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January 04, 2022
Simulating Wood Grain on Hobby Models

Simulating Wood Grain on Hobby Models

Table of Contents

A wood-grain look is a hallmark of many classic cars, which often featured genuine or simulated wood on the interior or exterior paneling. Learning to paint a faux wood-grain pattern can be the touch you need to bring your vintage model replicas to life. We've put together a comprehensive resource to guide you along your journey. Learn what supplies you will need to paint wood grain on model cars and some troubleshooting tips here!

What is Model Wood Graining?

Automakers used wood paneling extensively in the 1930s through '50s as a cheaper alternative to steel. When building hobby models, you may wish to paint a wood-grain car interior or exterior to replicate your desired model and bring it to life. Recreating the warm glow of woods like mahogany and birch with wood-grain acrylic paint can be tricky, but you can learn to simulate wood grain with several techniques. 

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Model Wood Graining Supplies

Due to this project's complexity, it is crucial to have the right supplies before simulating wood grain on plastic models. Layering a combination of wood-grain effect paint colors can produce your ideal texture:  

  • Umber
  • Burnt umber
  • Sienna
  • Burnt sienna
  • Yellow ochre
  • White

To paint wood grain on plastic, you'll also need a collection of paintbrushes in various sizes and shapes, including:

  • Fan brush
  • Flat brush
  • Angled brush
  • Liner brush
  • Filbert brush

 Each of these brushes has different bristle configurations, resulting in distinctive outcomes when used to paint. These brushes add texture, while the color combination creates depth. When used together, color and textured paintbrushes create the illusion of genuine wood on your model.

Additional supplies you'll need to gather before painting wood-grain effect on a model car include tape, drop cloths and sandpaper. Depending on your preferences and desired look, you can use sponges and a rapid paint drying spray.

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How Do You Paint Wood Grain on Models? 

Based on the application and material, the best way to paint these models will include using acrylic and oil-based paint. We will cover this in more detail in the next section. 


Before painting any design, lightly sand down the area you plan to paint. Roughening the surface will allow the paint to adhere better for a longer-lasting design. After sanding, it is time to tape off any excess areas you do not want to paint at this time —‌ doing so will keep your lines clear and smooth. Once you have sanded and taped off your model, you can add a coat of primer to help seal it and prepare it for paint.  

Background Color

Using a blend of the colors listed in the previous section, create an acrylic mixture that resembles a light tan color. You can achieve this by mixing white and yellow with a darker shade. There is not a specific formula for doing this, so you might want to experiment on a piece of scrap paper until you achieve the base color you are looking for. After painting your model car with this background color, let it dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step. Typically, letting the model sit overnight is long enough to accomplish this goal. 

Apply Texture

After the model has dried completely, it is time to apply your texture. On a palette, or whatever you have handy, dispense a small amount of oil-based paint colors. Cover the base color with a darker shade. Then, add colors in streaks to simulate a wood effect. Using a sponge or cloth, wipe off the area to allow the background color to peek through in spots. From there, depending on your desired design, you can go back with the liner brush and fan brush to add additional "wood" streaks.

Finish With Gloss

Once you have achieved your ideal wood-grain look, let your model sit for at least a week to ensure all layers of oil paint are dry before finishing it with a clear coat. 

Model Painting Tips & Troubleshooting

If it's your first time experimenting with creating a wood-grain look on a model car, you'll want to avoid several rookie mistakes. First, don't use too much paint. If you do, the paint can run and ruin the streaking effect, or dry unevenly. Apply paint sparingly, and do not grab an excessive amount of paint with your brush between strokes. 

Lint and dust are other common issues to steer clear of. Drying paint can be sticky, attracting passing debris to land on your model. This issue can be more noticeable on the finished product than you expect. Some workarounds include:

  • Covering the model when drying
  • Frequently checking your paintbrush
  • Dusting off the model before painting

Buy Your Next Model at Auto World Store

Buy Your Next Model at Auto World Store

Creating a wood-grain texture is many things — fun, interesting, creative and unique. No two projects turn out the same! While your model will be unique to you, it will also be realistic when you take time to perfect your technique. The wood texture on your model car's side panels or dashboard will remind you of the genuine article. While it may be a process to replicate wood grain, it is rewarding in the end when your model looks real. 

Auto World Store is the leading provider for hobby model and die-cast cars. Shop our extensive catalog of paint, modeling supplies, modeling kits and more today, and start practicing your wood grain technique!