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 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.
The trick to getting a faux stained wood look with paint is
- Picking out the stain you want to mimic and
- 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
- a wooden table that was worn down
- blue wooden chairs I had found curbside
- 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!
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.
Steps to Faux Stain Wood with Paint
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Pull the brush in a quick, long stroke in the direction of the wood grain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
As always thanks for having me and let me know if you have any questions!
If you’re working with bare wood but don’t want to use a traditional stain — try this easy color washing technique!
- I used it on my Dutch barn door to help it match my painted interior doors
- and I used it on this easy carved wood sign
- and it made our DIY Swedish mora clock the perfect pop of yellow while still maintaining the wood grain.
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:
- How to Use Paint to Stain Wood Any Color
- Which Paint For Furniture? 5 Paint Options Explored
- How to Prevent Tannin Knot Bleed-through on Painted Wood Furniture
- Best Painting Tips and Tricks from Experts and DIYers
First published 24 Aug 2015 // Last updated 25 Mar 2022
Hello! My name is Tamara and I am the author of Provident Home Design, a blog devoted to deals, DIY, and design. I'm a big advocate for getting "the Look" for less and love to share lots of tips on the subject! Currently i am turning my builder blah home into my own one (or 5 or 6) DIY projects at a time.