Stain Over Paint: Creating a Faux Wood Effect on a Painted Surface

I don’t know about you but I’m forever amazed at the damage and stickiness that every day life with kids can cause. We recently renovated our kitchen which made our well-loved, used and abused chalk painted table stick out like a sore thumb in need of a makeover. A new table was not in the budget so I decided to take a “lipstick on a pig” approach to freshen up our table which is still structurally sound (for now, anyway.)

This counter-height table was once a dark wood with matching stools which had cream-coloured microfibre cushions. I would let you guess how long those stool cushions but I’m pretty sure I blinked and they were so stained, used and abused that I found myself using the pressure washer on them in the backyard as a final “Hail, Mary!” They weren’t kid-friendly and the table top was quickly scratched up by life (toy trucks, play dough utensils, dinner dishes and craft projects.). I originally painted the table-top white with yellow legs and painted half the stools white and half of them teal. I reupholstered the seats with OUTDOOR upholstery fabric in hopes it would hold up to our indoor storms. It served us well but now, it was time for a change!

First, I repainted the table top with white chalk paint. After several coats, I still wasn’t happy with how it was covering its previous scars and souvenirs from past projects. Plus, I was nervous that we would quickly mark it up again and I would have to start all over. We needed something that was going to stand up to family pizza nights as well as it held up to kids using paint and scissors. This table is our “hub” for most messy activities after all! Plus, I wanted the odd scratch or forgotten-about stain to not stand out the way acrylic hot pink paint stands out on a white surface.

I decided that a rustic, wood surface would be best. However, the middle of this table is not wood. It is some sort of plywood, MDF material that is functional but isn’t going to look pretty if I just sand it down and stain it with wood stain. So I needed to get creative and fake it a bit to get the rustic wood look I was going for.

If you are looking to try a similar effect, here is what you will need:

Interior Paint (I used Behr Interior Paint+Primer in Nutshell)

1-2 gel wood stains of your choice (I used MinWax Gel Stain in Coffee and Chestnut)

Polyurethane (I used MinWax One-Coat Polyurethane in Clear Semi Gloss)

Paint Brushes

Shop Cloths

Sander/Sand Paper

Here is my table before:

I started by sanding the table down to remove all access chalk paint and the furniture wax I applied before changing my mind on my finish.

Then, I washed all dust off of the table with a damp cloth and allowed it to dry thoroughly.

Once the table was dried completely, I applied a coat of the Interior paint that I chose as my base. I chose to use Behr Premium Plus Paint & Primer in One in the colour “Nutshell” in Flat as my base coat. This colour will serve as the base colour that shows up behind your faux wood stain effect.

I let this base coat dry and then applied another 2 coats for good measure.

Once I was satisfied with the coverage of my base colour, I started to work with the darker gel stain of the two that I chose, the MinWax Gel Stain in “Coffee.” Mmm…coffee!

In order to apply this stain to look like wood grain and create stiff lines without it looking like stripes, I used a stiff paint brush that I hadn’t cleaned properly after a previous project. (See, those poorly washed brushes are not garbage after all!). I put a spoonful (forkful in this case) of gel stain on to a disposable plate to make it easier to apply and carry.

Then, I used my fingers to loosen up the stiff bristles of my stiff brush and checked for loose bristles. I lightly dabbed the brush into the gel stain and lightly applied it to the table, starting at one end and moving to the other end in one direction to resemble wood grain. As the brush became dry, I reapplied the stain. You want it to be even but uneven if that makes any sense. You don’t want one side to be darker than the other but you want there to be a variety in depth and width of your lines so that it isn’t stripy.

After I had covered the surface of the table with the dark gel stain “stripes,” I dabbed the brush again and this time moved it sideways to add stain to spots that seemed lighter than others. Take a look at your table from every side and add stain wherever needed to ensure your coverage is even.

Next, I used a lint-free cloth to wipe the table in one direction to remove any excess stain.

Check your table for lint, brush bristles, etc so that they are removed before the stain dries!

I let this stain sit for approximately 15 minutes before adding my second stain, the lighter of the two, MinWax Gel Stain in Chestnut. For this stain, in order to change up the texture, I used a soft-bristled paint brush and applied the stain basically anywhere that didn’t have dark stain.

Again, I wiped off the excess stain with a lint-free cloth, checked for lint, bristles in the stain and then let it dry for about 20 minutes.

Once the stain had dried, I used a lint-free cloth to apply a layer of the lighter, Chestnut stain to the entire surface of the table to help the faux wood grain blend together in a more cohesive way.

I let the table sit for about 15 minutes and then wiped off any additional stain. Then I ran a fan to circulate the air and let it sit for 24 hours and dry.

The next day, the surface still felt a bit tacky so I took some fine sand paper and gently sanded the surface of the table.

Important: Don’t sand too hard! This isn’t real wood grain so you will remove the stain completely!

After I had sanded the surface, I wiped all of the dust off with a damp cloth and allowed it to dry thoroughly.

Once it was dry, I was ready to start my top coat. Since this table will be standing up to a lot of use and abuse, I opted for MinWax One Coat Polyurethane in Clear Semi Gloss. I wanted something that was a bit glossy to help disguise imperfections and hard enough that it would be wipeable. I applied the polyurethane with a lint-free cloth, being sure to wipe up any milky strips so it would dry evenly.

When applying your polyurethane, it is better to apply multiple thin coats than to apply a thick coat. I’ve learned this the hard way!

After the first coat dried, I lightly sanded it with extra fine sand paper, wiped the dust with a damp cloth and allowed it to dry thoroughly before applying my next coat.

I will be doing this again and again until I am satisfied that this table is protected enough to stand up to our monkeys and our circus in action! But for now, I couldn’t wait to share the final product!

Not bad for a table that I was ready to toss in a dumpster!

If you try this technique, let me know in the comments! Happy DIYing!

2 thoughts on “Stain Over Paint: Creating a Faux Wood Effect on a Painted Surface

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