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How To: Make Distressed Wood Floors

How To: Make Distressed Wood Floors

Usually I focus on how to restore the older elements of your house, but today, I’ve got a little tutorial for making something new look old.

My wife and I are just finishing our attic bedroom project (more on that soon) for our 2 boys and I have been working furiously to meet our (read: her) deadline for completion.

One of the last pieces of the puzzle is installing wood floors.

The rest of our 1929 house has beautiful quarter-sawn white oak floors, but the attic just had 3/4″ planks of wood in varying widths. I had to take all this up in order the insulate and honestly it was a little rough and splintery to have a couple toddlers running around on. Not to mention there were a lot of split boards.

So, I decided to save the old floor boards at my shop for reclaimed projects down the line and install new wide plank pine flooring. It wasn’t actually flooring though. I used 8″ shiplap siding and laid it down upside down. It was cheaper and had more heart wood than the other pine I looked at.

I considered using reclaimed heart pine flooring, but the cost was just too much.

So, what do you do to make new pine look like it belongs in the attic of a 1929 Bungalow? You distress it!

Below is the simple process that you can use to give new wood a vintage, shabby chic, distressed painted look. It’s not difficult to make distressed wood floors, and if I can do this on a 300 SF floor, you can do it on a table top or piece of furniture much easier.

How To Make Distressed Wood Floors

pine floors
Step 1 Sand and clean floors

Step 1 Lightly Sand

Whether you are distressing a new floor or an old one, you need to give everything a light sanding prior to starting. This smooths out surface imperfections, cleans up the wood, and prepares the surface to accept the paint better. Especially for a high traffic floor, this will help the paint bond better over its lifetime.

Use a 100-grit sandpaper or 80-grit screen to sand the entire surface. Once you’re finished sanding, make sure you thoroughly vacuum up any dust and you’ve go a completely clean floor with no debris.

how to paint wood floors
Step 2 Paint floors

Step 2 Paint

No priming here, just good ol’ paint. I rolled on one good coat of Sherwin Williams ProClassic Acrylic-Alkyd paint. I work with this paint often and like how hard of a finish it dries to without being tacky.

For floors especially, I would recommend a good enamel paint. You can use an oil-based paint for a very hard finish or water-based enamels will work well too. I used a Satin sheen, but you can use whatever sheen you’d like, though I would stay away from flat or matte sheens because they don’t handle traffic as well as satin, semi-gloss or high gloss.

sand wood floors
Step 3 Scuff sand floors

Step 3 Scuff Sand

Once the paint dried, about 24 hours in my case, I broke out my belt sander strapped on some 80-grit sandpaper and went to town. You want to sand with the grain (not against it or diagonally to it) in order to make the scuffing look natural.

How much you decide to distress the paint is totally up to you. I tried to hit the higher traffic areas more since the floor would naturally be more worn in those spots from decades of foot traffic.

The goal here is to reveal some of the wood underneath the paint. How much wood is personal preference.

Once you’re done, you need to vacuum again and get the floor completely clean before the next step.

faux finish wood floors
Step 4 Apply stain

Step 4 Stain

Now that you’ve got a perfectly white floor that is all scuffed up, it’s time to add the age and vintage look. Wipe on a stain in your preferred color. I used Minwax Dark Walnut here. Using a cotton rag, wipe the stain in thoroughly and then wipe it off immediately. Work in manageable sections (maybe 3′ x 3′) so the stain doesn’t doesn’t dry on you.

If you are doing a floor, this works well as a 2 person operation with one person applying the stain and the other wiping it off right behind them.

The important detail here is that when you wipe off the stain, you want to wipe in the direction of the wood again. Wipe it off thoroughly too. You don’t want lap marks or any signs of this being a faux finish. It should look completely natural.

The stain will turn the bright paint a nice antique cream color, and in the areas where you sanded through the paint, it will result in a deep color to reveal the wood grain underneath.

You’re almost done now!

distressed wood floors
Step 4 Seal floors

Step 5 Seal

After the stain has dried a day or so, there are a couple ways you can seal and protect your project. The most effective will be poly-acrylic, lacquer or paste wax.

I used Minwax Paste Finishing Wax here because the process is so simple and I wanted an old time feel. Waxing a floor is just like waxing a really big flat car. Buff the paste wax on, let it sit till it hazes over, and then buff it off. Voilà!

For smaller projects, a couple cans of spray poly or lacquer can work just fine. Apply 2-3 coats and you should be good. For floors, you could go full bore and apply 3 coats of poly-acrylic for protection, but I don’t know that that is entirely necessary.

This is one of those rare cases where I don’t recommend oil-based polyurethane because it will change the color of the floors by adding a slightly amber tint to everything.

In my case, I felt like one coat of paste wax would be more than sufficient. We’ll see how it holds up with time and toddlers, but I was pleased with the end result.

The great thing about this technique is that it can be applied to almost any wood surface, not just floors. You can distress anything to give it that shabby chic or vintage look.

For me, this helped a new room look like it was an original part of our historic house and that is extremely important. Now, go forth and distress that wood!

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29 thoughts on “How To: Make Distressed Wood Floors

  1. really interested in how your floors are holding up. i should be some 5 years for you now. are the floors in the bedrooms only or in high traffic living areas? I have done 3 painted floors in my life time.
    One on old concrete, which has held up amazingly well.
    Second one had adhesion problems between an oil based stain that i had used and the water based polyurethane I topped it with.
    On the last one, which i want to redo, I painted over a 1965 dark stained, top nailed oak planks with deep grooves created by beveling the edges of the planks. On that floor, I sanded well removing most of the finish and stain except of course in the grooves. I painted with two coats of shellac based primer, sanded again to distress it, vacumed well and topped it with two coats of water based polyurethane for floors. While the floor came out beautiful, after two years the paint in the groves is not sticking. It comes up in long brittle slivers that all have a coat of the dark stain on the back of it. ( Poor adhesion of the primer in the grooves. Maybe wax that i didn’t get out of the grooves with my sanding?) Also the polyurethane chips off of the primer here and there due to furniture legs.
    My question is how to get the wax and debris out of the grooves, and what’s the best polyurethane to top it with or should i just use porch paint?
    Grateful for any comments or suggestions.
    Thanks, Lise

  2. I have solid maple “formal” wood flooring throughout my home, about 15 yrs old. Back then distressed flooring was not in. 2 years ago we added a German Shepherd to our family and the floors are ruined. Is there a way to refinish them to look distressed to cover and hide the existing damage vs replacing with a more durable dog proof flooring? I would like to keep natural wood if possible instead of installing a pergo type floor. Any tips or advice would be appreciated!

  3. When you say paint – is there a specific color? I cant envision what you mean by paint wood floor first – many thanks!

  4. Great, informative post!

    I have yellow pine floors with a white oak border that are saturated with pet stains from the past 90 years—unfortunately, the stains are there to stay. Will your method work for me? Will the stains show past the paint?

  5. Do you think this would work to hide water stains on oak hardwood floors. We had carpet and took it up, reveling some stains along with paint marks. I was thinking this would work to hide the stains, or cover them up. What do you think?

  6. I bought a 1920 bungalow. The living room is carpeted and underneath is 2 inch wood flooring painted a glossy medium gray color. Can we paint the white over the gray and follow your technique to get a nice old finished look. What do you suggest. Thank you. Connie

  7. Hi Scott, we are renovating a kitchen in a 1914 Craftsman (Calgary, Canada) that had an 80s renovation by the previous owners. They also added an addition at that time to create a nook. For the nook, they matched height of the existing 3/4″ oak hardwood with plywood and covered the entire area with linoleum. Rather than replace all the wood, I was thinking of removing the plywood, replacing it with 3/4″ boards of some kind (T/G? boards?) and then distressing it all according to your technique above. I was thinking this would be the easiest way to get a somewhat uniform look without having to rip out all the floors–assuming that it will be very difficult to match 100 year old oak with something modern. Any suggestions? Does that sound workable? Thanks! (Also love your post on shiplap–very helpful).

  8. My floor has been varnished in an ugly dark pine colour, can I just use a liquid deglosser and then paint following these instructions?

  9. Your floors look great! Would there be any problem if I used a water-based enamel paint and an oil-based mini wax stain? I didn’t know if the stain would bead up. Thanks!

  10. Would love to see finished pics of the entire floor. Would like ideas on brands of sealer that will not yellow the floor. Something other than wax. I did hear Annie Sloan has a good water based sealer. Has anyone tried it?

  11. Quick question! My husband and I just purchased a home with wood floors. The floors are already painted . Can we just sand and roughen up the paint that is already down a bit and use stain?
    Or is that a bad idea.
    I want a rustic aged look. They are all painted white so I figured that would work just fine.

  12. It has been awhile now, how are the floors holding up? We are considering a similar refinish to our living room floors and have been trying to figure out how to seal it without turning it yellow. Are you pleased with your results a yr later? Has the wax done a good job to protect the floors?

  13. How do you think this technique would work with oak flooring? Ours is pretty smooth with quite a bit of grain. We had them re-finished about a year ago and I just don’t like them. With kids and dogs, they are hard to keep shiny, and I’m not a big fan of the look anyway. I love this distressed look though…especially the color. What color is the paint you used? Any tips you mught have with doing this on oak floors would be helpful! Thanks!

  14. Great idea to use upside down shiplap! Like the distressing too.

    So how do you feel about finishing old subfloors? People do it all the time, but I wonder if it isn’t very watertight.

    1. Thanks Kathy! More than the watertight issues with subfloors is the air leakage and bugs. Without the tongue and groove to seal things up you waste a lot of energy.

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