Here's a thrifty way to dress up your home for holiday entertaining that's been around for hundreds of years. Since the Renaissance, artists have used faux wood graining techniques to give simple furniture, doors, and trim the look of much finer woods like tiger maple, burled walnut, and flame mahogany.
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After applying two coats of a base color, brush on a mixture of glazing liquid and color tint. Feather a darker glaze into the wet base and tool it. Depending on the wood you're simulating, you might try tools like combs, feathers, sponges, and stipple brushes.
After ten minutes, blend with a soft badger brush, which you can get at most paint and art supply stores.
Many artists finish by rubbing in bowling alley wax with fine steel wool, but a spray coat of polyurethane can save time on smaller projects.
Find photos of the real thing, test your paint recipes and techniques on sample boards first, and be prepared for a little trial and error. Behold the power of paint!
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For more on woodworking, consider:
18 Reasons to Fall for Faux Bois
How To: Stain a Deck
How To: Match End Grain with Side Grain