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How do you make furniture look like wood?

Giving furniture a wood grain finish can completely transform the look of a piece. Whether you want to restore an antique or give a new lease of life to a flea market find, faux wood finishes allow you to reimagine furniture on a budget. With the right materials and techniques, you can make any furniture look convincingly like real wood.

Materials Needed for Faux Wood Finishes

Creating faux wood finishes is an easy DIY project if you have the right supplies. Here are the key materials you’ll need:

  • Paint – Either regular wall paint, chalk paint or milk paint works well as a base coat. Opt for matte finishes over glossy.
  • Graining tools – Special graining tools like combs, rag rollers or stipple brushes mimic wood textures.
  • Glaze – A thick glaze helps create contrast for the grain pattern. Burnt umber or raw umber oil paint works well.
  • Rags – You’ll need lint-free cloths or rags to distress and blend the paint.
  • Sandpaper – Lightly sand furniture between coats for a distressed look.
  • Sealer – A matte varnish or polyurethane seals the finish.

Having these supplies on hand allows you to experiment with different faux wood finishing techniques.

Preparing the Furniture Surface

Proper prep is crucial for getting flawless results. Here are some tips for preparing furniture for a faux wood makeover:

  1. Remove hardware – Take off any knobs, handles or hinges from the piece.
  2. Clean the surface – Wipe away any dirt, grease or grime so the paint adheres well.
  3. Sand – Lightly sand to rough up glossy surfaces and remove loose paint.
  4. Prime – Apply a primer if changing colors drastically or painting over finishes like laminate.
  5. Repair imperfections – Fill any holes, cracks or dents for a smooth finish.

Prepping the surface takes a bit of work, but it ensures the faux wood finish looks seamless.

Choosing a Faux Wood Finish Technique

There are several ways to make furniture look like real wood. Consider the existing piece, your skill level and desired final look to choose the right faux wood finish technique.


Staining furniture is the simplest way to achieve a wood look. After properly prepping and priming the surface, apply stains in your desired wood tone. Lightly sand and add additional coats to build up richness. Finally, seal with a clear topcoat like polyurethane. Staining works well for unfinished wood or wood-look veneers.


The random texture from sponging on paint creates a convincing wood grain effect. Apply a base coat in your chosen background color. Then dab on shades like brown, black or gray with a natural sea sponge. Work in random circular motions to mimic wood grain. Soften edges by patting a lint-free rag over the surface. Seal with a matte topcoat varnish.

Rag Rolling

For a more pronounced wood grain look, try rag rolling. Apply a dark glaze over the base coat. Then tightly roll up a lint-free rag and press onto the surface in S-waves to create long streaks. Soften the edges with a clean rag. Once sealed, rag rolling gives furniture the rustic look of weathered barn wood.


Specialized graining combs create perfect lines for a wood-like finish. Apply glaze over the base color with a paintbrush. Then drag a graining comb through it to make parallel lines. Vary the comb angles as you work across the surface. Comb slowly and gently for clean grain lines. This technique is ideal for furniture with panels like cabinet doors.


Using a stipple brush is an easy way to achieve a grained effect. After applying glaze over the base coat, dab on with a natural bristle stipple brush. Make quick up-and-down stabbing motions. Work diagonally across the surface to create angled wood texture. Softened edges by brushing lightly with a rag. The stippling technique adds convincing grain to any flat surfaces.

Applying a Faux Wood Finish

Now that you’re familiar with the techniques, here is a step-by-step guide to applying a faux wood finish:

  1. Prep the surface – Clean, sand, prime and repair imperfections.
  2. Apply base coat – Use flat paint in your background color.
  3. Add glaze – Brush on a dark glaze like burnt umber.
  4. Create grain – Use chosen tool to make wood grain texture in the glaze.
  5. Distress – Lightly sand edges or rub with a rag.
  6. Seal – Apply several coats of matte varnish or polyurethane.

Always work in thin coats, allowing proper drying time between each step. The patience pays off in a stunning, realistic wood finish.

Faux Wood Finish Inspiration

These examples showcase just how convincing faux wood finishes can look on furniture:

Whitewashed Wood

A whitewashed finish gives furniture a beachy, coastal vibe. After painting white, comb on thinned down glaze. Distress edges lightly with sandpaper. The white base showing through the glaze mimics sun-bleached driftwood.

Dark Walnut Stain

For a rich walnut look, start with a deep chocolate or coffee brown base. Comb on black and brown glaze. Drag wide-toothed combs diagonally for bold grain. Finish with matte varnish.

Gray Washed Wood

Cool gray stained wood is versatile for farmhouse or modern spaces. Use a gray chalk paint base. Roll on gray and white glaze with a mini paint roller. Go over edges with a rag to distress. Seal with matte polyurethane.

Caring for Faux Wood Finishes

The convincing wood grain patterns stand up well to everyday wear and tear. Still, proper care keeps your faux finishes looking their best:

  • Dust regularly with a soft cloth.
  • Clean with mild soap and water.
  • Avoid abrasive cleaners or scouring pads.
  • Use coasters and placemats to prevent staining.
  • Reapply varnish or polyurethane as needed.
  • Touch up scratches by reapplying glaze and varnish.

With proper maintenance, your faux wood furniture will stay beautiful for years before needing a redo.


Whether you love the look of oak, walnut or driftwood, faux wood finishing allows you to transform furniture affordably. With the right supplies and techniques, even beginners can learn to create stunning wood grain effects. Always spend time properly prepping the surface first. Then experiment with glazing, combing, rolling or stippling to find your favorite finish. Protect your work with a matte varnish topcoat. With patience and practice, you can give any furniture or accessory the natural beauty of wood.

Faux Wood Finish Base Coat Color Glaze Color Graining Tool
Whitewashed White paint Thinned burnt umber Comb
Walnut Chocolate paint Black and brown Comb
Washed Gray Gray chalk paint Gray and white Rag roller