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Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

How to make a fake wood grain texture for signs and other projects

Published by Manning on October 14th, 2015

Believe it or not, these signs are just foam board! Plus a little spray paint and wood stain. I experimented with a few techniques, and here’s what I came up with…

How to create a fake wood grain effect

For the big Voodoo Bayou sign, I started by cutting out my foam board shapes and spray painting them with a light tan color. You can see that color on the white foam board at left, below:

How to create a fake wood grain effect

(For the smaller “C’mon In!” sign, I didn’t use any paint; I just cut the foam board and then applied a layer of paper maché using brown craft paper and wallpaper adhesive. I’ll talk about that one in a bit.)

Now the fun part. I applied a coat of Minwax wood stain (a mid-dark color called Special Walnut) to the Voodoo Bayou sign with a big paintbrush and used a wood grainer tool to create the wood pattern; this was fun and very challenging! I’d watched some YouTube videos that make this thing look easy, but it really isn’t (for me, anyway). I may have been using a type of stain that was too liquid-y, or maybe the weather was too hot and humid, or maybe my painted foam board was not the ideal material for this technique, but it really didn’t want to work like what I’d seen in the videos. I’d drag the wood grainer through the stain and it would look pretty cool for a few seconds, but then the stain would naturally spread itself out again and the pattern would be mostly gone. I’d smooth the stain out with my paint brush and try the tool again, and the same thing happened. Fortunately, after a few minutes of this, the stain started to get sticky and congeal a bit, and the grain pattern stayed a bit better. It wasn’t perfect, but close enough! Like I’d seen in the videos, I did one last step: I lightly dragged a stiff brush over the drying wood stain to dirty up the pattern a bit and add lots of thin lines.

How to create a fake wood grain effect

In the end I was very happy with the result. At a glance it really looks like wood, even pretty close up. The three fake wooden boards are glued onto another piece of foam board, and the words are painted on with regular ‘ol white acrylic paint. It’s fun to paint something where you’re allowed to be sloppy! I’m so used to being careful and stressed out with all my projects, trying to keep everything perfect.

How to create a fake wood grain effect

For the “C’mon In!” sign, which was made with foam board and paper maché, the wood grainer tool was much harder to use effectively; the surface was just too uneven. Also, the color of the stain came out much darker due to the brown paper, and of course the texture all over is much more uneven due to the edges of all the torn pieces of craft paper. Still, totally fine for a small sign that people will only see briefly on their way into the party.

Related reading: I tried a different technique for a wood grain effect on my fake pine box coffin.

5 Responses to “How to make a fake wood grain texture for signs and other projects”

  1. Megan Says:

    The directions for most techniques I’ve seen say mix glaze with paint (4 parts glaze to 1 part paint) to do the top coat…not using wood stain. Maybe try again this way and share your results with that? :)

  2. manning Says:

    Hey Megan! Thanks for this advice; I haven’t tried more projects like this since then but I’d love to try it again with the correct materials. This was a quick/cheap one but I’d love to do a more serious one.

  3. Chuck Says:

    The faux wood grain effects are always demonstrated in nice flat surfaces. Have you ever tried to create a wood grain on a uneven cylindrical object like a lamp with lots of curved sections with different diameters? I guess the colors would work the same way but you can’t use a rubber wood grain tool so is there another way to do it without being Rembrandt?

  4. manning Says:

    Hello Chuck! I’m actually facing that very problem right now! I’m making a big paper mache axe and I want to give the handle a wood pattern. I’m not at all optimistic that I can get a realistic pattern with a tool like in the above article; instead I’m doing the following: spray paint the surface a medium-brown, then draw lots of lines with a dark brown oil-based paint marker to make the wood pattern, then probably fade the pattern back by applying brown acrylic paint with a damp sponge as much as needed to reduce the contrast between the base color and the lines. I’ll be posting pictures of that within a few weeks; fingers crossed! Beyond that I don’t have any other ideas. Good luck!

  5. Ways To Use Foam Board- Crafting On a Budget – CraftingQueen Says:

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