How to ‘Faux Stain’ with Paint that Looks Like Wood

Is there a paint that looks like wood stain? Yes, and we’ll show you the process to faux stain any surface using paint to look like stained wood. 

If you’re looking for a custom wood stain, read about our favorite color wash wood stain trick.

If you’re refinishing furniture, read below to learn how to paint it to look like wood stain, or follow this step-by-step wood refinishing tutorial

How To Apply Layers Of Paint That Looks Like Wood Stain Instead Of Refinishing, PHD For Remodelaholic

How to Faux Stain Anything Using Paint To Look Like Wood

by Tamara of Provident Home Design

Today I’m excited to share a method for getting the stained wood look without stain.  You can use paint that looks like wood stain! 

Over the years I’ve come across some frustrating aspects of using oil- or water-based wood stains to finish and refinish furniture.

Problems with Staining Wood

Wood Stain Problem #1: Sanding

First, stain requires sanding ahead of time.

Those who have sanded before know that it is an arduous task especially if you are sanding a large piece of furniture like a kitchen table.

Sanding to refinish and reapply stain can take a lot of time and elbow grease, and produces tons of sanding dust.

Related Reading: How to Refinish Furniture, the Low to No Sanding Method

Wood Stain Problem #2: Mess

The second disadvantage to using wood stains is the mess effect.

Stains are more runny and harder to control than paint.

Wood stains are also often applied with a rag which means gloves are necessary unless you want stained hands.

Wood Stain Problem #3: Consistent Color

Lastly, I haven’t had a good experience with stains turning out the shade they are supposed to (especially the darker stains).

Regular wood stains often require several coats to get to the desired shade — ain’t nobody got time for that!

Related Reading: How to Use Paint to Adjust Wood Stain Tone

How to Paint Furniture to Look Like Wood Stain

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The good news is that you can get the beautiful look of stain easily with paint- no sanding, no mess, no stain color surprises!

Most wood that has been stained has two main colors or tones to it with varying shades of in between tones.

Dark walnut stain using paint

The trick to getting a faux stained wood look with paint is

  1. Picking out the stain you want to mimic and
  2. Choosing a paint that matches the lightest shade and the darkest shade of the stained wood sample.

Then, layer the two paint colors and use brushes to create a faux wood grain (also called faux bois, which just means “false wood” in French).

Read below to see how I do it!

Related Reading: Faux Bois Finish – DIY Painted Paper Faux Wood Flooring

Many similar tutorials use different tools, glazes (like a wet glaze), etc for different wood grain and wood stain styles.

But this 2-layer painting technique is simple, easy, and looks great!

What surfaces can I paint to look like wood?

For my budget patio makeover, I had

  1. a wooden table that was worn down
  2. blue wooden chairs I had found curbside
  3. and a free kitchen table that I turned into a coffee table by cutting the legs down.

I somehow needed to make all of these furniture pieces work together.

Painting them in the same ‘faux stained’ effect was the solution to making mismatched pieces match.

The original finishes were all different, but using this opaque faux stain paint technique to look like wood stain unified them all and they look great now!

Painted Faux Stain using Paint to Look Like Wood

I like using this technique to refinish wood furniture without stripping and sanding, but you could use it on plywood, MDF, or laminate furniture, too, or most flat surfaces.

If you’re applying this paint to look like wood on laminate or another smooth surface, be sure to scuff up the surface a little bit and you’ll probably want to apply a good primer as well. 

You can also use a similar technique with gel stain on a garage door or on vinyl shutters, which is more of a glaze and not as opaque as the paint.

If you’re doing a door, I also recently found this Giani Wood Look Paint kit for front doors or for garage doors — the reviews are great!

Steps to Faux Stain Wood with Paint

Preparation

My wood surfaces were already in good condition, so I didn’t need to do any repairs.

  • If there are chips or rough spots, you’ll want to use wood filler and sandpaper or a sanding block to smooth those out before painting on the faux stain.
  • If your furniture piece has hardware, such as hinges, drawer pulls, knobs or handles, remove or cover it with painter’s tape before you faux stain, too.
  • If there is a varnish on the piece, it’s always best to lightly sand or use a liquid deglosser to make the surface better prepared for painting.

Step 1: Pick Your Paint To Look Like Wood Stain

The first step is to identify the two paint colors that match the darkest and lightest tones of the stain you want to mimic.

I use regular latex paint because it comes in a variety of colors and tones and it’s durable once cured, without needing a top coat. And also it was leftover from another project 🙂

You could use chalk paint or milk paint or whatever paint you prefer that comes in the colors you decide on.

Related Reading: 5 Different Furniture Paint Options – Pros & Cons Explained

Pick out some paint color fan decks and hold them up to the stain you like to help you select these two colors.

For a painted dark walnut wood stain, I chose Sherwin-Williams Urbane Bronze (Darkest) and Behr Moroccan Henna (Lightest) in quart size.

Paint that Looks Like Wood Stain to Faux Stain Wood instead of Refinishing

You’ll only need a small amount of paint so for a small project, you may even be purchase a sample size instead.

Be sure to look at the variations and undertones of the paint and the variations in tones in the sample wood stain you’re mimicking — you don’t want the faux painted wood stain to be too orange.

But if it is, you can just paint over it in another coat and try again!

Not sure about picking the paint colors to look like the wood stain? Use one of these paint color apps to match a photo or wood grain swatch.

Here’s an example from our Remodelaholic team, using a swatch of BEHR Jacobean Stain (one of our current faves for a light to medium farmhouse wood stain on our DIY projects and furniture builds).

The swatch was imported to the Match a Photo option in the Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap app.

These colors give you a good starting point and remember, you can color-match any brand color to another brand paint at most paint stores.

How To Choose Colors For Paint That Looks Like Wood Stain, Remodelaholic Crop

Step 2: Paint the Base Coat

Paint the piece of furniture completely in a base coat with the lightest paint color.

For this first paint layer, you can use a bristle brush, foam brush, paint roller, whatever works for you to get good coverage.

I used the Behr enamel paint and only had to do 1 coat to cover the previously blue chair.

Painted Chair Faux Stain Base Coat

Step 3: Paint on the Faux Wood Grain

Once the first layer is dry to the touch (I waited about 10 minutes), you’re ready for the second layer, the wood grain detail coat.

Using a standard 3-inch synthetic bristle brush or chip brush, barely dip the tip of the brush into the darkest paint.

Wipe the brush against the top of the can, or wipe it against a paper towel to make sure there is no excess paint on the brush.

This is called dry brushing for a reason — you want hardly any paint on the brush!

paint brush for paint that looks like wood stain

Pull the brush in a quick, long stroke in the direction of the wood grain.

How to Paint Wood to Look Stained

This second coat is all about adding texture and faux woodgrain to the base color, over the entire piece. Be sure to follow the direction of the grain on each individual plank/piece.

Cover your furniture piece with quick, light strokes of the darkest paint color to your desired result. Make sure that in some areas there is only the lightest color (no darker color covering it).

For example below is a photo of my friend’s beautifully stained kitchen table.  You can see how in the areas under the checkmark there is a lighter variation of tone.

Kitchen Table Stained

This variation of tone is normal in stained wood and is what gives it dimension and beauty so make sure to recreate this effect by leaving some areas of your piece with just the lightest paint color.

Below is the coffee table I ‘faux stained’ with the paints mentioned above.

Painted Faux Wood Stain

You may want to practice a little bit on a scrap piece of wood to get the feel of it.

Working on a solid flat surface that needs extra texture and knots for a faux wood finish? See how to use a faux bois comb wood grain tool to add woodgrain texture. 

Just remember if you “mess up” then no worries you can paint over it with the other color.

How to Faux Stain With Paint

Step 4: Top Coat

Once you’ve got it to your desired result then finish it off with a protective coat.

Since my pieces were staying outside I used an outdoor polyurethane – clear spar urethane in satin.

If your pieces are staying inside, this is optional but the clear coat really makes the faux wood grain pop and look like the real thing.

Protective Coat Added to Paint that Looks Like Wood Stain

That’s it!  It sure beats hours of sanding and staining. And my workspace isn’t stinky with chemical fumes or covered with sanding dust, either!

I am so happy that my modge podge of tables and chairs now look unified and beautifully ‘faux stained”.

Painted Faux Stain

I would love it if you came by and checked out my Patio Makeover or my friend’s Gorgeous Home Tour.  Or if you like to DIY, paint, and repurpose I have lots of fun projects for you to explore!

As always thanks for having me and let me know if you have any questions!

How to Faux Stain Wood using Paint

If you’re working with bare wood but don’t want to use a traditional stain — try this easy color washing technique!

or if you’re ready to put in the work to get down to the bare wood, just follow this tutorial for refinishing furniture — with minimal sanding 🙂

More furniture painting techniques and info:

Refinish With No Sanding, Faux Stain With Paint That Looks Like Wood, PHD For Remodelaholic

First published 24 Aug 2015 // Last updated 25 Mar 2022

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26 Comments

  1. On the article how to faux stain with paint, if I have a varnished table won’t I need to sand first before applying the paint?

  2. If the furniture is to be used outside, I’m wondering why you did not just use exterior paints and skip the top polycoat? Thank you, Barb

    1. Great question, Barb! I didn’t use outdoor paint because I already had some indoor paint on hand left over from a different project. They were the perfect colors so I decided to just use it and add an outdoor poly on top. Even if I used an outdoor paint I would still use an outdoor poly on top because the poly really does help the end result look more professional and like it was really stained. Thanks so much for the question!:-)

  3. If I’m trying to faux stain a desk to go indoors, should I still use polyurethane or is there something better you recommend to seal it? Thanks

  4. When faux staining do you allow the first coat of lighter paint to dry before applying the darker paint?

  5. This is fantastic – I love the outcome, and the simplicity of using paint! Good to know about the polyurathane info in the comments, too.

    I’m wanting to make a round, 2-level painted coffee table look like darker wood grain, and am buying a table next week – it comes in black or white. I may keep the legs black for contrast, so would rather go with the black (which wouldn’t have worked using a gel stain, but should for paint). Three questions for you on this, please:

    1) Do you think your Behr paint would have covered a black table well (no idea how dark your original paint was)? I generally use Behr Marquee.
    2) Could I paint and quickly ‘carve’ into the paint in a few areas, so as to leave subtle, darker wood grain (circles) for depth, or am I nuts to consider that?
    3) How long did you wait between the last paint coat, and the polyeurathane?

    I’m so excited to do this now! My budget doesn’t allow for a gorgeous wood-grain piece, but does for this faux-wood project. 🙂

  6. This faux technique seems ideal to add a rustic look to my house. All the doors, baseboard and windowsills are painted semi gloss brown and all are in great shape, as the house is only 2. Don’t call me lazy! But I am really not interested in doing all that sanding. Could I simply get the same paint in a darker shade of brown to accomplish this technique over what I already have?

  7. Tamara, we have a wood ramp outside that’s painted a solid colors. Its one layer latex. There isn’t any grain showing but I want to stain or paint so that it looks like there is grain in the wood. I hope that you understand,

    Thanks in advance.

  8. I did this technique on the trim around our front door (which is cement board) to match our cedar shutters. I was so impressed with our well it came out! If you didn’t know that it wasn’t stained wood, you would never guess. Thank you so much for putting this tutorial up!

  9. Hello, I am intrigued on your 2tone paint to look like stain! I have a outside partially covered deck area painted green boards, looks real bad. I have nice white railings so already a good 2 tone overall look, now i just need to get that 450 Sq feet of wrap around decking to LOOK like Mahogany. Sand, prep and paint and urethane sealer is my plan with my handyman and myself doing the job together, how can i email you my thoughts please? thx

  10. The end result looks great! I’m actually about halfway through a similar project myself and was about to put the poly coat on but was reading that it’s recommended to let the latex paint cure before doing so – which is anywhere from a week to a month! Did you allow your part to cure before adding poly, or was just letting it dry overnight sufficient?

    Thanks!

  11. I am creating wood constructions using pegs to connect the pieces. I would like to retain the beauty of the wood (oak) but need to cover/hide the pegs and wood filler. Will your technique hide these repairs and connectors so the piece will appear uniform? Thanks!

  12. I have a question about “faux staining” my west facing front door. It has about two layers of paint on it. A green,and now an orange. I would like to color it a brown color to give it that “stain look”. My question is would I need to sand the door down? My house has sage green siding,I’m looking for a nice brown color that would go with the sage color of my house. Thank you!

  13. Hi Tamara. Thanks for this easy to understand tutorial. I have open riser stairs in my foyer. The previous owner glued down carpet on the stairs and we’ve tried every trick we could find from sanding to bleaching to remove the deep patterns of the glue stains. We don’t want to re-carpet, so your technique seems to be just what we’re looking for. I saw that you used Behr enamel paint as the base, but couldn’t tell if the top coat was also an enamel. Is enamel paint advisable for both coats, and would would the same protective coat be suitable for steps?

  14. I want to try this on a desk I’m refinishing. Any idea what colors I would need to mimic an antique walnut stain? Any help you can give would be much appreciated!

  15. I love that there is no sanding or staining involved. We recently bought a home that has not very attractive and old maroon colored shutters and front door. I really want new Cedar shutters and door, but they are very expensive. I am unsure as to what colors of paint I should get to achieve a real Cedar look. Can you help?