Faux finishes on cheap furniture


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
So of late I’m building a desk, and what a desk it is - like 6x6x3' in L-shape size. WalMart crap black book shelves - as cheap as one can get are a component of them. Adding them to them in this desk some antique components - refinished and some new construction of the desk became a challenge. Total re-new desk be it ancient veneer that needed work to it if not new drawer bottoms and faces or new WalMart component shelving with veneered end grain poplar plywood between from table top to other shelving. Iron on veneer works well - use blue painters tape on the veneer and the heat - much less holding the paper above the surface is not a problem. This as opposed to as advised, attempting to hold a cardstock or craft paper to the surface, holding that surface around a curved corner or even flat area, and also apply the iron. Painters tape removes one step or needed hand on the doing so ability.

First experiment I got lazy. I painted white flat latex directly over the un-modified black shelving. Peeled right up, but on the parts I Bondo’ed and sanded over such as some of the joint knobs, it stuck well. Bondo as a joint filler works well to cover things wanting to go away such as the plugs etc. Sand all surfaces with at least 80 grit given a power sander such as a random orbital sander or 36 grit in the corners such a sander won’t reach by hand. Your next coat of paint needs tooth to stick to as I re-learned what I knew already in sticking paint to a gloss surface.

So once sanded, apply a flat latex paint. White or some form of it works well, anything amber might but beyond that might require fighting. Wait to dry than apply an oil based ebony stain. For the paint use a good brush that’s easily cleaned with a wire brush and soap. For the rest, consider the brush trash in not bothering to clean. I use throw away cheap crap 2" brushes and 8oz cans of stain for these steps. One cheap brush for all colors of staining or if in a rush and with a bag both for stain and finish. Once in a while unlike on a good brush you will have to remove a bristle from the brush now stuck to your finish, but overall worth the ability for it’s quality level to just throw out after the project. Should one have to extract a bristle such as with tweezers, simple enough to re-stain in brushing out what's disturbed in that area in a natural like way works out easily.

So first atop the dry latex white paint I add some ebony stain. This is for grain and as with the light coat of white latex over the sanded surface, the ebony also doesn’t have to have a complete coverage of the surface in turning it dark. Brush with the grain lines of what would be lumber in making it into lumber and between what grain has been established between the white latex in fairly light coat and the ebony in fairly light coat, some graining should at this point be established. This after a follow up step is accomplished. Wait about 15 minutes and re-brush what you stained. This will further establish what’s a bleed of graining stains into what’s tight grains of lumber graining. Don’t add more stain unless necessary, just kind of dry brush all surfaces again to refine the grain of wood applied to the surface, work out any sort of oil dots and get rid of what’s not so much the unevenness of grain and get back to what’s natural in not so even of lumber used.

Another detail is that lumber isn’t much even so all areas might not be say a black on grey or grey with black. Art in this creation - not making all pieces alike is important.

Wait a while after this introduction of the dark grain. Next for me was adding with the same brush a red oak stain to all surfaces - this without surface preperation, just waiting about 15 minutes between the next coat and the touchup coat. This coat in a darker finish will add a bit of color but not the final color. Same steps in going fairly heavy coating with crap brush, with some lighter coatings depending upon what board or at random how much dipped and very much brushed into the surface, than after all done or about 15 minutes, again going over it again to refine what’s wet blending to refine a bit of grain into the surface beyond what the bleed has done. Going back over it again is very important before the stain with it’s bleed - no matter how natural it seems might appear. This second application of stain above the latex paint is not the final coat, you need to reinforce the grain of the fux lumber again or it won’t seem as real. (This all given any and all steps are subject for what type of graining one wishes for along with what color is used.) I’m going white paint, dark stain to light here as a concept in layers. Works but as a general concept of various stains added to latex paint has many solutions.

So the red oak stain drys overnight. Treat above and beyond this two finishes and it gets a bit washed out in a wet blending type of way. Can add another stain 15 minutes later but again, complex. Overnight or at least an hour the stain will dry. Next step for me is a Pecan/Polyurethane mix stain/coating once dry. This will add some brown / natural tones to the furniture and apply the first coat of finish to it. I’m waiting to dry my base coats first however, otherwise at times the wet blending will drag the finish all the way down to what’s residue from the sanding - this be it black finish or particle board finish given a light coat of latex white. Can do the above, works ok, better or easier to wait a night before the first finish stain/poly.

After applied, wait a night and add a clear coat of gloss or what ever type of poly one choses. First gotta sand with at least 220grit or 00 grade steel wool what finish was already applied. Incredible important that once beyond just tacky where one’s brush can drag about a surface and potentially ruin in, that once the surface finish is dry, you add some tooth to it for the finish to stick to. In a rush, wait until tacky than some but where you don’t have to, steel wool the finish so as to add another layer to the finish some tooth to stick to.

New brush for the final finish of course.

Works well for furniture grade stuff in faux finishes. This granted the standard stage finish is at least 20' away and needs to be larger than life. Sharpee’s with their ink added somewhere in this above concept would no doubt work well in introducing grain that’s observable thus realistic on stage. Follow what appears naturally by painting on the ebony stain to the finish in what one might highlight in accident that looks like wood grain. Concept being larger than life. Perhaps between layers doing repeated steps with the markers so as to make grain more pop. Still as a concept in cheap materials pre-built, can be done to make cheap stuff become real in appearance with some work, and even beyond it, expanding the concept for stage work - this by highlighting the grain and also in general for different appearances tuning in the stain and finish to ones needs.

Overall concepts in this method.
1) lightly sand the finish.
2) paint with latex flat paint of a light color.
3) add ebony or dark stain to introduce a grain.
4) go over said stain a few minutes later to re-blend it as if a grain once tacky.
5) wait until the last coat of stain sets up and add another to it in building depth of color.
6) repeat step 4.
7) wait until both stains are well set up or a night and add more stain or a stain / poly finish.
8) don’t repeat step 4 unless you just added another coat of stain that doesn’t have a polyurethane finish added to it.
9) complete step 7 with the poly and wait overnight to dry.
10) steel wool or large grit number sand the surface.
11) add finish coat of poly.

Some experimentation is needed to get what finish is wished for but just about any type of finish can be done it’s assumed. This in addition to a graining tool that replaces step 4, or better yet a half crapped out brush - hard bristle brush will do stuff to the surface of interest.

Works well. In blending what started to be black to other components, the both dark walnut and oak antiques once sanded got a double coat of pecon and finish, the new poplar as a concept will get a base if red oak with two of pecon plus the double finish. The re-painted black particle board crap parts got white latex paint, than ebony, than red oak, than pecon with two coats of finish. Should wind up somewhere in that range for finish oveall. Might need to add a bit of ebony to the new work.

Side note beyond this, the WalMart type furniture have some cardboard backers to them that while they will finish in the same way, better is 1/4" veneer poplar plywood as backers to it - this rather than the card board backers finishes better and supports better.

Other notes, intent is to add tooth to the finish and not totally remove it other than where in sanding it cannot be helped. Intent of doing the latex paint is to have a finish to start over with - this as opposed to a particle board finish that does not have a grain to it. Your latex paint should start to induce a grain and not be such a good coat in total full coverage, some parts of the original finish can and should show thru in inducing a grain to the material.

Oil based stain does not bond great with latex paint in a natural way that it would with real lumber. In some ways after the second brushing of it - very important, it reacts better for making a fake finish. This given an amount of tooth that the latex paint sticks to and a certain amount of bad coverage of the original finish as having been done by this coating of the latex paint. Goal is a wood grain to the board at this point, long brush strokes and what looks like a lumber grain and as all thru the project in building depth including with the original finish included, not an even coating of any one color. Base color for the material can be any number of finishes be it pecon, oak etc. Building up a real finish above such fake colors is what the above is about.

Choice of stain coloring can be played with as with a stain coat of bleach and other types of finish or stain. For stage usage, reinforcing for the audience what develops for grain is important between the layers of finish. Ink does well for this.

Final coat and all above stain gloss coats should not be re-brushed - it needs to settle. In between final coats of finish such as polyurathane, you need tooth but also don’t re-work what’s drying.

Latex paint does odd things to stain at times applied to it. Wait until the stain gets set up and work in such odd things that show up such as oil spots.
Last edited:


CB Mods
Premium Member
Surprised the Latex didn't completely come off. Most stains being Oil based don't react well at all with Latex, as a matter of fact usually the first brushing will cause orange peel, and subsequent brushings, will tend to peel the paint right off. When I'm doing this style of finish I tend to use all latex based paints. As latex can be thinned ridiculously, it can work as a stain really well. The issue that most people have with thinning Latex down so far as to use it as a stain, is that it tends to lose it's binding characteristics, causing it to not "stick" as well. Since you are ultimately going to be sealing the entire peice with polyurethane this really souldn't be a problem. Another great way to add depth to a Faux finish like this is to add a thin layer of clear acrylic between "stain" coats. These layers of clear will really make the finish look super high end.


Senior Team Emeritus
Premium Member
latex did origionally where it didn't have tooth to stick to the origional finish. After that and once bonded to the surface, I used the tooth of the latex to make for a surface the stain would adhere to in doing it's own work. In the origional brain fart, the stain attaching to the latex was not a problem, it was the latex to the origional surface that peeled off readily.

Done the thinning down and clear coats before, didn't need to in this case and it also works as method.


CB Mods
Premium Member
And just to be clear, I'm not criticizing the technicque, and I'm glad you posted it. I don't think we have a lot of Paint topics on here,probably as it's kinda hard to talk your way through painting. I think maybe more topics on faux finishes would be a good thing.


Active Member
Just a quick note - sorry to be an ass -

but its Faux...




Senior Team
Senior Team
Fight Leukemia
The T.D. who taught me everything In know was an AMAZING painter. He would tint up 3 or 4 cups of paint, walk over to a piece of furniture, and just paint it. BOOM. In less than an hour you would swear it was solid oak from more than 2 feet away. He would just wet blend the grain in there with the most amazing dry brush skills you've ever seen. I watched and watched but there's no way I'll ever be able to do it. His horror story was the time he did a set like a cabin interior and painted Knotty Pine walls for days. Oh to be half the tech he is.

Users who are viewing this thread