I’m so glad I did!
This is the type of texture that white wax is made for!
Here’s the top all finished. I like how it looks rustic and primitive. It matches the feel of the piece.
That’s part of the process when it comes to painting furniture – you have to let the piece speak to you. Based upon the lines, texture, details, style, etc. what finish would best suit it?
I also encourage you to experiment with different products. Give one a try. Read up on it. Watch YouTube videos about application. Visit your local retailer and talk to the shop keepers. They’re a wealth of information! The more you use them, the more comfortable you’ll feel choosing one from your arsenal of topcoats for your projects.
The last step in the process is to swap out hardware (if you wish) and then stage it for all the world to see (and perhaps purchase)! That will be the finishing post for this series.