How to Paint or Stain a Steel Door to Make It Look Like Wood

Kathy Adams

Prime the steel door with a rust-proof primer; then apply a base coat of the lightest wood shade. Make the grain color with a darker paint and clear glaze.

Instead of swapping out a steel door for a wooden one, work with what you have: Give the door a faux wood-grain finish with paint. Any type of steel door can receive the faux bois treatment -- even a garage door.

Preparing the Project Area

  • Set a dropcloth on the ground near the door and tape the door frame and hardware with painter's tape to protect it from primer and paint. If you're comfortable removing the door handle, remove it to simplify the painting process.
  • Gently sand a previously painted door to make the door more receptive to primer. If the door is new, clean it with a mild degreasing household cleaner; then wipe it clean with a damp cloth. 
  • Prime the door with a rust-resistant latex primer -- even if the door is new and has been primed at the factory. Use an exterior primer if the part of the door getting the faux-wood treatment faces outdoors. Allow the primer to dry completely.

Choosing Paint Colors

Creating the fake wood finish requires two latex enamel wood colors and a clear latex glaze or acrylic sealer. Choose exterior paints for an exterior surface and interior paints for a project area that faces the inside of the home. To determine ideal wood shades, examine an image or an actual piece of your favorite type of wood. Choose the lighter background wood color as the base coat color for the door. The second, darker color creates the grain, once you mix it with a clear glaze or sealer.

Creating the Finish

    Protect With Tape

  1. Cover any areas you missed previously, such as the edges of windows within the door, with painter's tape to keep them paint-free.

  2. Paint the Base Color

  3. Pour some of the light base color into a paint tray and paint the door completely using a paintbrush. If the door has raised panels, apply the paint in the direction you prefer for the faux wood grain -- this way any visible brush strokes add to the grain effect.

  4. Paint a Cardboard Scrap

  5. For practice, paint several pieces of scrap cardboard in the same base color you plan to use. Allow both the door and cardboard to dry completely.

  6. Creating the Grain Glaze

  7. Pour some of the darker wood color and an equal amount of glaze or clear sealant into a fresh paint tray, blending them together. Test the color by dipping the tip of a brush into it and brushing straight lines over the cardboard. Add more paint to make the mixture more opaque or more of the clear additive to make the mixture more translucent.

  8. Applying the Grain Glaze

  9. Brush a layer of the grain glaze mixture over one area of the door in the direction you prefer for the faux grain effect. Drag either a dry paintbrush or a wood-grain rocker tool through the wet glaze to create the look of grain. Wipe the brush or the tool off on a rag after each pass to prevent blobs of dark glaze on the door.

  10. Continue Creating the Grain

  11. Apply more of the grain glaze in an adjacent area, brushing in the same direction again for a consistent wood-grain look. Drag the paintbrush or grain rocker tool through the glaze again. Continue until the entire door is covered. Allow the glaze to dry completely before touching the door.

  12. Tip

    • If the door has raised panels, paint the vertical edges with vertical brush strokes and the horizontal edges with horizontal strokes. Brush the central area in the direction you prefer for the faux grain finish. * Create slight variations in the faux grain by moving the brush slightly side to side as you apply glaze in a straight line, or by rocking the graining tool back and forth to create knots or varied grain patterns.