How to Make Plastic Look Like Wood

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Just because an item is made of plastic doesn't mean it has to look like plastic. Faux wood grain -- or faux bois -- finishing can give all kinds of plastics a realistic wooden appearance. Jazz up everything from plastic molding to picture frames with your favorite wood tones.

Sand the Surface

Even if the plastic piece already looks somewhat like wood -- as far as its color is concerned -- a thorough yet gentle sanding makes it more receptive to a faux-wood treatment. Sand with fine-grit sandpaper just enough to scuff the surface gently, and then wipe the dust away. Sand the plastic in the same direction as you work, rather than in circles or random directions; this way any scratches you create lend to a wood-grain look. For a deeper grainy texture, sand the plastic with a coarse or medium sandpaper before using the finer sandpaper.

Gel-Glazed Grain

If the plastic is a light or medium color, use a gel stain to create the wood look. Rub brown gel stain over the plastic with a rag, applying it largely in the same direction so it develops lighter and darker lines along the way. Add more gel stain to create a darker grain. To enhance the faux grain, drag a paintbrush gently through the wet glaze. If the plastic is too dark for a gel stain to show up, paint it a light gray or tan first, using a plastic spray paint that requires no priming.

Tip

  • Wear rubber gloves while working with gel stain, which can get quite messy.

Brush-On Grain

If you prefer to work with paints, paint the plastic in a light wood color that serves as the background shade beneath the grain. Use a dedicated plastic paint; other types may not adhere. If you can't find the right paint shade, apply a plastic primer instead. Then spray paint the piece the desired light brown shade. Add color variations to the wood finish by brushing on a shade such as burnt umber latex paint after mixing it with a small amount of clear latex glaze, which extends the drying time slightly. To create subtle color variations, brush in several similar brown shades, always brushing in the direction of the faux grain, while the first shade is still wet. Drag the edge of a sponge through the wet paint, or use a paintbrush with soft fanned bristles. To add visual depth, add more clear glaze into any of the grain paint shades, which makes the paint slightly translucent.

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