Dig up some dirt
Dust, spills, and stains accumulate over time to add subtle patina. These techniques provide the finishing touch of authenticity. Start with light touches, then step back frequently and take a look to avoid overdoing the effect.
To “dirty up” a surface, first, buff on a light, even coat of a clear wax and let it dry. This prevents the dark wax, applied next, from penetrating too deeply, allowing you to gradually build the look. After dabbing a brush in the dark wax, swirl the bristle tips on a piece of cardboard to spread the wax evenly and remove any clumps. Then, feather the brush lightly across the piece, in a series of overlapping, randomly placed Xs.
Apply flecks of dark stain or paint, above right, for even more grime. Stain spreads flat, looking like grease or water spatters; paint allows you to add a hint of another color (or more of one of the base colors). Simulate a water ring by lightly wiping the outside edge of a lid with light brown stain, then just touching it to the table surface.
Tips for success
Practice techniques and color combinations on scrap to build confidence and find the look you like.
Small pieces need less distressing. Pieces with more surface area, such as a dining table, allow for more pronounced distressing without looking overdone.
If you aren’t satisfied with the results, simply strip away the paint and finish, and begin again. Any remnant of previous attempts will likely enhance new efforts.
Work slowly, stepping back often to review the overall distressing effect. A good rule of thumb: Stop before you think you have enough. It’s easier to add a touch more than to undo a touch too much.
Aged furniture has few sharp corners remaining. Soften edges and molding details with light sanding before applying a finish. Additional sanding while distressing further rounds these areas.
Imitate flecks of dirt and fly specks by dabbing the tip of a small brush in dark stain and wiping off most of the stain. Move the brush slowly at varied distances above the surface as you run your finger across the bristles.
Dark wax applied over clear wax Only clear wax applied Lightly brushed dark wax simulates built-up grime. Concentrate on areas where hands would touch the item (pulls, drawer fronts, doors, handles) and in recessed corners of framed panels and moldings. If you apply too much dark wax, wipe it off using mineral spirits. Reapply the clear wax, then the dark again.