Introduction: Make PVC Look Like Wood

Picture of Make PVC Look Like Wood

I came up with this simple trick to give PVC pipe a realistic wood texture when I built a few plastic didgeridoos a couple of years ago. It would also work for theater, home decor or backyard tiki-bars! Send an invite if you build that last one.

Step 1: What You'll Need.

Picture of What You'll Need.

- PVC, Any size you want.

- Heavy Metal File. Mine has Rasp and Double Cut sides. An 8-inch file like this costs $9 at any hardware store.

- 100 Grit Sandpaper

- Artist Oil Paint. You can use acrylic, but it may chip off unless you seal it.

Other Materials:

- Wire Brush, for clearing the file's teeth of PVC.

- Dust Mask, to prevent PVC dust from getting in your lungs.

Step 2: Sand the PVC.

Picture of Sand the PVC.

SAFETY REMINDER: Wear a dust mask for this step!!

Remove the shiny coating and ink print on the PVC face with the sandpaper. If the Ink is giving you trouble, give IT some trouble... with acetone. Your PVC should have a nice matte finish.

Step 3: File Away!

Picture of File Away!

Use the rasp side of the file to shred the PVC surface. Pull the file in many directions to give it an organic look. If the file's teeth get clogged, use a wire brush to quickly clear them.

CAUTION: This step will make sharp ridges on the surface of the PVC. Try not to slide your knuckles along the pipe until you have smoothed it out.

Once you're happy with the texture, use the double cut (smoother side) of the file to remove the shavings and sharp ridges on the PVC. Give the plastic a few extra rubs with the sandpaper.

Step 4: Add Some Color.

Picture of Add Some Color.

Find a nice oil color you like for your PVC wood. Wipe it on with a rag, making sure to work it into all the new grooves. You can use some faux finish techniques for extra texture, blotting the paint on in irregular patterns instead of bush strokes. Let it dry. That's it!

Step 5: Going Further...

Picture of Going Further...

As I stated above, I used this technique to make a few didgeridoos. If you like this idea, there are many Instructables on making one. You just need PVC and bees wax for a mouth piece.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Enjoy!


StillBlessedwith1less (author)2017-09-16


Wondering if anyone has tried this tech on actual wood? I'm thinking of doing my painted kitchen cabinets. As I type this I'm thinking I should probably search on your site to see if there are instructions. Hope to hear back soon!!

You could certainly use this on wood cabinets. Allot of cabinets are made of composite wood that is flat with no surface texture so this idea will make it look more realistic. Although, if your cabinets are made of hardwood or something real, you might want to just sand them and use a stain to bring out the natural texture.

GVOH (author)zaphodd422017-10-06

I would like to use this outside. Any ideas on how to weather proof it? Concerned about it coming off eventually. Anyone have ideas on how to protect it ? Great Idea btw :)

MrAJMemphisS (author)2017-09-11


Looks great, would this work if i sprayed the plastic white before applying the oil colour? The plastic i am wanting to do is blue so i was hoping to add the wood effect, spray it white then add the oil colour,



zaphodd42 (author)MrAJMemphisS2017-10-03

I would certainly give that a try. Most primers for plastic are in a white spray form anyway so you would be killing 2 birds here. I would file the texture first, spray a nice thin coat (so as not to clog the new grooves you just cut) and then apply your paint of choice. Oil looks best in my opinion... but you can use acrylic for faster drying time! Please share what you discover. I have never tried this on blue plastic. : )

mzmclady (author)2016-08-11

this is a great hack... I will be using this to make curtain rods....

Onesaucywench (author)mzmclady2016-09-18

This is a set of instructions. What makes it a "hack"? I wish people would stop using "hack" already

zaphodd42 (author)Onesaucywench2016-09-18

Cyber vernacular aside, I have always thought of "hack" as a way of using materials and methods that go against a predetermined or obvious path for those particular ingredients. It's a fairly broad term, or at least has been in my interactions with it and those who use it. I'm currious to know how you feel about it.

Onesaucywench (author)zaphodd422017-09-10

I have a fundamental problem with "trendy" vernacular that has come to be known as something else before the trendy so called definition was attached to it. HACK to me defines someone who doesn't think for themselves and follows without question whatever is dictated to them (such as 'party hack' in political terms). Trendy terms rankle me in general because of their lack of creativity and originality. That sums up the reason why "HACK" bothers me. I guess it is too arcane to call a shortcut or helpful hint what they are anymore, so I guess someone who pulls a word out of their bum and attaches a new & improved definition to it is 'hip'.

Onesaucywench (author)zaphodd422017-09-10

Sorry it has taken so long to respond. I have a problem with trendy terms in general, it appears to me that there is a lack of creativity when a term becomes "trendy". Hack defines someone who doesn't think for themselves and goes along blindly with the prevailing mindset (such as in "party hack" when it comes to politics). So, when I see all of what are REALLY shortcuts or suggestions for making something better referred to as a HACK, it irritates me.

zaphodd42 (author)mzmclady2016-08-14

You're the 3rd curtain rods I've gotten messages from! I'd love to see them when you're done.

mzmclady (author)zaphodd422016-08-15

daughter is on limited funds, I'm going there to help her dress her Windows... We'll post a pic here in the comments when I get them done.... I used metal conduit before, they turned out very well, but they are a bit heavy... I think the pvc will be lighter weight... We'll see how it goes.... Won't be for a few weeks, she's in NY and I'm in NC....

savfam (author)2017-07-02

What if you used a paint and rust stripper wire wheel - like a Roto to put in the grooves? I don't know if it would work but if it works it might save some knuckles.

zaphodd42 (author)savfam2017-07-02

YEAH!! This came up a while ago and seemed like a good idea. After some experimentation however, the results yielded just a very sanded surface with no wood texture. The wires don't dig deep enough into the PVC to make the wood texture. They also make scrapings too close to each other to differentiate between "gouge and not gouge" if that makes sense.

I would LOVE to see a method that makes the rasp file obsolete, at least to help those who want to apply this method to bigger scale projects. For now though, maybe some good work gloves.

And as I type this... I just need to say that all of this is completely based on personal style and preference for the result you want. Everything in this Instructable is open for experimentation, change and evolution... the hallmark of Open Source. I love seeing how others have changed things and gotten great results. So please go forth and experiment! Thanks for reading. : )

airplayn (author)zaphodd422017-09-05

Use a very heavy rotary brush with thick wires and randomly change the pressure so you can vary the effects. It also works good to make new wood look like old weathered wood. Remember, on PVC don't use a high speed as that will melt the plastic and ruin the effect. Here's an example of fresh hardware wood made into antique. You can see the cross section is bright new wood. This is good if you need structural strength you can't get with real wood that is old and rotted. On PVC if you want a real weathered and deep grained look, make some long gashes with a rotary grinder bit like a Dremel (again LOW SPEED)

savfam (author)airplayn2017-09-06

Very nice.

Gofish (author)2017-09-01

I need to replace gutters and downpipes on my old house this Summer, thanks for giving me some ideas.

zaphodd42 (author)Gofish2017-09-03

Great!! As much as I'd love to see that, check with local codes and make sure you dont get hollered at by officials. (I dont mean to "rain" on your cool idea!) (see what I did there?)

CaptainCanuck87 (author)2017-08-02


I'm a novice painter. How did you achieve the darker accents in the grooves in your picture example? Was this just a result of the burnt umber oil paint or did you use a wash or another method?

Hey Captain! That's a good question! Those grooves I cut into the PVC with the rasp file do all that work for me. The oil paint collects in those grooves and is therefore much deeper than the paint that rests on the surface of the PVC. Deeper paint is darker paint. It works out to trick your eye into seeing faux wood grain along with adding a tactile texture to the surface.

Use a rag or towel to apply the paint. Don't press too hard as all that will do will just leave a smear of paint behind. If you ease up on the pressure you apply, you can control the depth of the paint on the surface on the PVC. That will serve to add more color variation and only look more like real wood. And just let those grooves do their job and fill with paint on their own.

Enjoy! Thanks for reading!!

Thanks! I did a test with acrylics last night and wasn't crazy about the results. I'll try again with oil paints soon. Would you suggest anything for finish coats? Building a cosplay weapon so want to make sure the paint is protected.

Thanks for the tips!

Acrylics might work if you first wipe it on with a rag or brush... if only to fill in those scratches we talked about. Then you can "dab" on the paint like a "faux finish" style. Fill a brush or rag with paint, touch it to the surface of the PVC and release it, don't wipe. It will lay a thicker natural looking layer of paint onto the PVC. Acrylics will however scratch and chip off easily so a clear coat spray paint will be needed to protect the surface. Krylon makes a good one, Rustolium as well. Just choose matte or glossy, depending on if you want it not-shiny or shiny respectively.

I get allot of cosplay emails for this idea. I'd love to see the finished product!!

croconoll (author)2017-07-24

I Like making things and PVC items looks like a good idea i shall try that one.

There was some spindles for banisters and I started painting them brown and when dry I gave them a coat of scumble paint and when dry there was an astonishing old fashioned wood marble affect, since then i have tried it out on many items with the same affect, but I have to wait till next year to get some more scumble paint as I live in the Philippines now, and will go back to visit my family and get another tin of scumble and a dark brown paint.

And then try it on the PVC pipes, it is a long time to wait to get it but it could be well worth it, if it is superb i will post on here.

zaphodd42 (author)croconoll2017-07-24

Thank you for reading this 'ibble! I love the look of scumble paint. If you do end up trying this idea, please post those pics!

fluffydragon made it! (author)2017-07-19

It came out a bit bigger than I intended but I'm very happy with it. I used 3/4" pipe and a heat gun. The middle piece is also 3/4" with connectors jammed into either end of the middle connector PVC.

When heat-shaping, the ends going into the connectors shrunk just a smidgen, so there's a piece of electrical tape on the inside to make the fit snug. I wanted this thing to be able to be taken apart for trips and storage.

I used a few different grades of sandpaper - several very fine filaments came off the PVC with coarse sandpaper so I'm glad I followed the instructions and used a mask. I used a premade block/wedge sand thing (yay words) to smooth off any stray filaments before coloring. I was able to get the ends hot enough to flatten them a bit to look more 'bow like'.

Instead of paint, I rubbed 3 different colors of RIT dye into the 'grain' and wiped it off again with water and paper towels. I did this over a few separate passes to make the wood have a natural looking variance of color - the dye dried very fast and for some reason left a light shine on the pipe, no need to seal or spray with clear coat. It fooled everyone who looked at it into thinking I had a wood bow.

I used rubber cement to secure the wrappings.

Thanks for the tutorial!!

zaphodd42 (author)fluffydragon2017-07-21

That bow looks really good!!! (for some reason, your pic is not showing up here, but did in my email.) So to all those reading this, take my word for it.

Is the Grip just more PVC the 2 Limbs are fit into? It looks like you covered it in cloth or leather.

Also, I never used RIT before, although it was suggested many many many times in these comments. I hope it worked out for you.

Thank you for finding this 'ible valuable! It seems I get more mail from Cosplay creators then most other applications. Which makes me oh so happy!!

ghhillbilly (author)2017-07-19

I use shoe stain on most of my pvc bows.I use a back and forth motion to make my wood grain.Thanks to backyard bowyer on you tube for teaching me with his awesome videos.

bamr_560007 (author)2017-07-12

!Claro que te enviaré imágenes en cuanto los termine!, será un placer compartir. Un saludo y mis felicitaciones desde siempre.

zaphodd42 (author)bamr_5600072017-07-12

¡Estupendo! Espero que.

bamr_560007 (author)2017-07-12

¡Claro que te enviaré imágenes en cuanto los termine! será un placer compartir

bamr_560007 (author)2017-07-09

Uuuy genial el tutorial, ya que he realizado unos tollos con pvc de 3/4" y espero me funcione ya que con el acabado de madera me quedarían geniales. Agradezco infinitamente tu aporte, deseándote lo mejor y mis felicitaciones. Saludos desde México.

zaphodd42 (author)bamr_5600072017-07-12

Usted es bienvenido y gracias por leer. Me encantaría el tollos cuando haya terminado. Saludos desde USA.

UncleEd (author)2017-07-02

Nice instructable. Many long years ago, I was at a car show and saw the metal dashboard of one car where the person restoring it had simulated the original simulated wood dash. He painted it black and scratched it with a toothpick before the paint dried. I like your method a lot better and the idea of simulating simulated wood is a little strange.

Back during the previous millennium, my father called the tool you're using a "shoe rasp." He said it was originally used by blacksmiths to shape the hoof of a horse before nailing on a shoe. He and I used the rasp on wood. They're still sold, though it may take a little effort to find one. My guess is that now it is quite rare for one of them to ever touch a horse or for the younger people working in the hardware store to know the origin of the name. Likely most shoe rasps are used for wood and plastics, as you and I are doing.

rusty2926 (author)UncleEd2017-07-05

Harbor Freight carries this type of rasp and others. I bought a set of files for both metal and wood that comes with a removable handle for Less than $10. I remember the wood grain tool once used to simulate wood grain with paint. It was simple to use but you had to develop your technique with practice.

zaphodd42 (author)UncleEd2017-07-02

I just showed this comment to a friend who is a blacksmith. She confirms your claim! : ) (not that I doubted you for a second.) I have no idea how I found that tool 20 years ago when I first came up with this idea. It was probably just the first think in the drawer when I was looking for a texture making tool. It worked so well I bought a new fresh one and the rest is history. Thanks for reading! Good to catch the atttention of a seasoned craftsman.

chefspenser (author)2017-07-02

Very nice job!

Why oil, why not acrylics?

zaphodd42 (author)chefspenser2017-07-02

Oh, you can use acrylics. I just prefer not to as the color doesn't look as good as I want. When it dries, it chips off very easily until you spray it with a clear coat. But acrylics are affordable, dry quickly and offer allot of "mix-ability".

Alternately... alert reader GaryS104 just posted (about 6 posts down) that you can use gelled wood stain. I haven't tried it yet but watching the video... it looks promising. Here's the link again:

JesusA58 (author)2017-06-29

Can i use regular wood stain instead of the stuff u use?

GaryS104 (author)JesusA582017-07-02

I have used a gelled wood stain to stain pvc clad exterior steel doors with great success. The gelled stain lets you control thickness and darkness much easier. You could use a rubber graining tool ( available at paint stores). to add extra highlights if you want. This isn't pipe, but the principal is the same. Works well on masonite interior doors as well.

zaphodd42 (author)GaryS1042017-07-02

I just looked this up and WOW! I think I need some. Great shout out GaryS104!! This might solve allot of problems.

ddo-texas (author)2017-07-02

This finish would look great on my dust-collection pipes in my woodworking shop. But 50+ feet of 4-inch PVC would take a lot of rasping, sanding and painting. Lots of elbows and connectors, too. But what an amazing look it could be. Hmmm. Just thinking...

zaphodd42 (author)ddo-texas2017-07-02

I've heard allot of people with dust collectors say this! I'd love to see it some day. But yeah... You'd probably want to take the PVC apart which is a whole can of worms right there.

FRKS1904 (author)2017-05-09

i am doing this to a video game console! thanks for the tips Zaphodd42!

i have a quick question.... how long does it take for the oil paint to dry before adding a clear coat?

zaphodd42 (author)FRKS19042017-05-09

Cool! Making a retro ATARI? I cant wait to see pics! Anyway... give it a few days to a week. (IF you use oil paint.) Others have said that acrylic or even wood stain have worked for quicker drying times but you may need multiple coats for wood stain. I'd put it somewhere with fresh moving air. When it's dry to the touch, apply the clear coat. Be patient. It's worth it.

FRKS1904 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-05-10

I'm actually doing a Nintendo64. and the controllers too. ive done the top of the console so far and it looks incredible. i did have to touch some of the harder to get areas with a brush but it didnt change the look at all, as long as i kept going in the same "groove" direction.

i used the same exact oil paint you used and tbh, i dont think this could look any better. thanks for this instructable.
i actually found it on YouTube when you called some guy out for stealing your pictures and words. I decided to go straight to the source.

one difference i added was i also did a few little puncture marks (dots) and some cut as well on corners, to make it look more rustic.

FRKS1904 -


This could not look more AWESOME!

zaphodd42 (author)FRKS19042017-05-10

HA! Yeah, I felt a bit petty for calling that guy out. I didn't report him, just asked for credit in the description. I guess I felt in the nature of the spirit... "open source", share and share alike. The idea is getting out there and that's what counts. It's nice to be imitated. It means they like you. ANYWAY... That Looks Awesome!!! The texture of the plastic looks great!! I love the extra knicks and pits you put into it, it adds a level of organics to it. It makes the Nintendo logo look "branded" on, like with a hot iron.

I'm glad you enjoyed the instructable. Thank you for sharing and and I am stoked with the path you took to apply this idea. Truly genius. Now go play some GoldenEye 007 for 8 straight hours.

FRKS1904 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-05-26

well, she's finished!!!!!
did a controller too.
plz - any feedback is welcome.

zaphodd42 (author)FRKS19042017-05-30

The controller looks sooooo good!!! I love how good it turned out. Great Job! Let me know how the finish holds up and if the color stays put. You should send these pics to Nintendo!!

YMRG (author)FRKS19042017-05-16

When you work with oil paintings you can add a little bit of cobalt drier, two or three drops, depending of the amount of paint and it will dry in a couple of days or less.

About This Instructable




Bio: I live in suburban Pennsylvania with my wife and puppy. I pass the time building robots, photographing microbes and directing live TV. I enjoy learning ... More »
Add instructable to: