Paint A Faux Mahogany Finish On Raw Wood Or Painted Surfaces

  • 01 of 08

    Easy Faux Mahogany Finish For Full Size or Miniature Projects

    Faux mahogany finish on a dolls house fireplace compared to a piece of finished fine mahogany
    A faux mahogany finish on a dolls house fireplace set beside a piece of finished fine grain mahogany for comparison. Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

    It doesn't matter what size of ​the piece you are attempting to upgrade with the look of mahogany using a faux finish. The easy faux mahogany technique in these instructions will take you through the steps to create a realistic faux mahogany finish on unfinished softwood or a painted surface for full sized cabinet faces or a dollhouse kitchen - anything from illustration board to painted metal. Cuban and Honduras mahogany is often used for high-quality furniture, and the wood is also used for scale miniature furniture as it has a fine grain which suits several scales without adjustment.

    It helps to have a reference piece of mahogany to match. If you are trying to match commercial picture frames or faux mahogany finishes on modern full scale or miniature furniture, you may need to modify the process. Most modern faux mahogany finishes from Asia are a much brighter red than true mahogany, and often show little graining. If you need to match these finishes, adjust the final glaze coats to the color of your furniture.

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  • 02 of 08

    Materials Used to Create a Painted Faux Mahogany Finish

    Faux mahogany finish compared to unfinished softwood and a commercial dolls house mahogany chair
    Finished piece of softwood with a faux mahogany finish, shown next to unfinished wood, and compared to the overly red finish of a commercial dolls house chair. Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

    To Create a Faux Mahogany Finish for any Scale of Project You Will Need:

    • Prepared Piece to Finish - a raw wood or painted finish should be sanded with 120 or finer grit sandpaper then thoroughly cleaned to remove all sanding grit using a tackcloth or damp rag. If you are starting with a painted piece, apply a pale apricot undercoat, then use a brush and some mid orange/yellow paint to add jagged grain lines to the painted piece similar to those you find on unfinished softwood. Remember to always sand along the length of the grain, never sand across the grain lines, real or imaginary!.
    • Clear Acrylic Glaze It is easiest to use a glaze made from your finishing coat, so use gloss if you want a gloss finish, or semi gloss if you want a flatter finish. Acrylic glaze is used so you can tint it yourself. If you are finishing large pieces of regular furniture, you can use acrylic 'clearcoat' or a water based Diamond Varathane (do not confuse water based varathane with oil based varathane). If you are trying to match an existing finish for repairs, check to see what type of coating is on your piece before you use glaze coats. You may have to adjust your choice of materials to blend with existing finishes (traditional shellac, french polish or other coats).
    • Acrylic Paints Tube paints work better than liquid craft acrylics as they are more concentrated, but you can use either type. For my sample I used a flat black, a deep brick red (sometimes called rosewood in craft paints - slightly blue rather than orange) a cadmium (bright) orange, and raw or burnt umber (either works) Depending on the color you want to match you may also need a bluish red and a deep brown.
    • Fine Paint Brushes The size will depend on what size and scale your project is. I use a stiff student art brush for the dry brushed sections of my miniature wood, or a stiff small paint brush for full-scale pieces. To apply the orange glaze coat vein lines I use a rounded watercolor brush in an appropriate size (for miniatures) or a large rounded paint brush for full-size projects. For overwashed glaze coats I use a soft broad square tipped watercolor brush for miniatures or a soft bristled standard paint brush for full-scale pieces.
    • Fine Sand Paper To sand between coats and keep the grain from raising, I use 120 to 320 grit for miniature pieces
    • Tack Cloth to remove sanded paint and grit after sanding.
    • Fine Beeswax Furniture Polish To put a final realistic glow on the miniature pieces, or to match the finish on larger pieces.


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  • 03 of 08

    Use a Dry Brush Technique to Mimic Pores for Faux Mahogany

    Tiny dark paint flecks are added to regular softwood to imitate the dark pores of mahogany
    The first step in creating a faux mahogany finish is to use a dry brush technique and black or dark brown paint to mimic fine dotted pore markings. Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

    Real mahogany has fine dark flecks or 'pores' as well as grain lines. To make these for your faux finish, use flat black acrylic paint, and a dry brush technique to create tiny dots and slightly dragged lines on your raw wood or painted undercoat. You don't need a lot, but you do need to make the dots fairly tiny and not clump them.

    Using a dry brush technique with most of the paint removed, touch your brush straight down and bounce it lightly (pouncing) to produce the tiny dots. If your paint coat is too thick, dab it off without wiping it into the wood or paint finish, or sand the excess off when the paint is dry and try again.


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  • 04 of 08

    Dry Brush Fine Red/Brown Grain Lines in a Faux Mahogany Finish

    Fine red grain lines are drawn on regular softwood to create a faux mahogany finish.
    A dry brush technique is used to draw faint grain lines with deep brick or barn red paint to create grain lines for a faux mahogany finish. Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

    Mix up a bit of brick red or rosewood (deep blue/brown red) acrylic paint (add water to make it a good consistency to brush out thinly if you are using tube paints) and use the dry brush technique to feather some small red grain lines in your faux mahogany. For miniature projects make these lines fairly fine, for larger projects you can make them slightly larger.

    The sample on the bottom in the photo above shows some splotches where the brush added too much paint. You can usually sand these splotches out when the paint is dry to break them up and make them blend into your faux finish.

    For this dry brushing section, you want to press the brush gently onto the surface of the piece and draw it gently along to create lines as shown above. The lines should have a slight curve or a wiggle to them and not be perfectly straight.

    Lightly sand your piece when the red/brown lines are dry to break them up a bit. Check the edges of your piece to make sure some of your lines go right to the edge. Sand off any excess paint that sticks to the edge if you are painting on more than one side of a piece.

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  • 05 of 08

    Add Orange Glazed Grain Lines To Your Faux Mahogany Finish

    Orange glaze used for grain lines for a faux mahogany finish on softwood or a painted surface
    Cadmium orange paint mixed with clear glaze is used to create orange grain lines for a faux mahogany finish on softwood or a painted surface. Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

    The next step in a realistic faux mahogany finish is to create orange grain lines which will remain as you complete the finish. For this step mix some cadmium orange acrylic paint into some of your clear glaze or clear coat to make a light orange glaze that will allow a lot of the original color of the wood to show through (see the sample above to judge how transparent your glaze needs to be). If you are working with a piece that started as painted apricot base coat instead of raw wood, you will need to add a few more lines to mimic the type of grain that unfinished softwood has. You can mix a slightly stronger orange glaze and brush on some wavy lines in the direction you want the grain (usually lengthwise) allow this to dry, then add some more glaze to your paint and add the light orange glaze lines.

    If you are working with unfinished softwood, use your thin orange glaze to lay down some slightly wavy lines about the same size as your existing wood grain lines are. This glaze coat will seal the wood or painted surface beneath it and keep some light areas in your finished faux mahogany surface.

    Sand this coat very lightly when it is dry before adding the overglaze coats.

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  • 06 of 08

    Mix and Apply a Red Brown Overglaze For a Faux Mahogany Finish

    A first coat of red brown glaze applied over the graining for a piece of faux finish mahogany.
    A first coat of red brown glaze applied over the graining for a piece of faux finish mahogany. The smaller sample shows the glaze alone over wood with no added graining. Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

    Take some of the same or similar brick or rosewood red you used for the fine red grain lines, and add clear glaze to it, along with a small amount of raw or burnt umber acrylic paint, to make a reddish brown overglaze. This coat needs to be fairly transparent. In the photo above you can see how transparent it is on the sample of raw wood which has only the overglaze coat applied to it.

    Brush this coat completely over your pieces, trying to avoid any build up or drips on straight edges.

    Set the piece aside to dry, then sand it, sanding it out unevenly to create several colors on your piece. Use a tack cloth to remove any sanded bits of paint before you proceed to the next step.

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  • 07 of 08

    Add A Second Darker Coat of Overglaze to Your Faux Mahogany Finish

    A second coat of red brown glaze is applied over the previous coat for a faux mahogany finish.
    A second coat of red brown glaze is applied over the previous coat for a faux mahogany finish on softwood. Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

    Check your finish so far against anything you want to match, or a sample of finished mahogany. Add a bit more red and brown to your glaze coat from the previous step, or adjust it by adding some orange if your piece needs more orange to match an existing sample or finish. Apply this coat over your piece making sure all areas are finished evenly. With any luck this will be your final coat!

    After I applied a second coat of darkened glaze, my mahogany still needed more brown and orange, so I applied a final coat of brown and orange mixed into my basic red glaze to create the finished coat you see in the final sample on the next page.

    When the piece is dry, check the color against your sample or existing finish. If it matches, sand the dry finish lightly with fine sandpaper, and use a tack cloth to wipe off any sanded residue.

    If it doesn't match, sand it (heavily or lightly , whichever you need!) and adjust your glaze coat to be more orange, or more red, or more brown so that it more closely resembles your sample or finished piece.

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  • 08 of 08

    Adjust the Finish On Your Faux Mahogany

    Faux mahogany finish on a dolls house scale fireplace mantel.
    The mantelpiece of a dolls house fireplace finished as mahogany with a faux mahogany painting process useful for miniature or full size finishes. Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

    When your Faux Mahogany finish is painted to your liking, you can add to its realism by matching the sheen of antique or modern pieces.

    For an Antique Furniture Finish Use fine sandpaper (320 grit or finer) or a set of micro mesh sanding pads to sand your final painted glaze coat smooth. If you use sanding pads, you can get the finish to the degree of gloss you need by working through successively finer pads. If your piece is too complex to sand to a high finish, sand the final coat lightly, then apply a fine beeswax based furniture polish allow it to set up, then polish with a soft cloth to get the degree of gloss finish you want. If you need very high gloss finishes, use liquid 'ice wax' type car polishes, or a thin layer of future floor polish to give you a thin gloss shine. On full-size pieces, you can use a final gloss coating of clear acrylic finish if necessary. For miniatures, you can get a more realistic scale effect using fine wax to make a thinner gloss coat.

    This is an easy method of finishing inexpensive softwood to resemble quality mahogany. With a bit of practice, anyone can create a far deeper and richer faux mahogany finish than most modern 'mahogany' furniture is given, whether it be on a picture frame, a piece of commercial dolls house furniture made from unknown wood, or an inexpensive piece of assemble-it-yourself full size furniture.

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