Introduction: 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.

- 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.

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!

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.

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...

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!


croconoll made it! (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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-24

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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-21

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 made it! (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 made it! (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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-12

¡Estupendo! Espero que.

bamr_560007 made it! (author)2017-07-12

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

bamr_560007 made it! (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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-12

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

UncleEd made it! (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 made it! (author)rusty29262017-07-05

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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-02

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.

savfam made it! (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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-02

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. : )

chefspenser made it! (author)2017-07-02

Very nice job!

Why oil, why not acrylics?

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-02

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 made it! (author)2017-06-29

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

GaryS104 made it! (author)GaryS1042017-07-02

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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-02

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

ddo-texas made it! (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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-07-02

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 made it! (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 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-05-09

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)FRKS19042017-05-10

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.

output (2).jpgoutput (1).jpgoutput.jpg2.jpg

FRKS1904 -


This could not look more AWESOME!

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-05-10

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)FRKS19042017-05-26

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

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-05-30

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 made it! (author)YMRG2017-05-16

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.

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-05-16

YMRG, Thanks for the heads up! Does this additive modify the color or texture of the paint in any way? I think knowing about that will greatly benefit this idea!!

YMRG made it! (author)YMRG2017-05-19

Not at all, I am a professional fine art artist and this drier is what we use to accelerate the drying process. I usually put 3-4 drops into my paint thinner which I always mix with linseed oil and that way the oil dry faster, this is about half of the condensed milk can, I guess you don't need all the mix so if you drop a few drops is going to be OK, you can give it a different tries to see which one fit you better. There is no change at all in the color or texture of the paint. You can get it at any art or art and craft stores where you live. Good luck!

KisukeU made it! (author)2017-06-27

Absolutely love this. Been trying different colors on some random PVC. Burnt Umbra looks really good by the way. Anyway, I used the same exact paint as you but mine came out looking rather orange. Know of any reason why that would happen?

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-06-28

Hmmm.. Interesting. How are you applying the paint to the PVC? I used a rag so I could adjust how much pressure I applied to the plastic. The less pressure you use, the thicker the paint will be... thus the darker the color. You may also want to let it dry for a day and give it a second coat. Experiment with those ideas and let me know how it works.

Also, using a rag, (sorry, my favorite tool for this) try a "faux finish" technique. Apply a dab of paint to the rag and "touch" it on, dabbing in spots instead of wiping it on. This will make paint thicker and darker as well. Good luck.

BrianCrouch made it! (author)2017-06-27

Made a couple if these berry pickers for family. Didn't file the PVC as much as I should have, on my first try. Next time will do more extensive filing. Thanks for the instructable.

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-06-28

HA!! Awesome! I've never seen berry pickers, but it's a great idea. Thank you for sharing and thank you Thinkenstein for his great work in PVC.

Nayzam6 made it! (author)2017-05-25

Awesome tutorial! Do you know if this technique would work on the grey pvc?

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-05-25

Greetings! I dont see why it wouldn't work on grey PVC. I'm not sure where you are in the big world, in USA, grey PVC is called "schedule 80". It just means it has a thicker wall than the white "schedule 40" PVC. The rasp file should tear through the surface just as easily on both types.

The only other factor I would be concerned about is the color. You would have to experiment on tints and shades of your stain or paint to get the desired look having a grey canvas instead of white. Here's what I would do for best results:

Sand the PVC and rub it with acetone (nail polish remover). Spray a few layers of white plastic rated spray paint primer on the surface and let it dry. THEN... use the rasp file and cut into the surface to make the wood texture. After that... apply your color agent. Again, experiment first to see what works best for you as far as oil, acrylic, wood stain etc with the primer on your PVC.

I'd love to know how it works out. Have Fun!!

puttycake made it! (author)puttycake2017-06-21

Perhaps with a grey PVC, you could experiment with a birch bark look; instead of rasping the pipe lengthwise, you would probably rasp randomly around the circumference and 'dig' a little more aggressively to create the black, lateral embelishments. A little trickier with the paint, but it would look cool.

rsmkp1 made it! (author)2017-06-05

This is just wild! My heads spinning with project ideas. So what do you think about using this on a plastic steering wheel? Any thoughts on a clear finish? I'm restoring a 47 year old muscle car faux wood steering wheel.

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-06-12

WOW! I would test it before committing to a real steering wheel, in case it doesn't work, I'd hate to see such an artifact ruined. I cant claim to know too much about the materials used in car restoration or even the details about modifying car parts. I like the idea of a wood steering wheel. But if you're going o put your time and money into a restoration job... why not get the real thing? NOT to discourage you from trying, of course!! If you scroll down, you'll see FRKS1904 modified a Nintendo 64 to make a wood finish.

MsChievous made it! (author)MsChievous2017-06-10

I've heard great things about "Frog Juice". It's originally used for those vinyl signs, but it's tough and UV-resistant, so I think it would work well for a steering wheel!

NathanF75 made it! (author)2017-06-12

This is just too cool. I'm going to have to give this a try. I wonder if oil based wood stain would work just as well?

Would you recommend using a finer grit sand paper to smooth everything once the wood grain has been created?

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-06-12

I've heard of people using wood stain and are quite pleased with the result. I only use oil paint because I can control how thick the application will be, giving it a more varied depth of color through-out.

I don't think a fine grit sand paper would be necessary. You want SOME texture on the surface for the paint / stain on which to grab. But I like to tell people who try this... PLEASE experiment! And share what you find. That's the beauty of open source ideas. Have fun!!

adasilva26 made it! (author)2017-06-09

I want to use pvc to make a rail fence. Can I spray paint it without sanding, and it will not chop or scratch and also be weather/rain proof for at least 10 years? Is the stain you used water proof or scratch proof? The fence really won't be touched much. Also was reading through some other comments about filling it with cement or something to make it stronger. What do you suggest

Juliedf29 made it! (author)2017-06-02

Ok so i bought a small piece of PVC pipe and tried this, here's what I found...I bought the exact brand and color of Artist Oil paint you show, however, the package mine came in, was lighter than the one you show, but the label is the exact same...and the color seems lighter on the pipe as well. Does it take several layers to darken up, or what did I do differently, would you guess?

zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-06-03

Hey, Juliedf. Good question. Try easing off the pressure you apply to the rag as you wipe on the oil paint. The less pressure, the thicker (and darker) the oil paint layer will be. But yes, by all means, a few layers wont hurt. If you still are not getting the result you want, simply try a darker brown color or mix in a little black with the color you are using. The great thing about oil paint is that the color changes VERY LITTLE as it dries, so what you see is what you get as a final product.

And PLEASE be patient in letting it dry. One comment below by user YMRG suggests using "cobalt oil paint drier" a few drops, to speed the processes. In a well ventilated area, maybe even out doors (or near a small fan) give it at least 2-4 days.

That being said, you also dont have to use oil paint. I do because it looks most like wood when dry and is most robust against damage. There is a variety of plastic friendly paints and dyes to use, but in my humble opinion, they dry too quickly and dont offer the "organic wood texture" I prefer.

If you need more help, please ask! I'll try to get back to you as soon as I physically can!! : ) Have fun and thanks for reading!!

LoraH44 made it! (author)2017-05-28

Thanks for the instructable! I bought some PVC sewer pipe and made strawberry planters.

Planters.JPGPlanters1.JPGPlanter hanger1.JPG
zaphodd42 made it! (author)zaphodd422017-05-30

I love this idea so much I will have to borrow it from YOU! I have a nice blank slate on an outdoor wall that this would look great cascading down. I'd use hanging vines and succulents to fill in the spaces.

But you did an amazing job!!! I can tell you not new to the maker community. Thanks for sharing. I love seeing what others do with this idea.

Gregorius GeryG made it! (author)2017-04-14

Hey I am planning to make a PVC wooden dummy for martial art training, to cut down expanses, i am going to use pvc instead of whole log
in your opinion, Could the color and the transparent spray hold against punches?
and maybe do you know any filler that can be use to fill the PVC and make it dense like wood? (my number 1 option is sand right now)


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 »
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