To successfully distress or "antique" an item it is often beneficial to create an imaginary history as a means of replicating authentic looking "wear and tear". Try to envision a previous owner's use of the piece or imagine the adventurous journeys upon which it may have embarked.
It's often helpful to examine original antiques for ideas and different examples of realistic aging. Look for universal signs of regular use like worn tops and corners or areas of naturally occurring wear around handles, knobs and escutcheons.
Use a sanding block and 80 or 100 grit sandpaper to round over corners in naturally occurring areas of wear. Remember you can always remove more material but you can't put it back so go slowly at this stage until you're satisfied with the appearance and degree of "softening".
With an artists brush touch-up the raw wood to simulate the look of the original finish "peeking" through subsequent layers. Try combining a thinned finish like shellac with a few drops of Solar-Lux Stain or Analine Dye for color. Straight stain will work but may make some woods too dark. Colored furniture waxes and even shoe polish will also give satisfactory results.
Use Beeswax, paraffin or candle wax as a release on areas which require additional aging. These release agents help prevent paint from sticking thus helping to recreate a flaking finish.
After applying the final of finish or paint, allow it to dry according to the manufacturers instructions. Use fine sandpaper (approximately 150-220 grit) to scuff through the different layers of finish to highlight specific areas of wear or abuse. Use a piece of coarse cloth like burlap or scrap upholstery material to remove the paint from your release agent.
Be creative in both selecting the areas and methods used to induce artificial aging. Go slowly, experiment along the way and trust your instincts as this is one project where you can't go wrong!