Getting the "Habersham" Distressed Look

Call it "Shabby Chic," or just furniture that looks like it walked down the wrong alley ó it's not an easy look to achieve. In this thread, pros share their recipes for roughing up the woodwork. July 11, 2005

I have a client who is looking for several pieces to be made with a Habersham finish. I pretty much use Fuhr line of products, 4 stage turbine or comp with a standard hvlp gun. Does anyone have any advice on the steps needed to re-create this look? I have distressed finished pieces in the past and was thinking about using the following process:

1.) Sand the bare wood with 220 grit.
2.) Distress the piece by rounding edges, worm holes, hitting with objects, sanding down wood on high wear spots, etc.
3.) Apply dark brown dye stain (Transient).
4.) Seal in color with vinyl sealer.
5.) Quick once over with maroon scotch pad.
6.) Apply crackel medium on a few select spots along with some stick wax rubbed on a few edges etc.
7.) Spray pigmented acrylic finish
8.) Sand down wear spots again to reveal dye stain under color (220 grit), and scratch off some finish over wax areas.
9.) Apply glaze and wipe off as needed.
10. Topcoat.

What does everyone think of this process? Is there anything that I should be concerned about?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
As far as your schedule listed above, I don't see anything wrong with the sequence. I am wondering about the crackle medium you're planning on using. A water-base medium may not work on top of solvent base vinyl sealer (assuming this is a solvent sealer), but if not, I donít know that a water based vinyl sealer (clear) is available.

From contributor D:
Iím wondering why are you only sanding to 220 grit? 180 grit is the finest grit that bare wood should be.

From contributor M:
I have had excellent results with the following formula to accomplish the look you are after:

1) Sand wood with grit of your choice.
2) Distress as mentioned above.
3) Stain with a medium brown. I used an oil based stain. Allow to dry.
4) Seal with a vinyl sealer and topcoat with a pre-cat lacquer.
5) Sand it lightly.
6) You can use your wax in areas if you wish, but really isn't necessary.
7) Spray on two light coats of oil based enamel of whatever color you like.
8) Use a rag soaked in acetone and drag lightly over the surfaces you wish to crackle away. After a little exposure to the solvent, the oil begins to pull away from itself and give you a crackle effect. This technique is not easy, so I suggest practicing. 9) Darken in some of the raised panels slightly with a dark brown glaze. Iíve also used lacquer stain with a toothbrush and applied a light flyspeck.
10) Apply a coat of polyurethane.

From contributor D:
You should not sand to whatever grit you want. Finishes need to be able to grip to their substrates. This is only done by sanding to a grit which is rough enough to create the kind of tooth that the finish needs. If you want to risk adhesion problems, then burnish the wood and sand it finer than what he finish needs.

Generally, 180 grit is as fine as you would want to do your whitewood sanding. This is for film-forming finishes. You can go as fine as 220 grit, but that is only if you have to and not something that you want to do all the time.

Wood preparation is too important to leave things to chance. All I am doing is suggesting that we respect the limits of our coatings and operate safely so that our finishes not only look great, but at the same time do not fail. Crackle coatings are fragile enough by themselves.

From contributor M:
I agree that you donít need to sand down to absolute perfectly smooth if you intend to apply a coat of paint to the surface. I only sand to 220 for stain and lacquer, and even then, I only scuff with 220 after 180 to knock down any rough spots.

From contributor T:
As for sanding on painted finishes, I rarely - if ever go past 120, and sometimes choose not to sand at all. I was recently given a sample of Habersham 247 French Green Connoisser. A customer brought it to me, and wanted me to do this finish to match the existing furniture she has in her home now.

By all appearances, it looks to have been done with a waterborne finish / clear coat. I have done a few hundred of these types of finishes, and have always gone the same route, occasionally top coating with lacquers, pre and post cats and c.v.'s. The sample I have looks to have been stained with light walnut, clear-coated, painted, glazed, and then clear coated again. The paint has been crackled in areas and pulled away to expose the wood underneath.

On this particular job, I plan to go waterborne all the way, which incidentally is the only way you are going to get the acrylic to crackle. Try applying your crackle medium to the areas you plan on pulling off. Apply it heavily along the edges or wherever you plan on taking the paint off. When itís dry enough to start peeling the paint, use a cabinet scraper instead of sand paper and you'll get a more realistic chipping away of the paint without any wax residue to contend with. I do this over the entire piece in conjunction with sanding some areas.

My sample shows the crackle medium to be sprayed on, and in some areas to be spattered. The spattered areas have allowed for some of the paint to be scraped off in small random chips in and around the more crackled spots.

To look effective the glaze needs to be feathered and pounced with a rag to eliminate any and all brush marks if you are applying it this way, and/or removing it with a brush. I tried to describe what I have, and what I plan on doing, and I hope you find something useful. I will be using a

From contributor B:
To contributor T: What's a Habersham finish again? You evidently have done a lot of them. Where does one get these samples to know what the name is like the "247 French Green Connoisseur"?

From contributor T:
To contributor B: Think of a Habersham finish as being what it has been called lately: Shabby Chic. It's nothing more than a highly distressed painted finish, but done with a little more sophistication and thought to create an authentic looking worn finish, and on the higher end of these types of finishes. You've probably done your share of them as well.

From the original questioner:
To Contributor T: Your method seems right on track to what I was thinking. I agree about leaving the wax off. The scraper idea is a good option also and I'll be sure to use it.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor W:
One method we've used for a Habersham type finish is to stain, seal, sand and then brush on latex paint. While it's still wet, take a heat gun to it - it blisters and peels. You can adjust how much you want to peel off. You can then sand the loose stuff off, and clear coat it. Iíve used it on a custom alder cabinet for a customer who already had a Habersham piece and she loved it.