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Particle board is an inexpensive and durable material that simplifies and strengthens many woodworking projects. When unfinished, it has a distinctive appearance that could never be mistaken for real wood. Learn how to use stain to give particle board the appearance of real wood, and increase your options for changing the appearance of existing furniture.
What Is Particle Board?
Particle board is manufactured from wood chips. The chips are mixed with a resin or other binder and compressed. It is sometimes called ‘chipboard’ but should not be confused with oriented strand board, which is stronger due to its use of machined wood chips.
Particle board belongs to a larger category of materials called fiberboards. Fiberboards are used when uniform materials are required, as it is less susceptible to deformation than actual wood. Other, more expensive fiberboards include medium-density fiberboard, also called MDF, or hardboard.
Particle board is used when strength, uniformity, and cost outweigh aesthetic concerns. However, there are things you can do to improve the appearance of particle board.
Types and Uses of Particle Board
Particle board is highly susceptible to moisture. If wet, it will take on significant amounts of liquid and the particle board will swell, becoming deformed.
Thus, it is often used to underlay vinyl, tile, and wooden floors. Painting or sealing particleboard will help it to resist water damage, but do little to disguise the distinctive, pressed wood chip appearance.
You do NOT want to use particle board in bathrooms and kitchens, where the presence of water is greater.
Veneered Particle Board
If the surface of particle board will be exposed, it’s usual to opt for veneered particle board. In this product, extremely thin strips of laminate or wood are glued to the surface of the board. The veneer is usually less than one-eighth of an inch thick, so it doesn’t provide additional stability or structural integrity.
Veneer camouflages particle board, giving you a smooth surface. Many flat-pack furniture items are made of particle board. While they are wood-like, they will never be mistaken for real wood.
Unless, that is, you have the time, patience, and inclination to follow the steps in this article. With a little artistry and some practice, you can apply the attributes of real wood to veneered particle board.
How to Stain Particle Board to Look Like Wood
This technique is intended for veneered particle boards. The rough surface of pressed chips is too uneven for this faux-wood look to be convincing.
- Practice makes perfect. If you’re considering altering existing furniture to look like wood, you probably don’t want to spend the money to replace the furniture if your faux-wood staining attempts go awry. Practice on a spare sheet of particle board, if you have one. If not, start with the least conspicuous side of the existing particle board piece, such as the one that is usually pressed against the wall or the underside.
- Set up your workspace and materials. Lay down a drop cloth to protect the floor underneath your workpiece. To complete this project, you will need; trisodium phosphate (TSP), a clean spray bottle, a sanding block, tack cloth or a vacuum, primer, stain, clear glaze, brown-tinted glaze, a stack of lint-free clothes, and several bristle brushes. At least one should be a two-inch brush, with a few smaller brushes for good measure.
- Clean the particle board. Pour the TSP into the spray bottle and spritz it onto the surface of the particle board. Use a lint-free cloth to scrub the veneer, removing oils and roughing up the surface of the veneer a bit.
TSP is an extremely effective cleaner and degreaser that helps prepare surfaces to accept primer. It is also toxic to humans, animals, and plants, and may not be available in all municipalities. Borax is an acceptable alternative to TSP. Just mix it with water and pour the mixture into a spray bottle.
- Sand the veneer. Be very careful on this step, as you don’t want to sand all the way through the veneer and reveal the chipped surface underneath. A sanding block is better than folded sanding paper, as it distributes the pressure more evenly across the surface. Use light, circular motions and a medium-grit sandpaper. You’re not really trying to remove material, simply scuffing up the surface. Not only will this help the primer adhere to the surface, it will add texture to your finished product, making it resemble real wood more than a perfectly smooth surface.
- Clean up the dust. Use a vacuum with a brush attachment to suck up most of the saw dust. A tack cloth is wax-coated cheesecloth. When wiped over the surface of your workpiece, it will help remove every last speck of dust.
- Prime the particleboard. Apply two coats of primer, waiting for the first coat of primer to dry before carrying on with the second. Primer will obscure the surface of the particle board and give you a uniform foundation on which to build your faux-wood look.
- Use glaze to start the faux-wood look. Pour some of the brown-tinted glaze into a clean container that is wide enough to accept your brushes. Set the two-inch brush aside – you’ll want this to be clean and dry for the next step. Dip one of the smaller brushes into the glaze and paint a few random, vertical strokes on the surface of the particleboard. Swap the brush for one of a different size and paint a few more random, vertical strokes. Do not cover the entire surface – leave some primer exposed.
- Brush out the glaze. Using your clean, dry, two-inch brush and starting at the top left corner of the workpiece, drag the brush in one long, smooth stroke down to the bottom left corner. Use a clean area of the lint-free rag to wipe excess glaze off the brush. Continue brushing out the glaze. Each stroke should overlap with the one before it. Keep your strokes long, smooth, and vertical. Continue wiping excess glaze from the brush, moving to clean areas of the lint-free rags as necessary.
- Create texture. Tapping the bristles of the brush against the surface of the particle board will cause pinpricks of glaze to pull slightly away from the surface. This helps add texture, bringing you closer to the appearance of natural wood. Use this technique sparingly, and go slow to avoid ruining the vertical lines you’ve just carefully brushed out. When you’re done, clean your brushes and allow the piece to dry overnight, or about 12 hours.
- Prepare for the next day. Pull up or print out pictures of real wood that clearly show the grain pattern. You can also look at real wood furniture in your house. Make sure your work area is well lit.
- Glaze the particleboard. Use a paintbrush to coat the entire surface of the particle board in a clear glaze. Wait about 15 minutes – long enough for the glaze to change from wet to tacky, but not so long that the glaze is dry.
- Paint on wood grain. Work carefully, studying your results as you go. Referring constantly to your source material, use a thin paintbrush and brown glaze to paint a wood grain pattern onto the tacky clear glaze. Wipe the paintbrush with a lint-free rag, then lightly flick the bristles against the surface to add texture without disturbing your pattern. Allow 24 hours to fully dry.
- Stain for color. Use a semi-transparent stain that is slightly lighter in color than your brown glaze. Apply it evenly over the entire surface, and wait for the stain to dry. Voila!
Particle board is an economical and reliable choice for woodworking projects, but it does not resemble real wood. Using primer, glazes, and stain, you can imitate the look of real wood on top of particle board.