Poor Man's Marquetry: Or: Cheap and Easy Wood Stain




This is a pretty simple idea really. But I think the results are sort of nice.

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Step 1: Supplies

a design of some kind

some wood

something to cut wood with, how about a 10" miniature table saw from MicroMark! Yay! I love this thing. My new favorite tool.

watercolor paints (or prismacolor pens)
two cups of water

can of shellac or other finish

soldering iron or wood burning tool.

safety goggles (to keep the smoke out of your eyes)

Step 2: Draw on Wood

transfer the drawing to the wood. There are several techniques on instructables for doing this. I used the following method:

Print your design out in mirrored form. Trace over the lines heavily with pencil.

Turn the drawing over and tape it into place on the wood surface.

On the back of your drawing, scribble heavily with pencil or burnishing tool. This will transfer the pencil lines of the drawing to the wood surface.

Remove the paper and trace over your drawing using pencil in any spots that did not transfer well.

Some other instructables that discuss different ways of transferring images to other surfaces:

Step 3: Etch the Design Into the Wood

I used a soldering iron to etch the design into the wood.

Trace over all the lines of your design slowly with the soldering iron to create a bold deep line.

At first I tried an actual wood burning tool but I found that it took way too long to heat up and got way too hot to handle after a short while.

The soldering iron heats up quickly and you can work with it for longer periods.

You'll want some goggles to keep the smoke out of your eyes. It smells nice, but it will dry your eyes out if too much smoke gets in them.

Some other instructables that discuss wood burning:

Step 4: Erase All the Pencil Lines

After your design is completely burned into the wood. Erase all the pencil lines carefully. I used a rotary eraser for this, it worked well to remove the pencil all over.

Step 5: Color It In

I think watercolors give the most wood-stain-like result. However you must be careful as they will bleed if applied too wet.

When you apply the paint, it will tend to bleed in the direction of the wood grain, depending on how wet your brush is. Keep the brush only mildly wet and start from the center. Avoid painting into edges and up next to borders. Wait for the paint to finish bleeding before proceeding near the edges of an area. You can touch up edges with your brush carefully once the paint is dispersed and your brush is a little dryer.

If you apply too much paint, grab a clean kleenex and soak it up as soon as possible before it bleeds out of control. Be careful to use a clean kleenex so as not to pat a different color onto the wood by accident.

Go slow and be very patient. Any drips or bleeding most likely cannot be undone! Start with light weak pigments and build up slowly. Don't rush and don't get too casual or over confident. Remember, murphy's law, the longer you've worked on a piece, the more likely you are to splash some color in the wrong place! The closer you get to completion, the more careful you want to be!

When you change your brush color, rinse the brush in the first cup of rinse water. Then rinse it again in the second cup of water. When the first cup of water starts to get heavily pigmented, change them both. Keep your water colors pure this way and the results will not look muddy.

When changing colors, test your brush for cleanliness by brushing it against a kleenex. If it still has pigment in it, you'll want to rinse it better or switch to a new clean brush.

You can also try prismacolor pens for coloring wood. These will bleed as well, like the water colors, but can't be mopped up with a kleenex, so you have to be a bit more careful.

I find that pens give a streaky uneven effect, however, a thin coat of shellac will act as a thinner and help even out the appearance.

Step 6: Coat It With a Finish

If you try prismacolor pens, shellac acts like paint thinner on the prismacolor marker ink and tends to blend out any stroke marks created by the pen.

I like the warming effect the shellac has on the color. There are other finishes that won't add a color cast. I was thinking of trying acrylic floor polish maybe.

Paint the bottom of the thing first. The shellac will cause the ink to come up, so put down some paper first. Then turn it over and shellac the other side.

The hard part for me is getting the shellac on evenly. I don't seem to have the hang of that yet. Also, it's pretty smelly stuff. I might prefer to use some sort of spray on finish, but then, that costs quite a bit more.

Step 7: The End

Well, there you have it.

It's a lot cheaper than buying wood stain and I kind of like it.

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    21 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Nice idea. Let's take it to the next level. Design using Corel or illustrator or whatever. Using a laser cutter, set the power high enough to cut a deep enough line and then proceed with your staining process.
    Another suggestion--I've started using fiber reactive dyes (tie-dye dye) in place of wood stain or aniline dyes. After all, what is wood? Cellulose. What are cotton t-shirts made of? Cellulose. Fiber dyes are Way Way cheaper than aniline dye designed for wood, and are available is almost unlimited colors.

    2 replies
    spark masterbrianfss

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    lets leave it as it is, not subject a person to buying huge expensive toys to make simple things. If you were mass producing then this is an excellent idea, but for a person doing art or a one time thing and this is perfect.

    While it is very cool to do projects using laser cutters and 3 d printers, they are not cheap, and there is a learning curve.

    This instructable is great, as is.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Sounds interesting and high tech. Probably out of reach of most people including me. Thanks for the tip on the fiber dyes!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    wow! i have to do this!
    i havnt used my old soldering iron in months!!
    never occurred to me to use it for wood etching


    6 years ago

    absolutely amazing. I've been painting for years, but never thought of this. Time to start digging through the scrap wood pile again!

    1 reply

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Also helps if you're a really good artist. Great project.

    That is VERY kind of you, and thank you, but please don't even think of it. I will enjoy looking at it right here on Instructables. It is so very cool. You are indeed a genious. (Besides, the only money you would get from me these days is monopoley money) :0(


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I just now noticed this comment, sorry. I'm not exactly up for selling it, but I could mail you a color reproduction that you could frame if you wanted. Or if you have a color inkjet printer, you could print it out and frame it (or just tape it to the wall, if you're like me)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Wow that looks great! It's so bright and colourful. Nicely done!