How to Distress Wainscoting

Wainscoting, that wooden paneling used typically on the lower half of walls, adds a bit of a rustic, country or casual vibe to a room. If the wainscoting is new or freshly painted, however, it may look a bit too pristine for the room's decor. Distressing the wood gives it the look of added years and a little abuse that might be typical over time from chair backs and various objects bumping against the walls. It's a means of causing wear quickly rather than waiting decades for it to happen naturally.

Painted wood paneling
credit: Hemera Technologies/ Images
Beating wainscoting with a hammer is one way to distress the surface.

Step 1

Remove dust and cobwebs from the wainscoting using a duster.

Step 2

Whack the wainscoting in several areas that would naturally receive wear over time, such as at the height of a chair back or the trim at the top of the wainscoting, using a claw hammer. Hit the paneling with various parts of the hammer, such as the claw or side of the hammer, to vary the look. If the wainscoting covers a corner, hit the corner several times with the hammer as well.

Step 3

Remove small chunks of wainscoting, such as on raised borders, using a chisel and rubber mallet. Use this technique in an area that would receive wear naturally, such as where a doorknob may hit the wall, or at the entry to a stairwell. (Skip this step if you don't want the paneling to look quite so distressed.)

Step 4

Sand away the paint or finish on parts of the wainscoting using a fine-grit sanding block, focusing on sharp edges, trim, and areas that would receive the most wear over time. Remove dust with a tack cloth.

Step 5

Drill clusters of several tiny holes using a 1/16-inch drill bit in random areas of the wainscoting to emulate the look of worm damage.

Kathy Adams

Kathy Adams

Kathy Adams is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer who traveled the world handling numerous duties for music artists. She writes travel and budgeting tips and destination guides for USA Today, Travelocity and ForRent, among others. She enjoys exploring foreign locales and hiking off the beaten path stateside, snapping pics of wildlife and nature instead of selfies.