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An Introduction To Fine Fakery

Pine in disguise. The author applies a coat of varnish to protect the faux maple and mahogany woodgrain on his pine cupboard.

By Craig Bentzley oodgraining (also simply callcd graining) has been around tor centurics. This faux finish is used not only to enhance inferior woods but also to provide a uniformity of color and grain pattern to interior paneling and trim. Previously painted furniture can be woodgrained rather than stripped down to the bare wood. Metal or plastic doors can be woodgrained to match wood trim and furnishings.

Woodgraining evolved from the early, simplistic attempts of Colonial painters into the incredibly realistic work produced when the art was at its

/.cnith in the late 19th century.

Eventually, readily available tools, materials, and texts on the subject put the art form within the reach of amateur finishers. As the quality of workmanship diminished, so did public acceptance.

I developed an enthusiasm for wood-graining on a visit to the Pennsylvania Farm Museum of Landis Valley (in Lancaster). I spied a charming cupboard there, woodgrained to simulate curly maple. I decided to build a cupboard of my own design to try my hand at graining. (Sec photo above.) For a brief description of how to build my cupboard, sec page 45.

Woodgraining can be simple or complicated. depending on the type of wood being mimicked and the degree of realism desired. The painting process itself involves four basic steps: priming, grounding, glazing, and varnishing. In this article, I'll describe these steps as they apply to all types of woodgraining. Then, I II take you through the specific stcp-by-step procedure for the maple and mahogany woodgraining used on my cupboard. These two finishes are a nice introduction to the art; they're fair-

4 2 american woodworker ▲ december 1941

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Here's how I did the woodgraining on the cupboard shown on page 45. First, I removed the cupboard door and all hardware, including the wooden handle. Then I prepared the wood surfaces and applied primer and ground coats as explained on the following pages. I did the glazing and graining selectively. For example, I masked off the stiles to grain the rails, then when the glaze was dry I masked off the rails and grained the stiles.

curly maple graining

Ground coat: Pratt & Lambert "Cellu-tone" alkyd satin enamel #2121 ("Mission") Glaze tinting: Raw sienna

Step 1: With a fairly wet, good quality brush, apply the glaze in the direction of the grain. Use uninterrupted, overlapping strokes.

Step 2: Load a foam brush with glaze. Using a "drag and dab" technique, push some glaze ahead of the brush and pull some behind it. It goes fast once you get the feel for it.

crotch mahogany graining

Ground coat: Pratt & Lambert "Cellu-tone" alkyd satin enamel #2008 (Cinnabark) Glaze tinting: A 50/50 mixture of burnt umber and raw sienna.

Step 1: Apply a darkly tinted glaze mixture using a '/2-in. stiff-bristled brush to lay in the main vein.

Slep 2: With the same brush, make arcing brush strokes out from the main vein until the panel is filled.

Step 2

Step 4

Step 3: Use a rag or paper towel to create highlights by wiping out some of the glaze mixture to expose some of the ground coat.

Step 4: Working with a stiff-bristle brush, introduce some burnt sienna and raw umber color to the graining.

Step 5: Before the glaze becomes too tacky, soften and blend sharp edges of veins with a soft 2-in. brush.

Implements of deception. The author's woodgraining kit includes different glazes and pigments, feathers, proprietary graining tools, and make-up brushes pilfered from his wife.

\y simple to do and they don't involve many tools or supplies.

Before you start, though, I highly recommend looking at some examples of woodgraining. The number of styles and variations is astounding. Examine an authentic piece or look at some examples in one of the books listed in the box below. You'll see that wood-graining is more than a technique for hiding a shabby material; it's a remarkably different type of wood finish.

Woodgraining Tools

Over the years, many imaginatively named tools have been developed for the woodgrainer. Some are highly specialized, some arc patented. However, you don't necessarily need an enormous complement of these proprietary flog-gcrs, stipplers, mottlcrs, and draggcrs to complete the job.

My own graining kit (sec photo above) consists of the following items: inexpensive natural bristle brushes, soft blender brushes, fan blenders, poly foam brushes, rubber and metal graining combs, rubber graining rollers, heart grainer, check roller, turkey feathers, sponges, corn cobs, painter's putty, pencil erasers, and even some make-up brushes scavenged from my wife. Of all these tools, I only needed about S10 worth of brushes to paint my cupboard.

Sample Boards

Choose or create a warm, clcan and dust-free area to work in. Before beginning woodgraining on a good piece of furniture, I suggest experimenting on some sample boards. For reference, have on hand some finished pieces of the actual wood you are duplicating. To practice woodgraining brush strokes, you can do your painting on a piece of glass placcd on an 8x10 sample board primed and painted with base coat. This "slate" can be wiped clcan repeatedly until the desired effect is achieved. When you're satisfied with your grain ing technique, complete a sample board or two. Sample boards prove invaluable for checking finish compatibility, technique, and final appearance. I record all pertinent data on the back of my samples and use them for future reference.

Surface and Painting Preparation

As with any other type of finish, quality woodgraining depends upon a wcll-prc-parcd surface. Close-grained woods like white pine and yellow poplar work well for graining. Don't use woods with knots or sap pockets that could bleed through the top coats. Fill all pores, nail holes, and imperfections. (I use Durham's "Rock-Hard" Water Putty or Elmer's Carpenter's Wood Filler.) Sand or scrape the wood until all machine and tool marks are completely eliminated and the surface is smooth, clean and dry. After sanding, I brush and vacuum until I can run my hands across the piece without picking up any dust.


The surface to be grained should be primed before the eolored ground coat is applied. The primer (which will provide good adhesion for the paint layers that follow), can be water-based or oil-based; I generally use the latter. For better coverage, I tint the primer to match the ground coat color. Tinting also prevents exposure of white primer if the finish is scratched or nicked. I purchase my primer and ground color paint at the same time and have the paint store do the tinting. Stick with the same manufacturer for both products to ensure compatibility. I like Pratt &C Lambert and Benjamin Moore paints, but any high quality paint from a reputable manufacturer is fine. Avoid cheap products: They producc a poor job.

Apply your primer with a good natural bristle brush, always working in the direction of the grain. When the prime coat is completely dry (wait at least 24

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