How To Make Wood Grain Stand Out (Enhance and Expose)

The true beauty of wood comes from its grain structure that simply pleases the eyes of its viewers. Some people admire it so much that they go the extra mile to enhance and expose it. So there are a few ways you can go about this.

To have the wood grain stand out, you need to use a charring method called Shou-Sugi which involves burning the wood with a butane torch and brushing off the burnt softwood with a metal brush to expose the grain. Alternatively, you can sandblast the wood to expose the grain, this can be done with a sandblaster or a wire brush attachment on a grinder.

The grain structure in wood is a result of longitudinal cells that grow differently than the rest. The reason for grain having a direction is because of how these cells grow. In the section below, we’ve covered how to enhance and expose wood grain in more detail. So scroll down to learn all about it!

3 Ways to Expose and Enhance Wood Grain

As we discussed above there are a few ways to expose and enhance the wood grain. Some methods are quite easy and anyone can do it at their home. While a few might require some tools that you might or might not have on hand.

Shou-Sugi Ban / Burning Method

Burning wood is an old way to deepen and darken its color. Even by burning just a little, the wooden piece will darken and the grain will become more prominent. But if you really want the grain to stand out, you need to char it on the surface.

So the things you will need for this method are a butane torch and a metal brush. First, you need to burn the surface of the wood where you want to expose the grain. This will slightly darken the wood, but you need to carry on and char the wood a bit further.

When the wood is charred, time to use the metal brush to remove the burnt softwood. Clean it thoroughly to enhance the exposed wooden grain, making it stand out. Using a wipe, clear the charcoal dust that might be sitting loosely on the surface.

Apply a layer of your finish to seal the deal and preserve this wooden piece. Shou-Sugi Ban has recently become a popular way of exposing wood amongst woodworkers. It does a great job of making wood even more aesthetically pleasing by exposing the grain structure.

Warning: Keep water nearby in case of a fire breaking out, also do this in an open space. Wear protective gear if possible and take your time doing so, don’t rush it.

Sandblasting Wood

Sandblasting as most people know is a technique that is used to clean objects. It uses compressed air to blast abrasives onto objects to clean them up. In the case of wood, it blasts the softwood right out of the piece leaving behind the grain.

Now you need to have a sandblasting setup for this, if you don’t you can skip ahead to the next method instead. But if you do, it is time for you to put it to good use. First, take your carving, and sandblast the object to your desired depth. Remember not to go too deep as it will make the wood brittle.

At the same time, also make sure not to do one place too much than the other. It will just make the depth uneven, and you might not want that.

Once you are done with the process, clean it off and sand it if you want to smoothen it a bit. Now apply a coat of your finish to the piece and just admire the beauty that you have created.

Note: Don’t use contrasting colored sand to blast wood. As it might darken or lighten the natural wood color since some sand gets embedded during the process.

Wire Brush Attachment

This is a pretty easy method that can be done if you own an angle grinder. If you are looking to buy a wire brush attachment, you can find the TILAX wire brush 6-set piece on Amazon. All you need is a normal wire brush and one which is finer. First, identify the direction of the grain as you don’t want to go against it.

Now slowly but steadily move the grinder with the attachment to take off the softwood between the grain. Don’t stay in one place for too long as it might make that part hollow.

Once you are done using the normal wire brush, use the finer ones to clean it up. Afterward using an orbital sander just sand it lightly to remove the scratch marks from the wire brush.

Now apply your choice of finish to the wood to preserve it. This method might require you to experiment a bit with it. After a few tries, you will get a hang of it for sure.

Using Colored Wax and Stains

Woodgrain is usually darker or lighter in color differentiating it from the other parts. It gives an aesthetic look to wood that makes it one of the best materials to work with. Of course, wood is also durable and can stand the test of time if taken care of.

One of the tested and tried methods of enhancing grain is to use stains and contrasting colored waxes. This method provides pretty significant results without having to alter the structure of the wood like in the ones above this section.

Some products are specifically produced for enhancing wood grain, like Varathane Wood Grain Enhancer by Rust-Oleum. To use the Varathane grain enhancer, you just need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions properly. Though some people have had success, many failed to get results from this product.

Stain and Wax Method

You can use colored wax to fill in open grain wood and make it pop out. For this, you can use a colored wax, like the Rub n Buff. So first stain your piece with the color of your choice. It can be a very dark color or even jet black.

Let it dry overnight to ensure the stain is cured completely. Now comes pressing the wax into the open grain of the wood. Rub in some wax with your hands in the wooden object and use a plastic putty knife to scrape off the excess. The wax needs to be rubbed in the grain so press it in as much as you can.

After that leave it to dry for 10-20 minutes, once it is done, it is time to wipe it off. Use a rag and some teak oil to soak the piece then wipe it off to clean the surface. The wax that is inside the grain will fill it in and make it pop out really beautifully. Using contrasting colors of the wax does the best job of enhancing the grain, so light colors in case of dark stains.

Once you are finished, apply a coat of your favorite sealer to completely coat the piece.

If you are confused then here’s an instructional video that illustrates everything that we have explained above:

Our Recommendation Wood Grain Enhancing Products

Since we already used it as an example, Rub n Buff is a pretty common colored wax that has a metallic finish. It uses carnauba wax, which as we know is one of the best wood waxes and is also vegan friendly.

You can find it in various shades of gold, silver, and black. So the color palette is a bit limited but you might try other colored waxes which are similar to this if you want variety.

How to Raise Grain on Wood

So raising grain on wood is usually done to make it stick out. It happens because the grain absorbs non-oil-based liquids that expand wood. Like water, for instance, can raise grain in wood, because the water is stored in the wood outside the cell walls pushing the grain out from a flat surface.

When wooden grain becomes raised, some finishes stand out more than ever. One such finish is stain, wooden grain responds really well to it.

To raise the grain on wood safely, use denatured alcohol which can be bought in stores. Use a sponge to rub it on the wood, you don’t need to drown it but enough to soak it completely. Take off the excess using a rag and wait for a few hours for the alcohol to evaporate.

When you return the grain will have raised and now you can apply your choice of stain to it.

Using Epoxy Resin to Fill in Overexposed Grain Depth

While not exactly related to exposing it, you can fill in overexposed wooden grain with epoxy resin. Epoxy is a clear substance that hardens over time and creates a strong protective layer on objects. Most people use epoxy-based finishes on their wooden furniture for everlasting protection against moisture and scratches. 

Most epoxy-based finishes come with guarantees of up to 10 years. That is because it is a very durable finish and the company has faith in its product. You can even mix epoxy resin with pigments of various colors to give a gloss-colored finish. 

If you have by chance cracked wood using one of the methods above and overexposed it, don’t worry. Use epoxy resin to fill in any holes or cracks in the wood structure. It will create a durable finish and you can experiment with epoxy and color pigments to create works of art using wood with cracks and burl voids. There are plenty of methods that you can try to stop potential Wood Cracking.

If you’d like to read more on this, check out our article on 3 Tricks To Stop Your Wood From Cracking.

Final Thoughts

If you really want to take the beauty of the grain structure of any piece of wood to the next level, then you need to make it stand out. The above methods are tried and tested by woodworkers around the globe. Some have been practiced for centuries in the case of Shou-Sugi Ban, while others are relatively new, but they are all great ways to enhance and expose the wooden grain.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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