How to Achieve that Beautiful, Rubbed-Through Finish

how to paint furniture black like pottery barn

For practically nothing. I picked up this coffee table at an auction a few weeks ago. I was originally going to fix it up and sell it, but we decided to keep it.
coffee table 1

It was pretty chipped and worn, so I gave it a few light coats of black paint.
light coats on coffee table
My favorite way to rub-through black is to use denatured alcohol, and some steel wool (a scrub sponge works well, too). Be sure you take a damp cloth and immediately wipe away the rubbed-off  paint, or it will dry onto your finish and you and your sandpaper will be getting well acquainted. Applying a few light coats of paint versus heavy coats will make it much easier to rub through. Just thin the paint with a little water so it’s not thick.
Next, smooth the entire surface down with sandpaper that is anywhere between 400 & 1000 grit. Just be sure it’s fine enough that it doesn’t sand through anymore paint.
smooth with sandpaper


It will look pretty bad after you’ve rubbed through, and sanded everything smooth.
Don’t despair, the clear coat will solve that problem!
Next, if there are areas where the stain was removed down to the wood, here is what you can do:
after removing stain
A brown Crayola marker mimics wood stain beautifully.
You can also use those wood touch-up pens.
Although I sprayed both the paint and the final finish, applying slightly thinned paint with a brush would work just as well. Sometimes smoothing brush marks with a foam roller is a good idea, but may not be necessary.
After the clear coat is dry, I smoothed the final finish with some super fine steel wool, and then buffed out the steel wool scratches with car polish (NOT car wax!).

Here it is in our home:
Coffee table finish
Products I used:

  • Black paint: SW Solo Interior/Exterior Low VOC in Semi-Gloss
  • Rub-through: Denatured Alcohol and a scrubby sponge (or #1 or #2 steel wool)
  • Smoothing the paint: I prefer between 400 & 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper found at automotive stores
  • Final Finish: Varathane Floor Finish in Semi-Gloss
  • Smoothing the Finish: Dull with super fine steel wool, then Maguire’s car polish to shine