How to Paint a Faux Wood Finish


The secret of painting faux wood effects lies in using the right tools for the job and knowing what wood really looks like (it’s not all knots and long grain). Duplicate or imitate the grain patterns on different wood species and paint mottles, stipples, spots and lines to make a faux wood effect successful. Obtain the equipment easily and relatively cheaply. Learn the basics to make patterns with these simple tools.

Things You'll Need

  • Base coat paint: Water-based matte (cream color)
  • Water-based glaze (burnt umber for oak effect or light brown for maple effect)
  • Flat paintbrush
  • Flogging brush (very long-bristled paintbrush)
  • Cork, cut into a wedge shape
  • Fine cotton cloths
  • Combs with different sized teeth (metal, rubber or plastic)
  • Graduated comb (teeth range from fine to wide)
  • Mottler
  • Graining roller (optional)

Faux Oak Effect

  • Apply layer of base coat and allow to dry.

  • Apply glaze over the base coat vertically, with a flat brush. If working on a large area, work in panels that are the approximate size of oak panels (about 18 inches wide and 3 to 6 feet high). If working on a smaller piece, work on one area at a time (the side of a cabinet, for example).

  • Pull a fine-toothed comb down the length of the area you are working on. Occasionally twist it slightly to the left and right to create the slightly irregular lines of real oak.

  • Pull a graduated comb (a comb with different-sized teeth varying from wide to fine) down the glaze, next to the first grain. Use fine, graduated and wide combs in random order until the area is covered.

  • Pull a fine-toothed comb down the glaze at a slight angle over the lines already made. Only do this once or twice in a width of 3 feet, and place at irregular intervals.

  • Hit the glaze gently with the tip of a flogging brush at approximately ¼-inch intervals. This breaks up the lines slightly, making the grain look more realistic.

  • Wrap the wedge-shaped piece of cork in a cloth. Draw half-arched shapes that you see on oak. Notice how in real oak they appear clustered in clumps, so draw a 2 to 3 in one area and then leave another area free.

  • Finish with a coat of varnish or polyurethane. Matte or satin usually looks more realistic than gloss.

Faux Maple Effect

  • Apply base coat and allow to dry.

  • Apply glaze vertically with a flat brush, spreading it thinly so the base coat shows through.

  • Gently move a mottler down the surface, twisting it from side to side slightly, while the glaze is still wet. To enhance the maple effect by creating spots, press on the mottler slightly when changing direction to release a bit of glaze.

  • Dab the surface irregularly with a soft brush before the glaze dries to soften the effect.

  • Finish with a coat of varnish or polyurethane (matte or satin).

Tips & Warnings

  • Use glaze over the base coat, not ordinary paint, as paint dries too quickly and not translucent enough.
  • To create knotty wood effects, use a special wood-graining tool called a "graining roller" instead of the combs.
  • Look at a sample of real wood before starting so you can see how the grain looks.
  • Faux wood looks more realistic if you make the patterns and spots of color irregular and the lines not too straight.
  • Practice using tools such as a mottler, flogging brush or graining roller on scrap wood before launching into your project.
  • Wear rubber gloves when painting and always ensure the room you are working in is well-ventilated as many paints contain harmful substances.

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  • “Decorative Paint Effects”; Annie Sloan; 1996
  • “Decorative Wood Finishes”; Annie Sloan; 1997
  • Photo Credit Close-up wooden texture to background image by Ragnarocks from
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