Looking for a super simple tutorial on how to distress wood with white paint? This is one of the easiest ways to make wood look distressed.

In this post I’ll show you two different ways to distress your table. Both methods are super easy and you can make your table or other furniture piece look distressed in under an hour.

table before how to distress wood with white paint

We are ALMOST done with our Makeover in a Month series.

You know. The one where I’m joining my friends Leslie and Marian and Melissa to makeover a room in 30 days. I’ve already shared this amazing french door update and this $40 table makeover. I’m going to be sharing the finished room on Tuesday, but today I wanted to talk about the coffee table makeover for the room.

I almost didn’t share this with you.

It’s such a simple process.

I mean, everyone knows how to distress wood? Right?

But then I was worried someone might not know.

And I had TWO SUPER SIMPLE methods that take a hot minute and I’ve done for years and years and years.

So I couldn’t let the weekend start without a little furniture makeover.

Here’s how to distress wood with white paint and a little sandpaper.

How to Distress Wood with White Paint

(Method #1—this is the easiest)

Step 1: Prime table and paint it with your base color

You always want to prime your table because you have no idea where it’s been. In other words, you aren’t sure of the finish.

So before you begin the distressing process? Prime the table with a high-quality primer.

Then paint the table with your base color that you want the piece of furniture to be.

Step 2: Dry brush with white paint

Here the table has been painted with SW Mindful Gray.

Now to start the distressing?

Dip your brush in white paint. Blot it dry on a paper towel.

Then dry brush white paint anywhere there’s an edge. Let the brush drag lightly across the table catching streaks of white on the edges to give it depth.

Step 3: Dry brush top

Lastly, dry brush the top with the brush as shown.

Always brush in one direction.

The goal is just to make the edges look worn and give the piece some depth.

You can also lightly sand the edges with sandpaper by hand to add even more distressing.

Seal the entire piece with a clear sealant.

table before how to distress wood with white paint

How to Distress Wood with a Sander

(Method #2)

Before we get started I wanted to mention a couple of quick housekeeping notes and opinions and a little bit of encouragement.

  1. DO NOT OVERTHINK THIS PROCESS. Part of the joy of the distressing process is being messy and uneven and a little random. There is an amazing life lesson in there that I will save for another post.
  2. There are a zillion ways to distress wood. I’m sure you have read many different tutorials. Let me state before we get started. I have tried almost every single one that you have read. And at the end of the day? This is the easiest (and fastest way) I’ve found to distress wood.
  3. Add a base coat to the piece of furniture before you get started. Don’t worry about the paint covering perfectly. I typically add one coat of paint. You can see that the table needs another coat if we wanted it to be perfect. We don’t. We want to be as far from perfection as possible.
  4. You. Can. Do. This.
  5. End of story.

how to distress wood with white paint

step 1: Start with a sander

I use a typical hand sander.

One you can get at the home improvement store. I really like this version of the sander because it catches all the bits of dust. See that contraption in the back? It saves you so much clean-up.

You don’t need an expensive sander for this.

Here’s one that I recommend that will work perfectly for all your distressing needs.

sander how to distress wood with white paint

Step 2: Add sandpaper

You want to get a pack of sandpaper with different types of sandpaper in it—ranging from 100 grit to 220 grit like this.

Start with the 100 grit sandpaper first.

Cut a piece and add it to the sander.

And then?

Pretend you are an artist and start sanding.

how to distress wood with white paint sanding

Step 3: Sand the edges

Remember the part where we weren’t overthinking this?

This is where it comes in.

The key is finding the raised parts of the piece of furniture and sanding those. With this table, there are the edges of the tabletop and the curves of the legs and the sides of the legs and the molding just under the tabletop.

Take your sander and lightly sand along the edges.

You can go slowly at first if it makes you nervous. Me? I literally GO TO TOWN.

It brings me such joy.

The best part is you can sand as much or as little as you want.

The key is to NOT sand it evenly.

Again. Think of yourself as a sanding artist.

Sand a little here and a little there until you get the exact look that you want. Start with your 100-grit sandpaper (which is the roughest sandpaper—the higher the sandpaper number the less rough it is). You can do a sanding pass with the 100 grit and then another pass with the 150 grit and finally, one last lightly sanded pass to smooth out your edges with the 220 grit.

quick tip: if you sand too much? You can always go back and paint over where you sanded to reduce the amount of distressing.

step 4: take it to the next level

If you want to go all next level with your distressing?

Paint two coats of paint in different colors.

This table was gray.

And then?

It was painted white. This does take an extra step, but you can see the results here. This is the key on how to distress wood with white paint.

When I started sanding, the white paint was sanded away in parts, revealing the gray paint underneath.

Step 5: Wipe off with a tack cloth

Before you go to the next step, you want to make sure to wipe down your table with a tack cloth.

The table is full of little sanded bits.

We don’t want to seal those into our finish forever.

Wipe down the legs and sides of the table with a cloth. I like to slightly (very slightly) dampen my cloth to make sure it gets all the sanded pieces.

Step 6: Seal or stain

You can stop here.

Depending on the look of your room and what your style is like, you can stop the process here.

If you decided to press pause and that your table looks perfect, you want to make sure to seal your masterpiece.

Use a water-based sealer to seal the table.

Let dry.

You might need to add another coat of sealer to ensure all the distressing stays exactly where you distressed it.


Step 7: Add a layer of stain

If you want to add another layer of depth to your furniture piece, you might consider layering in a stain.

This is my favorite color.

Provincial by Minwax.

The color is perfect for adding depth to distressed wood.

Again, on repeat.


how to distress wood table edge of table with distressing

It will look so dark when you first put it on.

Lightly dab it on the table and then wipe it off immediately and you’ll get this soft, creamy, finish with so much depth. I use a sock to do this. I put on a plastic glove and then put the sock on and dip it into the stain and just wipe.

Just lightly wipe the sock with a little bit of stain over the entire piece of furniture, making sure you get the stain on the exposed wood on the corners.

Then use a water-based sealer to seal the table.

Let dry.

You might need to add another coat of sealer to ensure all the stain and distressing stays exactly where you distressed it.

how to distress wood

how to distress wood table finished

Here’s the finished table in the room.

In super sad news, I can’t show you the entire table just yet.

That has to wait until Tuesday.

But can we press pause for a moment and appreciate the layering in the room? It is all coming together and I’m SO HAPPY with the space. It’s the perfect room for all the cozy and all the fall and all the amazing that we have coming up.

how to distress wood finished table with pumpkins

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.

It really is as easy as it looks.

Just enjoy yourself. Have fun distressing and making the table delightfully imperfect.

And all together now….


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  1. Image for Rochelle Rochelle

    I am so glad you chose to share this! I have two tables I need to do this to. I’ve never done anything like this and I am TERRIFIED!!!! This has given me a boost of confidence and I hope to make September the month to make at least one of those tables happen.

  2. Image for Michele M. Michele M.

    Thank you! I have been painting furniture and distressing furniture forever. I didn't even KNOW there was a sander to catch those pesky dusty bits. I think I am adding it to my Christmas wish list! My biggest thing is when I was working on a kitchen table years ago I sanded it smooth TOO much and got into the wood veneer too much. I was devastated. Still bothers me. So one CAN distress too much - even when a piece is real wood that veneer sure can be tricky. So that's the only other thing I'd add to this process is be careful about full on prep sanding prior to painting. I think the teasing bits of table you showed looks amazing with that fab rug. I love browns and off whites - so I am pretty sure I am going to really adore your reveal and can't WAIT to see it!!!!!

  3. Image for Teresa L Gonzales Teresa L Gonzales

    Thanks for sharing this! So glad you are safe from Hurricane Laura. You were on my mind all day yesterday.

  4. Image for Katherine Katherine

    Thanks so much! I want to paint and distress an oak table for my kitchen but am worried how well it will wear with two kiddos in the house. Which water based sealer and how many coats of sealer do you recommend?

  5. Image for Leslie Leslie

    So I have a question... as you know I have older cabinets. They were first painted white then red. I'm sick of red..... Should I find a lighter color and just paint over with a good primer or attempt a distressed look? Thoughts?

  6. Image for Deanna Deanna

    Thank you so very much for demonstrating how to do this distressing simple method. You were right some of us did not know.. Me. I just love your blog Karianne. So many ideas and tips! Thank you again for sharing your home with us. Deanna Lynn. Montreal Canada.

  7. Image for Jayne Jayne

    Yes! Don't overthink it! That's my mantra with furniture painting and distressing too. It looks gorgeous already and I'm dying to see the whole room now!

  8. Image for Sonya Sonya

    Love how it turned out KariAnne. I have actually never tried distressing anything and this looks like a pretty simple way to do it. Saving it to give it a try soon.

  9. Image for Jennifer Jennifer

    Girl, I love it! This is something even I could do. I get the sense from reading this that sanding is probably a great stress reliever, kind of like weeding a garden. One question from this total diy newb--what's a tack cloth and how does it compare with a regular cloth? Thanks!

  10. Image for Danielle Danielle

    This is a genius method! The first piece of furniture that I chalk painted and distressed was a little tea cart, and I spent over 40 hours on it. I way overthinked it! I have since learned!

  11. Image for Linda Johnston Linda Johnston

    I need to do this to our shabby old back doors. We have 3. We want the look but the peeling needs to be tamed. Only when I read you post did it occur to me to do a little sanding!! Sealing it will be goo too.

  12. Image for Kim Waldorf Kim Waldorf

    Your table turned out great! So many good tips. For me, the painting part is easy, but the sanding part is so much fun!! I love to paint furniture and love the creativity that comes with it.


    KariAnne, you are just a wealth of knowledge and you always share it with us! Your table looks lovely -- just like an antique! Looking forward to seeing your room reveal! I know it's just going to be absolutely amazing -- just like you! I have an antique cabinet that needs to be painted white and then distressed -- which my dear hubby said he would work on for me! And, he's even going to buy the sander you recommended! He needs a new sander and that one looks great! Have a wonderful week! Thanks for being so special!

  14. Image for Juliet Juliet

    'Do not overthink' is now my new mantra! I was one of those people who did NOT know how to distress wood. Insert embarrassed face. You've made it look very easy ... maybe I'm a DIYer after all! xo

  15. Image for Misty Misty

    Great tutorial, KariAnne! There is nothing more liberating than the distressing and seeing a piece's personality come out. This is one to bookmark for sure. It looks gorgeous, cannot wait to see the full photo!

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