Thanks for all the sweet comments on my balustrade coffee table! I think it’s the beginnings of a (good) addiction.
Click the following link to see how I made the knock-off Restoration Hardware balustrade coffee table for about $50 in supplies.
As promised, I wanted to show you how to distress wood furniture with milk paint and wet rag sanding.
It’s a technique that I’ve never heard of until I went to a painting class at the Haven Conference in August. Maybe I just live a sheltered life, but I never knew you could “sand” with a wet rag instead of sandpaper.
The paint I chose to try it with was Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint in Grain Sack.
If you’ve never worked with milk paint, I recommend heading over to Miss Mustard Seed’s blog and watching her painting video tutorials. Her easy to follow tutorials go over everything from mixing the paint to how to get the chippy look.
The finish I ended up with reminds me of whitewashed or lime-washed wood.
The Benefits of Using Milk Paint
Since milk paint gives you that well-worn chippy, shabby-chic look, the result is a beautiful combination of layered, crackled, and chipped paint.
The best part about this technique is that it’s easy.
There’s no dust from sanding to clean up. And unlike whitewashing that requires working in sections and timing it just right, this was just a process of putting the paint on, letting it dry completely, then wiping it off till I got enough of the wood grain to shine through.
Stain the wood furniture first
I started with a table that had four different types of raw wood. There was aged pine, new pine, new fence boards, and painted balusters.
The first step was to stain the new wood with Minwax Special Walnut. Then, the old pine was stained with a 50/50 mix of Special Walnut and Golden Oak. This way, what shows through after distressing has similar wood tones. The stain dried overnight.
You won’t get the same results if you skip the wood stain and put the milk paint directly on raw wood. The paint will just soak into the porous wood.
If you’re using milk paint on a previously varnished piece of furniture, you’ll need to give it a light sanding and wipe it down with TSP to keep the paint from chipping too much.
Painting with Milk Paint
Next, I mixed the milk paint with water according to directions and gave the table two coats of paint. I also touched up the balusters.
Distressing the Wood with Wet Rag Sanding
After the table was completely dry, I began distressing with a damp washcloth.
The mistake I made was starting on the top of the table instead of working from the bottom up. You want to avoid drips of water or your paint will come off unevenly.
The biggest drawback to wet rag sanding is it takes a little more elbow grease than using sandpaper.
If I wiped down a section a few minutes before I worked on it, it made it easier to remove the paint.
It was also easier if I wiped some areas against the grain of the wood. I love how the raised grain is highlighted on this part of the table.
Any areas where too much paint was wiped off or where the chipping was too pronounced got dry brushed.
To dry brush, wet just the tips of the bristles with paint, dab most of it off on a paper plate and lightly brush the paint on.
After that, the fence board slats on the bottom of the table were distressed the same way.
Sealing and Protecting Your Finished Work
Once the table had time to dry completely, I gave it two coats of furniture wax. I sealed the balusters with polyurethane.
Update: (04/03/17): After living with the coffee table a few years, I decided to remove the old wax with mineral spirits. Then, I repainted the top using the wet rag distressing technique with the milk paint and recoated it with a flat polyurethane.
I was having to reseal the tabletop with wax a few times a year so this should correct the problem and give the coffee table a much more durable surface. If you plan on using this paint technique on any furniture that gets heavy use, I recommend using polyurethane instead of wax.
If you found this tutorial on how to distress furniture with milk paint and wet rag sanding helpful, then please pin this idea for later!
If you like the whitewashed look, I have a tutorial on how I used that technique on our son’s planked office-in-a-closet walls.
And I did a “blue wash” on this repurposed hutch and desk that were turned into a beverage station / potting bench.