Applying the wood grain effect

Trying to make a piece of plastic look like a piece of wood is a very difficult task. There are so many different timbers with a multitude of colours and trying to replicate them is a real challenging job. If you pick up a piece of timber, any timber, and look at the grain or grain pattern, now try to visualize this 32 times smaller, that is what you want to achieve. If you could physically reduce the size of that piece of wood to 1:32 scale you would find that the grain would virtually disappear and you would end up with nearly a single colour. A lot of modellers do fantastic work at creating wood in miniature, but a lot of them have over emphasised the grain making it look unrealistic for the scale.

Look at the photo on the left, as nice as it looks and as realistic as it may appear,it is way over size as far as grain goes. Just imagine that cockpit floor enlarged 32 times, the grain would be enormous. But, as far as a model goes, it doesn’t look too bad, seems to fit with everything else and looks the part, it definitely looks like apiece of wood. So what is the answer, over-do the grain so in miniature it looks like wood or do it to scale and have a wood grain that is barely noticeable.The second photo shows more wood grain, again it looks pretty good and suits the rest of the model, but look at the knots, they look alright here, but enlarge them 32 times, they would be monster knots and again the grain is a little over done in relation to scale. So the object is to create a grain pattern that not only looks good but is more in keeping with what a real piece of timber looks like in relation to scale. Even in this scale you still want admirers of your model to say, “hey, that looks like a real piece of wood”.The photo on the left has caused quite a stir on the modelling sites with many people asking me for advice on how I did it, in this section I hope to show you how to apply a wood grain without making it look out of context with the rest of the model, it’s quite easy.


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These are the two fuselage halves that have been prepared ready for the wood grain treatment. I sprayed the inside of the fuselage with the colour I will be using for the CDL (clear doped linen) and as the timber is a light colour this will act as a good base coat. The fuselage frame is a darker timber but this base coat will work fine.

I am using Raw Sienna to give me a light colour wood. Place a blob of the colour onto the surface and spread it around with a small stiff brush, you don’t have to be fancy doing this, it is only to get the paint into all the little nooks and crannies. The beauty of using oil paint is that if you don’t like what you have done you just simply wipe it off and start again, it will not harm the base coat.

Start by putting a blob of the colour you are using onto a piece of absorbent paper towel, this will draw the linseed oil from the paint which speeds the drying time dramatically. Leave the blob on the towel for 5 minutes before starting the wood grain. If it dries out too much simply dip your brush into some thinners and mix with the paint.

With the small stiff bristle brush, drag it over the painted surface in the direction you want the grain to run applying a little pressure to allow the bristles to leave the desired pattern. Wipe the brush frequently onto the paper towel to remove excess paint build up. Continue going over the area until you have achieved the look you require.

Notice that the grain pattern is not straight, when dragging for the final time I always wiggle the brush slightly to give a subtle wobbly grain pattern. Once you have dragged all over the area to be wood grained the end result should look similar to this picture. This part will now have the darker wood colour added to the frame work. Very little of the section will be seen once the two fuselage halves are united so I will not add knots.

Smaller parts are wood grained using the same method as described above. Again, I needed a light wood colour so I used the raw sienna over the CDL. Grain direction will alternate on the small parts, check original photos of actual aircraft if available to see which way the grain ran.

Here are some small items which have all been painted using the same method. The darker timber features will be added next then it will be all put into my heat box and left over night to dry. Avoid touching the oil paint at this stage as it will smudge and ruin all the work you just accomplished. One night in the heat box is usually sufficient enough to allow for the next stage to continue.

This photo shows the darker wood colour applied. I used 50% raw sienna, 25% burn sienna and 25% burnt umber. Application was by the same method the only difference being the use of a smaller brush. Care must be taken not to get any of the darker colour on the light wood or the CDL finish. Once dry, I will apply two coats of Humbrol Matt Cote.

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Applying Woodgrain