This finishing technique is used by every major specialty furniture retailer...I won't mention names... you know who they are!
This technique is specific to using black or a dark color. You will change your technique slightly if you choose a lighter color or a white, keep this in mind. I will create a tutorial specifically for creating an Antique Rubbed Finish in a lighter color at a later date.
We are going to start this tutorial by assuming you have sanded, prepped and primed your furniture. These are
steps you need to do regardless of whether you are using MDF or natural wood. Don't skimp on the prep work, it will really pay off in the end. If you would like a bit more information on this process, please visit the Tips and Tricks for Painting Like a Pro article in the Finishing School! That should do the trick...
Once your piece is primed you should have a nice even surface to work with:
Apply 2-3 coats of your Base Color, which in this case will be Black. The number of coats necessary will be determined by the level of coverage you receive with each coat. You will want to make sure your furniture is completely covered with a nice and even finish. Take your time with this step as it is the basis for achieving a professional look. Keep my tips and tricks page handy (print it out) so that you are sure to stay on track. If you have to use a brush in any particular area of your furniture piece keep your brush strokes consistent.
Once your furniture piece has dried completely (allow 24 hours to be on the safe side) you are ready for sanding. This is the most intricate step in the process, so go slow and keep in mind that you can always throw another coat of paint on should you mess up.
You will want to purchase a variety pack of sand paper that includes both 150 grit and 100 grit paper. You should always start with the finest grit possible that will still remove paint (that would be your 150 grit paper, the higher the number the finer the grit) so that you have the most control over how much paint you are removing and from where you are removing it.
Cut your sheets into small rectangles or squares. I prefer to have mine be no larger than 3"x4" so that I have enough control and yet enough of an edge to rotate the sandpaper piece around as I wear down the grit. Keep rotating your paper every so often as dull paper will not work as well and will remove more paint from a larger area than you prefer.
You will begin with the edges of your furniture piece first. Hold your paper at a 45 degree angle to your edge as shown in the picture above and wrap your sandpaper around your index finger just a bit as shown in the picture below. This will give you one point of contact between the paper and the furniture rather than an entire area of the sandpaper.
You will begin lightly sanding just along one edge of the top or outside surface area of your furniture piece. You will lightly sand all the way around each edge and slightly round out the corners. Go slow and maintain a light touch as MDF is easy to sand down fairly quickly and you don't want to alter the shape of your piece. Do not attempt to sand in a crevice or corner. You have to think of this as representing wear and tear on an old piece of furniture. The finish will wear down around the outside edges of the top of a table or the outside (and inside) edges of the front of a bookshelf. Anywhere people are likely to grab and rub against.
If you have added trim work, sand only along the outside edges (for now) of the peaks and not the valleys of the trim work. Once you have sanded around each edge on each side of the furniture piece, you are ready for the detail work. Remember however, that if you are not a professional you should always err on the side of caution when Faux Finishing and be conservative with the areas you sand. The less you 'rub' the more professional it will look, until you have increased your painting skill level quite a bit. Rubbing off too much is the single most problematic mistake people make (that, and a poly coating that is too glossy) and will make your paint finish look 'handmade' faster than any other thing you can do. Less is more is the rule of the game here!
To accomplish the detail work on any areas with trim or the front/top fascia of your furniture piece you will want to sporadically sand areas that would get the greatest wear in real life. For areas with trim work this will be the peaks or highest points and for flat surfaces this will be around the edges.
I have done both in my example below. I have sanded in a parallel direction for each side and horizontally along the peaks of the trim detailing.
I have tried to slightly exaggerate the amount of sanding that should be done. If you do more than I have done in the example below you have gone too far!
Once you have finished your sanding and you are satisfied with the amount you have rubbed off, you need to clean your piece thoroughly. Once again tacky cloth or a barely dampened cloth will work well. If you have a considerable amount of sanding debris and your piece of furniture is large, consider vacuuming it before you wipe it down. Your piece will most likely look fabulous like this, but Black paint is tricky in that when you sand it the area around the portions where paint has been removed, will have a dullness to them and it will look slightly unfinished. This next step will fix that and will also make the 'rubbed' portion appear to be showing a bit of wood grain underneath.
Purchase a water based wood stain in a color you enjoy and some foam brushes in an appropriate size to your furniture piece and trim work. I chose Behr Premium (the other options that aren't Premium aren't water based) in Mahogany. Because it is water based stain it won't turn out as dark as it might otherwise, but a honey colored stain that runs on the warm side of the color wheel is going to
give you the best result here.
You are going to work in small sections because the stain sets in quickly. You want to work fast applying light layers and the adding to them as you see fit. Cover the entire section you are working on and then wipe away the excess with a rag or towel. Wipe it as though you are wiping it clean and don't leave any stain in the crevices or corners,you are only trying to darken the areas you previously sanded.
For the trim sections, you need only apply it to the peaks and then wipe away the excess. You will want to cover the entirety of the flat surfaces however. The stain will act to fix the areas previously dulled slightly by the sanding (this mainly occurs on the flat surfaces, but might also occur on the larger peaks in your trim work).
Below you can see how I applied the stain lightly to the peaks of the trim work, then wiped the excess, and then covered the entire flat surface before wiping away the excess. I did each section separately, working quickly and repeatedly applying layers of stain and wiping the excess until I was happy with the color.
Let your furniture dry completely but this shouldn't take long since you have been wiping away the majority of the
stain each time you apply it.
Apply 3-4 coats of Satin Finish Water Based Polyurethane. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next. Do make sure to apply several coats of this as it will act as a barrier to spills, stains and everyday wear for your beautiful and professional looking finish. I chose to use a fast drying spray polyurethane and chose Minwax for this project. I am not partial but they do make a good product.