Picture of Simulated woodgrain for metal boxes
This instructable shows how to prepare a metal box using a buffing technique that can simulate wood grain, birdseye or other finishes. The technique gives dimension to the box that adds visual depth to the surface.

It is easy to do and allows you to create a variety of nice finishes with little extra effort.
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Step 1: Items Needed

Picture of Items Needed
The box that I am preparing is a small cast aluminum box that typically has a rough finish in the raw. This one is similar to the Hammond 1590B.

Every aluminum box should be sanded before painting to remove the oxidized aluminum from the surface so that the paint can adhere better to the base metal.

For this type of brushed or buffed finish, I am using an abrasive wheel that mounts in a hand drill.

The red and gray wheels are similar but the latter is a finer mesh that produces a smoother finish. The material seems to be some sort of tough nylon woven fiber much like the 3M abrasive pads that are commonly available.

I bought these buffing wheels in a kit at Harbor Freight.

Step 2: Buffing the surface

Picture of Buffing the surface
They key to getting the grain lines and 3D effect is to use the buffing wheel at an angle.

Go over the entire surface of the box. Typically I start at one end and work my way to the bottom of the box face. Move the angled drill side-to-side and you will see a buffed and highlighted pattern emerge in the aluminum.

It is readily produced and if you make a mistake, all you have to do is buff over it to remove the error.

The sides of the box can be flat sanded or buffed with the abrasive disk to add some dimension.

Step 3: The pattern appears

Picture of The pattern appears
After a few passes across the box, the pattern will begin to appear.

It is important to buff the entire surface of the box to remove the oxidation.

Usually, I do the edges before starting on the face or sides of the box.
Wow! You're the AMZ from! You've been filling my head with powerful knowledge for years now!! Thanks infinity+1!!
What program, may I ask, did you use to generate that clear template? Do you happen to make PCB layouts with it as well? I'm trying to find the right program for these purposes. The paint job looks fantastic! I will certainly follow this technique next time. Thanks!
craig f7 years ago
do you also seal it with clear coat?
amz-fx (author)  craig f7 years ago
Yes, a clear coat is a good idea since the transparent paint chips easily. regards, Jack
-Syrus- amz-fx4 years ago
What a beauty man!

Great looking stuff ! :P
Glockenator5 years ago
i used this for a guitar killswitch and it matches my Solo guitar perfectley
Will the buffing technique used on the cast alum. work on metal ? Thanks
Aluminum is metal. You knew that right?
thats a pretty cool idea
This is sooooooooo cool!
I like it. Very nice technique.
nkw67 years ago
Looks good but if you want to make it more convincing and happen to have a mill lying around chuck up a flycutter and play around with the autofeed. The table has to be pretty dang level but you get some sick grain effects.
halitus877 years ago
just fyi you wont be removing the oxide layer from aluminum, as with this type of metal it forms a coherent layer around the metal protecting the rest of it from oxidation, still sand it of course i still agree thats very important
Tazzz7 years ago
Easy solution and looks nice. Good woodworking practice however would be to make the grain run parallel to the long side on top, not across. Also the sides grain pattern should match (an extension) of the top grain.
Shocker7 years ago
Just a comment on the box used. The box is made by Hammond as described. In Canada, I order part 1590 not 1590B. The "1590B" stands for black with an extra cost of $2.00 and the "1590" is just bare aluminum. Great supplier online is Digi-Key at If I order in the morning I receive product next afternoon, usually with only about a 4-8 dollar shipping charge. I have found that paint is available from hobby shops, look for tail light paint for model cars. Shocker
amz-fx (author)  Shocker7 years ago
1590B designates the box size (unpainted). 1590B-BK is the same box with a black finish.

Here is the manufacturer's datasheet that confirms:

Thanks for the tip on the paint!

regards, Jack
Awesome finishing technique. if i ever get around to making something that i can put in a box. fav'd and (+)
rotter7 years ago
Pretty cool finish effects. Would be interesting to do a woodgrain finish on a bike.
This is actually a really awesome Instructable. Looks just awesome, awesome, this just deserves a +1 rating.
I found some "Contact" brand adhesive vinyl at an Office Supply Store that looks just like brushed stainless steel. It works great on flat surfaces (even boxes and round hat boxes) but you have to work slowly and not create bubbles. They also had faux suede (looks like a sanded brown paper bag, and feels great) and a slick white "make your own whiteboard". I used the whiteboard cover on my cubicle's bookshelf covers for an instant whiteboard.

Here's the info from the label:
Kittrich Magic Cover Faux Metal Stainless
The closest I could find was

Looks like Kittrich owns the Contact brand, but this product is discontinued.
Nice job on the Instructable! I like the flexibility of your buffing and brushing techniques; if you don't like the look, keep on going. Thanks for posting. BTW have you tried your techniques on plastic boxes?
do you need to clearcoat to help protect the surface? or is it good enough as-is?
amz-fx (author)  TheScientist7 years ago
I would definitely put a clearcoat on it. The buffed grain pattern is very tough but the transparent paints seem to chip somewhat easily.
amz-fx (author) 7 years ago
Here is an image of wood grain produced with an entirely different technique than the one in my instructable.

There is no buffing with this method and the grain effect is much different. This is strictly a paint effect.
Ohm7 years ago
That is just an awesome idea, I might have to disassemble a few of my pedals and refinish them, I think my Phase 45 clone would look good in the green, don't know way but I have always imagined it to be green? Thanks for sharing the technique.
Geordiepom7 years ago
What a great idea. So far I've only managed to find tiny quantities of transparent paint from air-brush suppliers. If any fellow Aussies know where I can get something similar to the stuff used here, please let me know.
Same if anyone knows where to get something similar in NZ too thanks. I was going to paint my nixie clock base matte black, but this is a much much better option.
darkmuskrat7 years ago
Lol, i was looking at how i could make a wood box look metal but this kicks ass too. definably +1
razor10007 years ago
Where'd you get the box itself? Is it hand-made or can you purchase them somewhere? I'm working on a project that needs a nice box and I don't want to put into a crappy plastic radio shack box.
amz-fx (author)  razor10007 years ago
The box is a Hammond 1590B and is available at or
Thanks for sharing this, it will definitely help tinkerers give their projects a finished quality. Great first instructable +faved
John Smith7 years ago
Simply AWESOME. A+. Favorited.
its a lion7 years ago
This is great. I love the flamed and quilted look of the last two pictures. What type of pedal is it?
matseng7 years ago
Looks great. I'll see if I can find the Krylon-X paints here also.
mrmath7 years ago
So the grain patter is the buffed part, and the wood color is just two coats of "transparent" paint. Amzaing. In the pictures on this page I would have sworn it was wood.
amz-fx (author)  mrmath7 years ago
Exactly. By applying more coats of the transparent red, you can darken the color but with one yellow and one red coat, it is a warm mahogany. Check the last page for the bookmatched look. regards, Jack