If white paint is not your favorite finish for the wood furnishings around your home, update their look with a more natural style using a faux bois or faux wood-grain finish. With faux bois techniques you get to pick the color and shade of the new finish to get the look of any type of wood you like. Special graining tools create the look of wood grain or even knots, while paint and translucent glaze provide the colors for the faux wood finish.
Preparing the Project Piece
Before attempting to update white cabinets, furniture or painted wood accessories, sand the surfaces with a fine-grit sanding block to scuff them up enough to receive a new coat of paint in the desired wood color. Wipe the dust away with a tack cloth or soft cloth afterward. Mask off any areas you don't wish to refinish, using painter's tape.
Faux Bois Finishing Tools
Specialty tools are the trick to creating that faux wood effect, but you need a few basic supplies as well. A regular paintbrush and paint tray come in handy for for painting on the base coat, which creates the basic wood color on your project piece. You'll also need a small container to mix paint and glaze together to create the wood's grain color. As for the special supplies, a wood-grain rocker tool, which looks like a curved rubber stamp on a handle, allows you to create grain variations without switching tools. A paint graining comb has sets of teeth along its edges, allowing you to create more variations for faux wood effects. Keep a supply of rags or paper towels on hand to wipe the tools off as you work.
Picking the Paints
Faux wood can be any colors you like -- even "fantasy" shades of blue and indigo, as if the wood was dyed. Whether you go for a realistic wood look such as cherry or maple or something completely unnatural, you'll need two paint colors and clear glaze to create the effect. Pick one shade of paint that matches the dominant color in the wood if you're emulating real wood. Carry a scrap of wood in a finish you prefer to a store to match it to a paint chip, or load a picture of the desired finish in your phone for simple matching. The second shade is the grain color. The amount of paint needed for the grain is far less than the amount needed for the base color, since the grain paint is also mixed with glaze and covers less of the project surface in general. Use durable latex paints and glazes for the project.
Fabricating the Faux-Wood Finish
Paint over the white wood with the desired base wood color using a paintbrush. Apply a second coat if needed. Brush some of the paint onto a scrap piece of wood or cardboard so you can practice the faux graining techniques. Mix some of the grain paint color and glaze together in a container following the proportions suggested on the glaze package. The higher the proportion of paint, the less translucent the finish.
Brush the glaze over your practice piece once the paint dries, using a foam brush. Drag the grain comb through the glaze, wiggling it at times to see the effects it creates. Brush on more glaze in another area, and then drag the rocker tool vertically through it, rocking the tool up and down as you work to create variations in the grain. Practice playing with both tools until you get a feel for how to create the type of grain you wish to create, and then work on your actual project piece, one surface at a time.
When creating faux grain over the length of a tall or long surface, create the look with one long stroke rather than working in small areas at a time, as it will be nearly impossible to match the grain if you stop halfway through. Once all the glaze dries, protect the piece, if desired, with several coats of polyurethane.