Traditional faux graining demands painstaking craftsmanship. But if you don't care to master the 18th-century art of hand-painting delicate veins and knots, there's another way. All you need are two colors of latex paint, some acrylic glaze, and a wood-graining rocker, which can cut shapely heart grain into wet glaze. Add a paint comb, which lets you vary the pattern by creating some knot-free "planks," and a mini roller and paint tray.
Three hours later you'll have a striking pattern with visible texture, thanks to ridges left behind in the glaze. "It's great for painted pieces that could be made out of wood, like doors and hutches, but also on a wall," says interior designer Ingrid Leess, who transformed the built-in shown. To give the bookcase some not-so-serious character, she reversed the grain, making a pattern of glossy white atop satin brown. It's a quick process to master, and glaze dries slowly, so you can rework any wobbly planks. Still not sure you can drag a rocker in a straight line? Practice on a piece of posterboard first. Read on for the how-to.
Shown: For tight areas, like the back of this bookcase, grain a piece of MDF cut to size.
Essential Tools for Faux Wood Grain Finish
A three-piece wood-graining kit (about $4; The Home Depot) makes the job easy and allows you to vary the pattern of your "planks."
Prep the Surface
If using an MDF panel, prime both sides to prevent warping. Apply two coats of satin-finish paint (here, Benjamin Moore's Brown Horse). Once it dries, mix equal parts clear acrylic glaze and white latex paint. Apply with a roller, glazing and faux-graining a portion at a time.
Cut in the Edge
Holding a paint comb at a 45-degree angle to the surface, cut in along the top of the panel. Pull the tool through the glaze in one uninterrupted motion to create veins running the panel's width. Now you don't have to worry about lining up the graining rocker with the edge on your first pass.
Create the "Planks"
Overlapping the grain, set the heel of the rocker on the panel's far edge. In one smooth motion, pull the tool toward you to drag the full pattern on the curved rocker through the glaze. If it doesn't look right, reglaze that area and try again. To run the grain in the opposite direction, flip the handle.
Vary the Grain
Every so often, comb along the edge of a section you've just completed to vary the look of your planks. Mix up how you use the rocker and comb—twisting the tool to introduce some waves in the grain for a more natural pattern, for instance.