Change the appearance of a desk by distressing the surface.

How to Distress a Desk

by Kim Blakesley

Change the appearance of a new desk or rejuvenate an old one by changing the surface. This particular process is known as distressing or antiquing. The surface is changed with a variety of techniques and tools. Add a single color or multiple colors of paint to change the appearance of the desk to match any room.

Determine Color

The first step in the distressing process is to determine the colors. Use the original paint or stain on the desk as the base, or select a new color. Choose a second color for the surface paint. The original color or "first color" will show through the second color to create the antiqued or distressed look. It is also possible to distress the surface of a single color. The process will then show raw wood rather than a second color.


Scuff the surface of the desk with a light sanding, using 120-grit sandpaper. Wipe the surface with a tack cloth or lint-free cloth to remove all sanding dust. Sanding the surface lightly makes thin grooves in the original surface. The thin grooves provide an area for the new paint to adhere.


Apply the first coat of paint to the surface. Allow the paint to dry for one hour. After the paint is dry, rub paraffin wax where normal wear would occur such as the edges, around the knobs, legs and other ornate decorations. Paint the entire surface with two coats of a primary color or surface color. Allow the paint to dry one hour between coats.


Remove the surface coat of paint to expose the underlying color. Gently scrap the areas where you put the wax, using the edge of a metal putty knife. Be careful not to push too hard. Scrape only the surface paint off the second layer. When done, wipe off the area with a tack cloth or a lint-free cloth to remove all debris. Take off as little or as much as you like. There is no definite rule as to how much top paint to remove. The finished item must be appealing to you. Lightly sand over the areas where the paint has been removed, using a piece of 220-grit sandpaper to remove the edge from the paint. Sand other areas of the surface paint, if desired. Sand far enough to remove the top layer of paint and create wear patterns on the surface. Age the surface with a mixture of 1-part brown acrylic paint to 6-parts water. Paint the surface with the mixture and allow it to dry for three hours. Seal the surface with two to three coats of acrylic sealer.

Alternative to Paint

Another way to distress a desk is to keep the original finish and add dings, gouges and worn areas. To add dings and gouges, swing a chain and hit the surface on the top, sides and front. Alternatively, pound the chain into the surface with a hammer. Remove the finish with sandpaper or a palm sander to create wear patterns along the edges, handles and ornate surface decorations. There is no set pattern when distressing a desk in this manner. The project is complete when it is appealing to you.

About the Author

Kim Blakesley is a home remodeling business owner, former art/business teacher and school principal. She began her writing and photography career in 2008. Blakesley's education, fine arts, remodeling, green living, and arts and crafts articles have appeared on numerous websites, including DeWalt Tools, as well as in "Farm Journal" and "Pro Farmer."

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images