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Wood Graining Made Simple

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by 43gman, Jan 7, 2011.

  1. 43gman
    Joined: Jan 19, 2009
    Posts: 187

    from NC

    Here is what the window garnish looked like when I first got our old '33 Plymouth last spring:


    And, here is the dashboard. Note the “extra” holes for the horn (push button,) and the SW temperature gauge to the left of the factory gauge panel. These were filled after stripping the dash.


    All the pieces have to be stripped to bare metal. I use aircraft stripper.


    The process involves the principle that lacquer, (the base coat,) and enamel do not “mix.” A lacquer color similar to the original shade of the wood grain is selected. An incompatible enamel is the grain, and then a clear coat seals every thing and leaves that fake, shiny look that was the rage in the late twenties and into the late forties.

    On previous jobs I’ve used plain black enamel for the grain design. Here is a dash I did for my old ’33 Ford:


    The Ford uses a darker base, more of a mahogany.

    For the Plymouth, I found some rattle can Nissan touch up at Auto Zone. While the original ’33 Plymouth used a mustard looking yellow hue, I like the contrast of the more copper color, (and, after all, this isn’t a “restoration.”) If you are trying to get closer to the original color, very often there is some remnant of the factory “base” on the inside of the garnish moldings, or around the back edges of the dash board for reference.

    Once the part is stripped and sanded clean, a couple of coats of primer are shot. I used shake can Rustoleum “Filler Primer” on this car. It does a good job of filling in the blemishes and scratches. Two or three coats of the lacquer base color is then applied with 600 sanding between. Don’t worry about “shine” on the base coat, here, just good, even coverage.

    I like to set the pieces aside for a day or so to make sure they are completely dry. The wood graining part is next. This is the most enjoyable part of the project, as the only limit is your own creativity. I’d looked at a few factory pictures of ’33 Mopars to get a feel for the look they had, then started in with my own design.

    There are an infinite number of ways to make the actual wood graining. For this car I was experimenting with printer’s ink in a very dark brown. Using a small artist’s brush, I mixed a small amount of the printer’s ink in a jar cover, then applied it to the part. Again, the idea is that the enamel based ink will not blend into the lacquer, instead it will allow you to move it around and make your design. Several effective “tools” can be utilized. I’ve found a small ball of wadded up newspaper dabbed onto the surface will create great burl effects. A foam body shop squeegee works good, too. This and a small brush are mostly what I used to create the design on the dash board of this current car:


    The Plymouth dash is welded into the car, (unlike the Ford,) so I had to work on it in the car. It's shown here before the gauge surround is installed.

    The final step to a really “faux” finish is several coats of clear. I’m not sure if the current “clear” that body shops use over two part paint systems would work. What I’ve used over the years is polyurethane. I’ve sprayed it from shake cans, but this time I actually just brushed it on. A day’s drying for each coat is necessary, then 2000 grit sand paper and water will smooth it down well. Be carful in the first few coats to not sand down into the grain design, as you will have to start all over again at that point.

    To demonstrate the whole process I made up a strip of steel with the various steps included. A hot rod buddy of mine did the “grain” part, and although he’d never attempted this process, it looks really good. Proof that you can do it yourself!

    The first picture shows the raw steel, then the primer, (grey,) and finally the lacquer base, in this case, the copper.


    This picture shows the wood graining design, in this case he was using the wadded newspaper “tool.” There is also only one or two coats of clear over the sample, so it could be much smoother and shinier with some additional time spent.


    Here is a shot of how the rear garnish and the 1/4 window in the ’33 Plymouth turned out.


    Here is the whole thing finished. (I had a lot of other pictures but lost them in a crash!) The dash gauges got a rehab in the process, but that is a story for another time!

  2. Excellent! I have really been toying with the idea of doing some graining in my truck. That dash looks amazing!
  3. edweird
    Joined: Jan 4, 2009
    Posts: 3,187


    That really looks great. I wish you could post pics of you doing the wood graining effect. Do you spin the newspaper or dab it or what ?
    Joined: Aug 5, 2003
    Posts: 138


    Thats brilliant
    I attempted this on my A garnish mouldings last summer used a commercial furniture graining kit but it never looked right the tools don't lend themselves to a cars curves and I ended up putting them back in body colour.
    Now I know how you did it will have a practice on some scrap bits.

  5. Jax2A
    Joined: Apr 14, 2009
    Posts: 360


    Wow, that's nice work. I envy people that can do this kind of stuff. I never can get it to look right. My dad can though. He did the trim on steel doors of his house. I didn't even realize it wasn't wood, he even put knot holes in places, the grain looks incredibly real.

    Your work looks fantastic!
  6. the-rodster
    Joined: Jul 2, 2003
    Posts: 6,878



    Thanks for sharing the info.

  7. Hdonlybob
    Joined: Feb 1, 2005
    Posts: 4,015


    Now that is NICE !!!
    Great work and great idea too....
  8. Damelot85
    Joined: Aug 29, 2009
    Posts: 65


    That look amazing. That's the kind of project I can even get the wife into!!
  9. mbmopar
    Joined: Mar 27, 2006
    Posts: 467

    from Canada

    I was going to go with a kit like the above link for my 50 Dodge sedan, but the simple approach IE: wadded newspaper idea appeals to me because I am near broke.

    Thanks for the post !!!!!!!!!!!!!!:)
  10. Cosmo49
    Joined: Jan 15, 2007
    Posts: 1,332


    Great job, thanks for sharing.
  11. autobodyed
    Joined: Mar 5, 2008
    Posts: 1,943

    from shelton ct

  12. Francisco Plumbero
    Joined: May 6, 2010
    Posts: 2,533

    Francisco Plumbero
    from il.

    You did a very nice job there.
  13. A Duece Bruce
    Joined: Jun 8, 2010
    Posts: 111

    A Duece Bruce

    WoW! I thought wood graining was way over my head. Now I think I can do it! The old dash is going to look great. Thank you for posting this lesson.
  14. gaskell
    Joined: Sep 6, 2007
    Posts: 150

    from CO

  15. Django
    Joined: Nov 15, 2002
    Posts: 10,196

    from Chicago

    Very nice!

    I did something similar when I restored my Grandparent's 1935 Philco. The only wood that has good grain is the top piece of center panel. The rest of the burl looking wood grain, I did. It was alot easier than I thought it would be.


    A much more positive experience than my "How NOT to woodgrain" thread a few years ago. :D
  16. Harms Way
    Joined: Nov 27, 2005
    Posts: 6,881

    Harms Way

    Really nice work !,.. Thanks for posting it.
  17. Francisco Plumbero
    Joined: May 6, 2010
    Posts: 2,533

    Francisco Plumbero
    from il.

    Way easier and cheaper in paint than veneer. Radio looks nice.
  18. 62rebel
    Joined: Sep 1, 2008
    Posts: 2,821


    i have got to try this, now that another good how-to has been done on it. seems like there's definitely more than one way to skin a cat. i knew a guy back in Lynchburg Va that did his own on a '34 Terraplane; that was some nice work. makes me wish i'd kept my '52 Plymouth; it would have been a good candidate for it.
  19. 43gman
    Joined: Jan 19, 2009
    Posts: 187

    from NC

    Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    I have a couple pictures of the grain being applied, but basically all you see is a guy's hand and some blurry designs. It really is so easy, and you will find your own niche after you play with it for a while. Think kid's finger painting. The best part is if you screw it up, or don't like the pattern, you can just wipe off the graining paint and start again. Remember, the whole idea is the incompatibility of the lacquer base and the enamel grain.

    Dabbing the newspaper is what produced the grain in the sample strip. There are dozens of methods, including a dragging of the newspaper ball, or a rough edged sponge, different paint brushes, paper towel, graining "comb;" the list goes on. As mentioned, you can put knot holes in, or spatter some of the darker graining paint over a piece that has had a couple of coats of the clear already applied, giving the look of worm wood. The possibilities are endless.

    The radio looks awesome, and that is a great example of the many different types of design you can create.

    A friend of mine paid $400 for the kit mentioned, and that is fine. I like the concept of "do it yourself," much better; plus, I get to keep my wallet in my pocket. I think the total for all the materials on my coupe was around $30, maybe $40, and that is mostly for the rattle cans of paint.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  20. metal man
    Joined: Dec 4, 2005
    Posts: 2,949

    metal man

    That looks really good.Years ago,my dad and I woodgrained the original dash that was in my '40 coupe.Had some left over coppery-brown paint that looked about right.Painted it with that and then applied acetylene with the torch,randomly.Then spread the acetylene around with a piece of scotchbrite pad until we liked it,and cleared it.It's still holding up fine now(on the shelf) 24 years later.
  21. Edelbroke
    Joined: Dec 12, 2008
    Posts: 770


    Excellent work!
    I have a 30 Chevy dash that will be tomorrows project
  22. slobroy
    Joined: Jun 22, 2009
    Posts: 360


    Dude, you need to submit this for the next tech week!!!
  23. Hell of a lot cheaper than grain its kit. Looks good.
  24. 45_70Sharps
    Joined: May 19, 2010
    Posts: 331


    Awesome. Thanks for sharing. Something I'm going to have to try now!
  25. Damn I love the H.A.M.B you guys can do anything! I was going to solid paint my dash in the 49 merc woody. Not now, wood grain it is. Fantastic work!your pure insperation.

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