How-to faux paint antique distressed furniture [video]

This is a 3.5 minute YouTube video I filmed and edited on the technique I use for painting furniture to look old. It rips through the process pretty fast, but I think it shows everything that it needs to.

Take a look and let me know what you think, any feedback is appreciated.

Tools you’ll need:
  • propane torch
  • rat-tail file
  • liquid hide glue
  • disposable brush
  • softball size rock
  • old dull chisel
  • paint scraper
  • wire brush
Step # 1. Distressing

As furniture ages, the sharp details and edges are usually the first to wear.  I start by softening all the sharp edges using a rat-tail file.  Chip a corner or two using an old dull chisel.  I like to add dents using a softball size rock.  It’s important to rotate the rock as you strike the project because you do not want all the dents to have the same size and shape.

Next, alter the texture of the wood’s grain using heat and moisture. Doing this will rapidly change the cell structure of the wood, creating an aged look. Mist your project with water using a spray bottle.  After the water has absorbed, quickly evaporate the moisture using heat generated by a propane torch. A little char is ok on the edges, but try not to burn your project too much.

Go over the whole project with the wire brush to remove any burs and excess char.

Step # 2.  Apply penetrating stain

Oxidation causes wood to darken as it ages.  To simulate this color change, I apply an Early American oil-based penetrating stain.  Lambs wool pads works well for applying stain to larger projects; for small projects an old t-shirt or cotton rag works fine.  Have a cheap brush handy for getting into tight spaces and into the details of moldings.  After you have a section completely covered, wipe off the excess stain with a clean rag.   Allow the stain adequate time to dry before begin the next step.

Step # 3. Wax the edges

Using a household tea candle or paraffin wax, wax the edges.  This will make it easier to scrape down to the raw wood in step # 7.

Step # 4.  Paint the base color

Brush flat latex paint on for the base coat.  Choose a color that contrasts well with the top color. Let it fully dry.

Step # 5.  Apply crackle coat

Before you brush on the crackle coat, give the base color of a light scuff sanding to smooth out the surface.  In the video I used a store bought crackle coat, but normally I make my own using liquid hide glue thinned with a little warm water.  Apply the crackle coat using a cheap disposable brush. It’s important to apply this layer in the same direction, otherwise when your top coat starts to crackle, it will look fake.  Give the glue half an hour or so to dry.

Step # 6.  Paint the top color

Make sure to use a flat latex paint, semi-gloss will not crackle. The paint will begin to crackle almost immediately.  Work swiftly and do not brush over preceding strokes.  Doing so will fill in the cracks.  Allow the paint to dry overnight.

Step # 7.  Distress the top color

Once the paint is completely dry, using a paint scraper and sandpaper, hit the edges to remove the paint covering the spots you had previously waxed.  You can also sand through down into the previous layers on flat surfaces.  Rub the spots you distress with a damp rag to give the distressing a more realistic worn look.

Step # 8.  Apply the glaze (gel stain is the same thing)

Glazing altars the top color by darkening it, which creates an almost dirty look.  Apply the glaze with a cheap brush. Work the glaze into the cracks and recesses to create an instant patina, and then wipe off the excess with a clean rag. This technique will add emphasis to your distress marks.

Step # 9.  Brush or spray on shellac

Shellac seals in the preceding layers.  I apply two coats of Zinsser blonde shellac, sanding between coats with #0000 steel wool.

Step # 10.  Apply dark tinted wax.

After the final coat of shellac has fully dried, knock down the sheen by sanding with #0000 steel wool.  Finally, apply a dark tinted paste wax using a clean rag.

Create an ‘old-look’ finish.

Old Look Finish on Wood with Milk Paint

Techniques for using milk paint.

The ‘old-look’ painted finish, similar to that prized by antique collectors, is not hard to achieve.  The process is known as milk painting.   Milk paint is easy to use and extremely forgiving.   Like traditional milk paint, today’s ingredients consist of milk protein, clay, earth pigments and lime.  The look and feel of the milk painted surface is the same as that found on antique furniture. Milk paint is truly a “green” finish – completely non-toxic and biodegradable.

The working properties of milk paint are not like those of conventional paints.  Think of milk paint as “mud water.”  Milk paint has far less body than conventional paint.  Where conventional paint can chip and scratch, milk paint penetrates into the grain; polishing as it wears.  The subtle complexities of this finish will improve with age.

Achieving a tortoiseshell appearance. The project should be painted with several coats of contrasting color.  I used lexington green, barn red, and pitch black in that order for my piece.  Sand smooth between each layer and then lightly cut through the final layer to reveal the various colors.

Purchase your milk paint directly through the manufacturer. ( Old Fashion Milk Paint Company offers great service and a quality product.

Mix the powder, bonding agent, and water in equal parts by volume for the first coat.  Subsequent coats can be mixed at a 50% water – 50% powder ratio. The water should be warm, but not hot.   Keep in mind that this is not an exact science.  Mix the milk paint to the consistency of gravy and then add water to achieve the desired consistency.  The most important part of mixing milk paint is to add the powder to the liquid, rather than the other way around.  It’s best to mix the milk paint using a rubber kitchen spatula.  Sometimes mixing requires a bit of effort to remove the lumps.  Milk paint does not respond well to power mixing.  It’s a waste of time and will only cause problems.  Finally, strain the paint through a nylon stocking or a paint strainer.  The strainer helps to identify the viscosity.  You want the paint to flow in a smooth stream.  Add small bits of water to accomplish this.

It is best to use the milk paint the same day you mix it, however you can extend the life a couple days if you cover the paint with plastic wrap and refrigerate it.  Typically you should only mix what you are going to use and keep the remaining powder sealed up tight.  The dry paint will last indefinitely if kept in an airtight container.

Paint using a nylon bristle brush. Spraying is a waste of time, because the paint needs to be so thinned down that it works like stain and too many coats are required.  Bubbles often appear after the paint has been brushed.  This is somewhat typical.  To minimized bubbles, after mixing place the milk paint in the refrigerator for thirty minutes and give the mix a slow stir.  Use long brush strokes.  For best results, back brush the bubbles after they appear.

Milk paint dries extremely flat and you can see brush overlaps and areas that were touched up.  You can get the surface exceptionally smooth by using a maroon scotch brite pad to sand each coat.

Apply an oil overcoat. Use boiled linseed oil for this step.   Boiled linseed oil is extracted from seeds of the flax plant with metallic driers added to accelerate the curing process.  These are usually salts of cobalt, manganese, or zinc.  They act as a catalyst to speed the introduction of oxygen, causing the finish to cure in about a day if the excess is wiped off.  Linseed oil produces a soft, thin finish so it offers no significant protection.  It does, however, add depth and luster to the milk paint.


Click here to view the finished product.