Simulated Woodgrain for Metal Boxes




Introduction: Simulated Woodgrain for Metal Boxes

About: See my web site for free info on how to build your own guitar effects pedals!

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.

Step 1: 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

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

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.

Step 4: Wire Brushing

A soft brass brush can also be used to pattern the box surface but I find that it leaves too many scratches in the soft aluminum.

In this example, the top half of the box has been scarred with the brass brush and the bottom with the abrasive pad.

Step 5: Drilling Holes

Since this is a guitar effects pedal and requires holes for the controls and the audio jacks, I usually mark the holes and drill once the surface has been completed.

Here you see a template printed on clear mylar with the position of the various elements that are to be added during final construction.

Step 6: Closeup

The pilot holes are drilled and you can see some of the buffed pattern in the surface. Once the final holes are drilled, the box is ready for painting.

Step 7: Painting

For the wood grain finish that I am using on this box, two coats of paint are used.

Krylon X-Metals is a type of paint that remains transparent after drying and allows the look of the buffed surface to show through. It is available is several different colors and I bought that can at Hobby Lobby ($5.97).

After the clear yellow layer has dried sufficiently, I spray the box with a red transparent paint. In this case it is Duplicolor Metalcast red which came from an auto parts store, as shown in the second photo.

A second layer of red was applied to darken the finish and remove some of the orange cast. A rich mahogany-like surface will be revealed.

Step 8: Final Boxes

Other paint colors and buffing patterns can be used on the box surfaces. These were sprayed with Duplicolor Metalcast green only. Testors also offers some spray paints that are available in transparent colors.

The box on the left has a birdseye pattern made by moving the buffing pad in small circles as it is worked across the surface. In this case, I flat-sanded the surface of the box before coming back to add the pattern.

The box on the right was buffed in two passes, each only going to the centerline of the box. This produces a bookmatched imitation.

The surfaces are hard to photograph and capture the 3D effect produced.

Try some different buffing patterns and paints for an unusual custom finish!

More free DIY info is available on my web site:

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    36 Discussions

    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!

    Yes, a clear coat is a good idea since the transparent paint chips easily. regards, Jack

    What a beauty man!

    Great looking stuff ! :P

    i used this for a guitar killswitch and it matches my Solo guitar perfectley

    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.

    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

    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.

    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

    1 reply

    Awesome finishing technique. if i ever get around to making something that i can put in a box. fav'd and (+)

    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.

    1 reply

    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.