Wood-Graining Techniques

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Make your own faux wood or faux bois finishes using paint in two wood color, clear glaze, and specialty combs or graining rocker tools to create the desired effect. In a pinch, even scrap cardboard or a dry paintbrush can be used to create the fake grain look.

Wood-Graining Basics

No matter which tools you use to create the faux grain finish, the technique is basically the same.

  • Paint the project piece  in the background wood color, usually the lightest of the two wood tints. Latex or acrylic paints work well and clean up easily while they're wet. Allow the paint to dry completely.
  • Mix the other color -- the shade picked to resemble wood grain -- with an equal amount of a clear latex or acrylic glaze in a disposable bowl. Test the translucency by dipping the tip of a paintbrush into the mixture and brushing it onto a scrap piece of cardboard. If you prefer the glaze to be more opaque, add more paint. More glaze makes it more translucent.
  • Apply the glaze mixture over the dry base coat in one small area at a time, usually no more than several feet wide or long, if painting a large area. Drag the chosen tool through the wet glaze to create the grain.

Grain-Comb Techniques

Step 1: Drag in a Straight Line

Drag the wood-graining comb -- a rubber tool with teeth on several edges -- through the wet glaze. Drag it in the direction you prefer for the wood grain. Drag it all the way from top to bottom or side to side on your project to recreate the look of one single board or piece of wood.

Step 2: Wipe the Comb Off and Repeat

Wipe the graining comb off on a rag; then line it up next to the previously combed area, dragging it through again, much like using a squeegee on a window. Continue working in parallel lines until you've combed all the wet glaze.

Step 3: Finishing the Project

Apply more glaze to expand the work area, then drag the comb through in parallel, slightly overlapping lines once again. Fix any botched areas by dragging a paintbrush full of glaze over the combed area; then comb it again. Allow the glaze to dry completely before touching it.

Tip

  • A rubber squeegee or a piece of corrugated cardboard with notches cut into the edge can be used in place of a graining comb. Practice using the homemade tool on scrap cardboard to come up with the ideal notching pattern for your vision of the desired faux wood grain. Wiggle the tool slowly as you drag it through the wet glaze to create variations.

Rocker Tool Techniques

Using a wood-grain rocker tool is a lot like using the graining comb; dragging the tool in parallel, overlapping lines creates the main grain look.

  • Rock the handle of the grain tool slightly up or down as you create vertical grain, or side to side when creating horizontal grain. This slight change affects the width of the grain, due to the pattern on the curved portion of the tool, which is essentially a curved rubber stamp. 
  • Hold the tool straight while dragging it to keep the grain fairly consistent for a while.
  • Rock the tool widely back and forth or up and down over a short area to create effects similar to knots.

Paintbrush Techniques

  • Drag a dry paintbrush through wet glaze to create a tight wood-grain effect. Wipe the brush off after each pass to prevent leaving blobs of glaze in your work.
  • Twist a round brush with a flat tip, such as a stencil-pouncing brush, in random areas to create fake knots. Use an artist's brush to paint fine lines or remove fine lines of glaze around the knot for added realism.

Tip

  • Practice with any of the tools on scrap paper or cardboard painted in the base wood color. Use more than one wood graining tool to create more complex styles. The more comfortable you become with practice, the more realistic the final finish.

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