Painting Techniques Distressing

Distressing Technique | Paint Finish

I use the word “distress” loosely

It’s one of those blanket terms for “scrape, scratch, hurt, dent, damage, chip” when referring to paint….  you get the idea.

So, when I was dividing up all the steps involved on my door transformation, I knew the distressing part would need to be it’s own post.

(Is that some kind of pun?)

After all, There is more than one way to distress a door.

1.  Scraping.

I use a cabinet scraper.  I think it’s actually a replacement blade for a cabinet scraper-thingy-tool.  (I sound smart.)

scrape paint with blade

I like to scrape while the paint is still barely wet, changing up how hard I press while scraping.

scraping paint edge

2.  Using paint stripper.

“What the….”   Yes. I know.  But it breaks the paint down and sort of “melts” it, giving me another way to vary the appearance of the paint.  (Remember, I wanted to make this door look like it had lived quite a few years, and seen quite a few different elements.)

*Note:  I distressed the paint at different times during this project, both before the application of an oil based glaze, and after.  Hence, the sudden darker paint in the pics.

(Details on glazing technique will be in the next post.)

strip paint

(This is where I tell you I used a respirator, but not gloves while using this product.  I always regret not using gloves.  I always think I can use it without letting it touch my skin.  I fail every time.  These chemicals will find a way to touch your skin!  You should always wear gloves.)

I spray random areas and let it sit for a minute or two…

stripper on paint

Then I use a paper towel to rub it around a little…


Then I used my trusty scraper.

scraping paint stripper

I like how the paint bubbled up in some areas, so I actually left some stripper there on the paint, to dry.

Next, I re-applied glaze over the areas I used stripper on.  (Glazing step will be in the next post)

Removing paint

I concentrated this look to the bottom portion of the door, where the most wear and tear would most likely be.

3.)  Sanding.

Using sandpaper to distress paint is kind of a strange area for me.  I go back and forth a lot.  There was a time when my sander was my weapon of choice, but all of my finishes started to look the same: sanded.  Sometimes it seems too uniform for my eyes.  Like when the edges of a furniture piece are all sanded and you get that all too uniform “worn” look.  Or when the “worn” look is a little too obviously random, like maybe the sander was playing twister on said furniture piece.

For me, it’s about randomness holding hands with expected wear pattern, and then chaperoned by varying methods of distress.  (Not just a sander.)

Having said that, I chose to only do some sanding by hand at the very end of this project, to pop out some of the white clumps from the base layer of chalk paint.  Remember the bumpy texture I made in the very first painting step? (see previous post on paint technique)

sand by hand

And I scraped off some of the bigger clumps as a finishing touch too.

scrape clumps


Paint clump removal

One last detail….

I thought about any details I added to this door, that would create additional distressing of it’s own, over time.  Like, this dangling, swinging, hook.  Yeah, It would probably do something like this:

hardware distresses paint

To view other techniques used, please go to the techniques category on the blog.



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