Three Ways to Use Sanding to Create a Worn Shabby Look

by Patricia Rawlinson on April 11, 2022

Easily create a weathered wood or distressed vintage antique look easily with sandpaper.

There are three ways to create a worn shabby look:
1. Dry Sanding
2. Wet layers Sanding
3. Resist Sanding


Each technique is detailed below.

The most popular way to achieve the perfect grunge look is with sanding, whether for wood signs for your porch or home or a trash to treasure furniture find for shabby chic or boho home decor.

Select a few grits of sandpaper. We love to use a 60 grit (grit is the coarseness, the smaller the number the courser the paper). Sanding blocks are awesome for even sanding and folding up bits and ends of sand paper can help dig into the painted project and give the look of aged paint.

1. Dry sanding your acrylic painted wood project:
This technique can be done on just the background paint or once you have added your stenciled details or a wombo combo of both.

Base your project and if desired layer a few colors once the paint is dry use a sanding block with the desired grit of sandpaper and dig in, use easy pressure at first. The sooner you sand after the paint is dry the easier it will be to reveal the layers. Press into the edge of the sanding block to create bands of distressing.

Use a a lighter grit of sandpaper to smooth the surface and make your finish coats like wax of poly urethane easier to apply.

2. Wet sanding your stenciled projects:
Apply your base color to your wood surface and once dry apply a contrasting color, (sometimes I will layer a few different colors to create the look of many layers of repainted colors for a more authentic vintage look). Immediately after the top coat is dry use a wet rag or sandpaper to distress the painted project, use gentle pressure at first and the sooner you try this technique the easier it will be to lift the colors. If you remove too much paint, simply follow up with a second topcoat and try again. Honestly the more layers the better.

3. Resist sanding technique for DIY decor projects: AKA Chipped distressed sanding technique.
The resist sanding technique uses some anti-sticking medium under the second layer of paint, you can use this technique for the backgrounds or even under the stenciled lettering or other details.


Apply acrylic or chalk paint for the base color, add accent colors if desired. One of my favorites is to add a touch of a yellow or teal so you get just a hint of the color when you are finished painting. Add the resist medium, wax, petroleum jelly or a soap. Each will produce a different chippy painted look. *Hint: make sure to add the resist medium under the areas where natural aging or wear and tear would happen, ie... on the edges of furniture, on the sides of signs etc.... And a super pro tip is to add this painting /sanding technique in areas that are not already too busy. Use this faux distressing effect for a subtle accent.

Once the resist medium is in the desired places add the top coat and when dry sand thru the layers to reveal a natural vintage look.

The secret for the resist distressed sanding technique is to remove the greasy or waxy residue after you are done lifting the paint. Use a degreaser on a rag and clean up any residue. You can wait to clean up until after your finish your project making a chipped lettering look easier to accomplish or clean up the background so subsequent layers will not chip.

Happy Painting!

If you'd like to see these techniques in action, watch the video below! 

If you are interested in grabbing our favorite sanding block, click the link below. 

We are an Amazon affiliate. We get a small commission for purchases made through these links. 

Sanding Block: https://amzn.to/3atjSad

Sandpaper Sheets: https://amzn.to/37u6yRc

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