Faux Wood Grain
wood finishes, created using paint, were common on many clock cases
manufactured in the
later part of the 1800's. Small "cottage" clocks as well as large
"Triple-Decker" shelf clocks used this finish technique
to reduce the use of
expensive imported veneers.
veneers were combined with the faux finish such that it was
difficult to tell where genuine ended and faux started. On this
cottage clock case, the red arrows point to genuine rosewood veneer
while the green arrows point to faux rosewood.
After 100 years
or more of use, storage and moving, most of these clock cases show
considerable wear and damage. With real veneer, you can often find
matching "new" veneer to make your repairs. This isn't possible with
a faux finish. To restore this finish, you must be able to reproduce
the original grain using paints.
recreating faux wood finishes is accomplished using "glazes" which
are nothing more than paints that have been thinned to the point of
translucence. The techniques necessary to create authentic looking
faux finishes are not difficult to master and require no special
tools. Practice pieces (4 x 8 inches) can be cut from thin paneling
or door-skin and used to perfect technique.
Faux wood grain does not require a large investment in tools or
supplies but it is important to gather up the needed materials and
get organized before the first attempt. The following are basic
materials you will need.
Artist's acrylic paints
work well for faux finishing. They are mixed with water and acrylic
medium to create glazes.
Shades such as raw
umber, burnt umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and black
pretty well cover all the wood tones needed.
product called acrylic medium or polymer medium is used to thin
paints for brushing and spraying. It is available in both gloss and
matt finish. Either works well.
Artist's acrylics and
are available from arts & crafts stores such as Michaels.
One of the nice benefits of using acrylic based glazes is that they
are water soluble until completely dry making clean up quick and
General purpose artist's brushes work well. A selection of round and
flat, soft and firm should be on hand to try. A one-inch throw-away
type paint brush has relatively firm bristles and works well for
creating the grain effect.
There are special wood graining tools available from on-line sources
and many home stores. These are flexible rubber pads with a grain
This type of tool is
rarely needed in clock work since most of the faux finishes were
The grain on
clock cases tends to be a long straight grain instead of the wavy or
arrowhead shaped grain often seen on walnut veneers.
Thin "door skin" material can be cut into convenient
sizes for practice or test pieces.
A photo of the desired wood pattern (or real
veneer) will be needed for a visual reference when painting the faux
grain. This will be more important than you may think.
Digital photos that can be enlarged to full size and printed are
Make sure the colors in the
photo are relatively accurate. Here the photo is being held up to
the side of the actual case to compare colors.
Any damage to the wood base surface must be repaired.
thin sheet of veneer (from some non-exotic wood) is often applied to
the wood case before faux painting.
It may be that
these panels were painted in mass prior to installation on the clock
The case here had damage to the
base veneer and a new piece was cut and installed. Dings along the
top of the case were filled with a wood filler product.
repairs have been completed, the panel should be sanded smooth.
The base wood should be sealed and primed prior to beginning faux
A flat eggshell colored alkyd enamel works well for this. It fills
well, and once cured, sands very smoothly.
The primer is sanded smooth once cured.
imperfections remain they can be repaired at this time.
Don't worry if some of the underlying wood "peaks" through the
Yellow ocher acrylic is mixed with water and acrylic medium to make
a base color. The ratio is one part acrylic medium to two parts
water. Enough of the yellow ocher is added to produce an almost
The freshly mixed paint is
brushed over the eggshell primer to provide the base color for the
It is not
necessary (or advisable) to try to produce a perfectly even finish
with the yellow ocher. Brushing along the length of the wood will
leave brush strokes and light/dark areas that begin to establish a
Grain Colors: The
door skin scrap noted previously should be prepared with the primer
and yellow ocher.
Study the reference photos of the desired wood pattern to get a feel
for the colors in the wood then mix and apply several of the
previously noted colors to the test piece.
Hold the test
piece up to the reference photo or reference veneer to confirm that
the selected colors are correct. This may take a little customer
mixing, but not too much.
Keep in mind
that a top glaze will be applied to set the overall tone of the
panel once the wood grain pattern has been completed so it isn't
necessary to get too carried away with matching color at this stage.
Select one of the grain colors and, referring to the reference
photo, begin to paint in the grain along the length of the piece. A
stainless steel ruler works well for keeping things generally
straight. Keep referring to the reference photo to determine the
width of grain lines and any waviness.
If the pattern
gets way off course, just wipe the paint with a damp sponge and
begin again. A little patience here and a good grain pattern will
sometimes helps to take the photo of the wood grain and lay in on
the piece then lightly mark the width of various grain patterns with
a soft pencil. These marks are then used to align the ruler and
The initial grain color and
pattern has been painted on the side of the cottage clock case. It's
not pretty at this stage, but a pattern is beginning to appear.
additional layers of glaze will be applied and will soften and
obscure most of the sharpness of the base lines shown here.
The one-inch throw
away brush has relatively stiff bristles and can be used in a
"stipple" (jabbing) fashion to create some light and dark areas
within each grain.
Once the basic grain pattern has been laid down, an "over glaze" is
mixed and applied. This is a translucent glaze that has a basic
formula of 2 parts water to 1 part acrylic medium. Color is added to
create the translucent glaze.
Since the grain being created is a rosewood, the over glaze is a
reddish color made from burnt sienna.
The glaze is brushed over the case
side. Notice how the initial grain colors are already becoming
softer and the yellow ocher is now a lighter brown.
glaze does a lot to pull everything together to begin to actually
look like wood natural wood grain. But there is more to come.
Creating Grain Detail:
Allow the over glaze to dry for a short while and it will become jell-o-like.
using the stiff bristled throw away brush, make short strokes into
the soft over-glaze.
This will create
very short, fine lines in the glaze that look very much like those
seen in real wood grain.
Study this photo closely and
you'll see the very fine lines seen in real wood grain. This is
achieved with short, jabbing strokes.
Allow the first
over-glaze to cure over night.
If you wish to further soften the look, use #600 wet/dry sand paper
to very gently thin the glaze in different areas. As with the
earlier sanding, you must be careful to not get carried away and
remove too much glaze.
Once the grain pattern has been brushed out to your satisfaction, a
final top glaze is applied to set the overall shade of the finish.
With the rosewood the final top glaze was a brownish shade made with
burnt umber acrylic.
parts water to one part acrylic medium creates the glaze base.
Actually little acrylic paint is needed to tint the glaze enough for
The burnt umber
glaze immediately tones down the red-orange shades of the burnt
sienna. The overall shade is beginning to look like rosewood.
Allow the top
glaze to cure then determine if a second coat is needed to reach the
coats are usually necessary to get the tone dark enough and the look
deep enough. Use your reference photos as a guide.
The final step is sealing the finish. After allowing the piece to
cure for at least 24 hours, sand very lightly with #600 wet/dry sand
paper just enough to get a smooth finish.
Next shellac is brushed or rubbed onto the surface to provide sheen
Iím a sucker for hand rubbing the shellac. This results in a very
thin, very smooth layer that has the look of fine furniture. It also
means I never get a run.
The shellac should be allowed to cure for a day or two so that it
fully hardens. The piece can then be put into service.
Test pieces, and more test pieces. A cheap way to work out the
As can be seen, the materials to do faux wood grain are few: Three
or four acrylic colors, some acrylic medium, some inexpensive
brushes and some door skin for practice. Investment is under $20.00
and the paint supplies will last for years.
Compare the grain
pattern on the base of this case to the un-restored case shown below
and you will see that this is the same case.
faux wood grain pattern, before and after, and you'll see that the
original grain design has been faithfully reproduced.
It is possible
to produce some very professional results with good planning and
just a little practice. Give it a try and you will quickly realize
that you have a lot of hidden talent.