Faux Wood Grain Stair Railing

by THAT Painter Lady

stair-rails-before-pictureThis is an amazing project I helped Charlene work through to the final finish!

This picture is the original stair railings in Charlene’s gorgeous home.

Hi Debra –

I have your Wood Grain techniques video where the column is painted. I want to paint a more Mahogany finish. Is the “tomato” color base for Cherry wood look only or Mahogany too?

Thanks, Char


Hi Char

About Mahogany Wood Finishes:

Most mahogany doesn’t have quite the red in it that Cherry wood does.

For the base color I would try a beige with a hint of pink…

For the top glaze coats I would try to use a thin glaze of burnt sienna and then you may have to go over that with another glaze of burnt umber here are some color code charts so you can see the difference in colors:





Thank you for your quick response!

paint-to-match-wood-floorI was surprised you said beige (with a pink hue) for the primer, but I can visualize that it will bring in a little warmer base. And unlike the Oak Look, I won’t make the wood-grain stripes that allow much primer to show through.

Although it’s more work to do two different colors of glaze, I think that it will give it some extra definition to allow some of the Burnt Sienna show through the Burnt Umber in places. I am still a little nervous about two different glazing applications.

I’ve attached some photos to show you my project. Let me know if I am off base on my plan.

I will paint the stair rails, but only the top and the larger columns (leaving the thin spindles white).

Since I replaced the white carpet downstairs with a Sienna wood floor, the stair rails have jumped out as too white.

I will soon replace the carpet upstairs with the same wood so the white stair railing will be out of place altogether. I want to keep some of it white since my stair/door/window/fireplace trims are all white.

Sincerely, Charlene


And from Charlene an update:

wood-grain-basecoat-colorI have been frozen with my faux wood grain stair railing project and am seeking your advice.

I think I gave you the impression I wanted to match my orangey-brown wood floors, but I actually want to come closer to the dark mahogany furniture so the railings are an accent and a little bit of contrast to the floors.

You told me to get a dark mustard base. I liked that idea. I picked a nice paint swatch, but the primer came out looking like a butter cream.

I painted the railings with the butter cream and thought I’d work with it. I painted some wood scraps with the same butter cream and couldn’t get a mahogany out of it. The yellow is just too bright.

I went back to Home Depot and told them it was too light and they said Primers come out lighter than the swatch formula.

inspiration-picture-stair-railingPerhaps I should have picked a very-dark mustard swatch formula and the primer would have come out medium mustard.

<– This picture is the “inspiration” image that Charlene used for her faux wood graining ideas.

I decided to go back to the tomato base, but I didn’t know how to get Home Depot to create the right primer so I decided to turn my butter cream into a tomato base.

I made a reddish tint by mixing 1/2 C. of Glaze with tint (3 parts of 1/4 teaspoon Venetian Red and 1 part of 1/4 t. of burnt umber).

I painted a fence post with the butter cream and put my glaze mix on it.

I think I got a nice wood-grained tomato base. Now I need to darken it up.

I may mix Raw Umber (black tint) with Van Dyke Brown (dark brown) to get my darker next coat. If I am still too light, I may need a third coat with some red added.

What do you think?

– Char

Manhattan Beach, California


Hi Charlene,

Your home is just to die for.

I can see why you want to get some of that white railing to look like wood. Your home is almost too pale in some areas to go with that gorgeous wood flooring.

So… about the wood finish.

graining-knewl-postIn looking at your furniture… I am changing my mind about the beige base coat. I think you should go back to a gold color. Something almost like dark mustard. Not bright gold.

This base will be covered almost completely with your glaze coats. But should give a nice warm glow.

The top coats (glaze) in two different steps… should be but on with a china brush (like the video) but not with the slap dash or rough approach.

Use a soft hand and long strokes with the glaze. You are trying to achieve the finest grain detail. Almost as if you can’t see the grain it would be so soft and subtle.

faux-wood-graining-post That’s why graining with two different glazes would be necessary. One will look a bit sloppy, but two seems to blend and look more like fine furniture.

Of course when you put a top “shiny” coat on… it will look fantastic.

It looks to me like the bottom or first glaze should be a brown and the top or second glaze should be more reddish. You really want very little red coloration… but you need a hint of red or it’s going to look like oak.

Debra – THAT Painter Lady


And… More From Debra:

Hey Char… I have to say again… this project is amazing! Most would have given up long ago. I am so happy that you are not discouraged trying to find just the right technique for the results you want.

The fact that you are willing to build up layers is the exact thing I would recommend. And that you are doing some test samples is the best idea of all!

I really think that adding one or two more layers is going to be needed. And the last layer may have to be a “reddish tint” to get that reddish wood grain effect.

Now here is the real key to this. Because you are going to be putting a sealer top coat on everything… it will “change” the look of the finished product.

I would soooo recommend that you play with several of your glaze color ideas and after they are dry… put a sealer coat on each. After they are dry you can really “see” which technique is going to work best for you.

I don’t often tell “students” that a sealer is required. But in the case of your project… it is a necessity.

One – because of the use the railings get… and

Two – because you are seeking a fine furniture look… you will need a fine furniture looking sealer as the top coat.

Your samples must go through the entire process or you just won’t be able to tell which sample technique is the best one for your project.

BTW – The pictures you are sending are fantastic. Thanks so much… they really are helping me to “see” your project.

Okay… keep me posted!




Thanks so much for confirming my process is sound. I am not back to beingexcited about the project.

I feel much better. I will go do a second coat right now on my science project out in the garage.

When you speak of the top coat should I assume you are speaking of the Polycrylic Satin that is in the video – I was planning on doing that.

I didn’t think of testing the top coat on the samples though, but I will do that!


Hello again Debra,

My next step had half Raw Umber (black) and half Van Dyke Brown (dark brown) with the glaze. It brought the base to the wood floor color which is nice.

layers-of-glazeThe stain makes nice lines on the wood fence sample, but I am concerned how the swirls will look on the balls on top of the railings.

My second coat (mixture by paintbrush) brought current color to the wood floor color- still very orangey and yellow is still visible, but much improved from first coat. I will use the second mixture for the third coat too to cut some of the red and darken it some more.

My main concern is how the stripy stain will look on all the balls.

I will stick with Satin top coat. I have nothing else in home that is glossy and don’t want railings to pop over all else.

– Char


Wood Graining For the Ball Top Caps:

Wood grain is not swirly… it goes in a straight line.

So… when someone makes a round object out of wood the grain still goes straight across.
Get the idea?

Hope that helps…Debra


Update from Char:

I went to Home Depot and had them mix a few red Behr primers but they came out light pink because the Behr base is too white.

I splurged on Ralph Lauren since they have a deep base and match the swatch color. I think the Chimayo Red will work nicely. I was prepared to mix it with a little white if it was too dark, but I think it will be just right.

Thanks again!, Char

What Is A China Or Natural Bristle Chip Brush?

China or Natural is a type of bristle. Look for “chip” brush at the
hardware store. It’s those cheap throwaway type brushes and they have
ragged tips instead of a straight line of bristles.

They work miracles with faux wood graining. And you can grab a few so
you don’t have to clean. Just throw away.

I do have to say… that I’ve had the same $1.49 brush for years. It’s
almost worn to a nub… but it works so I spend the time to clean it.

Drum Roll Please…. I Am Done!


I CANNOT believe how beautiful it turned out and I am picky.

After the Rust-colored paint, I stained.

I mixed twice as much stain in the Faux Glaze as you recommended on accident but it was better for my darker wood needs.

It made for a darker stain instead of letting too much of the paint show through.

I finished with a semi-gloss polyurethane.

Thanks for all of your guidance. Time to have a party!

Sincerely, Charlene


Faux Wood Graining Formulas Charlene Used:

In case you wanted the formula associated with my pics:

Used Interior Water-based Primers

1) 1st coat with Behr Disney’s Get Goofy (too yellow)

2) Then painted with Ralph Lauren’s Deeptone Primer in Takahe (rust color) – this is the only Primer that Home Depot had that they could match a dark-colored paint swatch

3) Then painted with Ralph Lauren’s Deeptone Primer in Chimayo Red (warm red)

4) Stain: 1 Cup of Behr Faux Glaze with 4 teaspoons of tint by Tints All (3 t. of Van Dyke Brown and 1 t. of Raw Umber)

5) Finished with Mini Wax Clear Semi Gloss PolyurethaneI am sure you could start with step 3 and get the same results.

– Char

In case Charlene didn’t know already – Debra ~ THAT Painter Lady… is really impressed!

I just can’t get over the transformation. I am so proud of you Charlene for sticking with the process and allowing me to be a part of your artistic journey! Thank you so much for sharing. :0)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy April 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Wow…what an amazing transition!!! Beautiful!!!

THAT Painter Lady April 20, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Hi Cindy… isn’t it amazing that she did all that with Paint and Glaze? I was so proud to be a part of that transformation ( even via email and pictures).

What a tenacious gal to “just keep going” until the project was perfect.

And it all started with one magazine picture and one video. :0)

Susan Dunlap April 20, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Hey guys! Beautiful work! I would really like to see full pic and close up with actual lighting. Probably could have a better idea of finished project.
Great job though!

Emmy May 15, 2009 at 8:47 pm

You got great results but you went through a lot of testing to get it. I achieved a mahogany look on my oak mantel by just sanding it lightly and then painting on a mixture of clear glaze with a little black paint in it. I did 2 coats with a foam brush, got a great finish. I’m planning on doing my railing next.

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