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Handmade Holiday: Distressed Metal Tiles

Old metal things make great gifts! Dazzle your antique lovers with a refinished metal tile.

Local flea markets and thrift stores are a great place to source wares ripe for refinishing. You could refinish a tile like these in about 5 days, most of which is dry time. These are from the Fremont flea market—and they made wonderful Christmas gifts last year! While one required a Dremel to remove incompatible paint, the other accepted acrylics with a hand sanding just fine. After a few coats of paint, more sanding and a poly finish, the surface was durable and even more amazing! Just follow our easy process and you’ll have a killer Christmas gift!


Metal Tile
Acrylic Paint
Palette, Glass or Wax Paper
Foam Brushes
Gel Medium (optional)
Sandpaper, 100 – 400 grit
Pourable Polyurethane
2 Boxes— 1 large enough to cover your tile when it’s drying


Sand the metal tile with an electrical sander, or by hand with the 100 grit, getting as much old paint off as possible. If you don’t want any old paint showing later, really get in those crevices with a dremel. The more of the original tile you see, the more control you’ll have. Save your finer grit—that’s for distressing.


Choosing Paint

Get your acrylics out if you want to have this done in a couple of days—any brand will do. I like Amsterdam Acrylics, mainly because they come in a variety of colors, and Golden, because their metallic paints have flecks of awesome in them! They really add to the depth and shimmery effect of the tile once completed.

You can choose any colors, as long as you go with some dark and some light. If you want your tile darker overall, you’ll need a lighter base to show through when distressing later. And if you want a lighter color overall, grab a darker paint for the base coat. My blue tile goes from a white base coat to a dark midnight blue top coat, with a teal blue in between. So there was 3 coatings of paint that had to dry over the course of 3 days.

Base Coat 1

Mix your base color(s) on a piece of glass, paint palette or wax paper with either a brush or palette knife. Apply your first base coat with the foam brush. Not much of this paint will show in the end—it’s more of an accent to pop other colors, so save that creativity for the top layer!


Let the tile dry completely in between coatings. You can use a hair dryer on the lowest setting to speed things along— but the paint underneath your coating may be incompatible, and bubble up. Natural drying is always better. If you can, prop the tile up on a box or something flat and cover it with a larger box to keep dust out as it dries.

Base Coat 2

After the first base coat has dried, mix your colors and apply another! This will be the accent color that pops through the top coat and base color. Apply paint generously, covering all the base color. You’ll sand away the paint to the layer you want to see later.


Let the tile dry completely in between coatings again. Seriously, come back tomorrow for that top coat!

Top Coat

If your tile is dry, it’s time to paint the top coat! Mix your paints, and apply them however your heart desires. Paint until you feel good about the colors and gradients. You can add gel mediums to your paints if they’re drying too quickly or you just don’t have enough—but they’re not necessary, and can become problematic if you’re running low on time and rush through the final sanding. Stick with generous amounts of paint, or longer dry times if you use a gel medium, and you’re guaranteed a great result.


Last time! Let it dry completely. If there’s any doubt, give it another day.

Final Sanding

This sanding allows the colorful layers and metal surface to shine through again. So don’t worry if sanding roughens your surface a little, the pourable finish will make it perfect again. Start with a larger grit paper like 100 or 200, and sand away paint where you want to see metal. Use your hand or a block to keep the paper flat as you sand. Move to a smaller grit like 400, to sand areas you want to see your base coats. 400 grit gives you a lot of control over how much is removed, and you can really fine tune your surface in this last step.

It takes practice getting the right amount distressed, but with 100-400 grit sandpaper and 3 coats of awesome paint, you should be on your way to a pretty awesome work of art!


If your finish is distressed to your liking, it’s time to seal it! Use a pourable water-based poly finish for great results with your acrylics! A spray poly finish works, too, but you get thick, solid coverage that lasts a lifetime with pourable poly. You may even be able to use resin, but poly sealants are easier to work with and less toxic.

Prepare a workspace

Lay out lots of newspaper, and put your smaller box the tile will sit upon in the center. The space the box creates will allow the sealant to drip around and off the edges, without the tile sticking to anything like your paper. Place the tile on top of the box.

Pour your Poly

You want to get the tile completely coated in 5 minutes or less, as the poly finish gets tacky before it hardens up. Shake or stir your poly finish coating as directed and generously pour it onto the tile, letting it flow naturally around the surface. Don’t brush the coating around, or the colors underneath may run a little. If there’s uncoated areas, pour more poly there, or lift the tile and try to get some of the poly finish to run into that area—but again, allow nature to do most of the work so the least amount of color runs. Pop bubbles if there’s any. Use your foam brush to collect drips off the edges and make sure they have a smooth coating, too.

Once your tile has a generous coating and you’ve taken care of most of the drips, cover it with the larger box and let it dry. If you want to clean up first, move the tile with the box to a designated drying area with clean newsprint, as it will continue to drip as it dries.


How did it turn out? Sometimes the poly coat can blend with leftover paint and sealants, making its own brownishugg color. But the more you sanded in the beginning, the morechance your tile will become what you envisioned! We hope you enjoyed our refinished metal tile tutorial! Check out our Acid Etched Glasses or Linoleum Block Printing tutorials posted earlier this week, and stay tuned for more DIY Projects released daily until Christmas!


Happy Holidays!
xoxox // Bethany

—Catfight Craft

1 thought on “Handmade Holiday: Distressed Metal Tiles”

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