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How to Paint Wood Grain on a Rain Barrel

J.E. Myers

Rain barrels are a smart and “green” way to conserve and recycle rainwater for a garden and reduce your watering expenses. There are many new types of rain barrels on the market today but, unfortunately, many are made of rather unattractive plastic or metal.

You can faux paint a plastic or metal rain barrel to look like it is made of wood.

You can camouflage your modern rain barrel and make it look more natural or unobtrusive with a faux wood grain project.

  1. Find a reference photograph of a wooden rain barrel and take note of the design. Most wooden barrels feature narrow boards or "staves" that are aligned vertically, up and down, and are bound together tightly with steel bands.

  2. Paint your rain barrel with a medium brown base color. For plastic rain barrels, use a paint specially formulated for use on plastic or vinyl. Other types of paint will quickly chip or peel off the plastic surface. If your rain barrel is made of steel, prime it with a gray or red primer coat and then use an oil-based enamel base coat. Let the base coat dry overnight.

  3. Mark off the position of the barrel staves, or boards, around the upper rim of the barrel using a pencil or a black marker. Space the staves uniformly so the stave widths will be the same; 2½ inches to 3½ inches are standard widths for barrel staves.

  4. Line up a carpenter’s level with one of the stave marks around the upper rim. Hold the level firmly against the barrel and carefully draw a line down the length of the barrel using a permanent black marker. If the line is not straight you will have to start again by painting over the line with base paint. Draw in all the barrel stave lines around the circumference of the barrel, making sure they are perfectly straight up and down.

  5. Brush on a highlighting “wood” color, such as a darker or lighter brown or golden hue, painting each barrel stave individually and staying within the stave lines. Use a dry brush technique: Remove excess paint from the brush by wiping or scrubbing it slightly against a paint tray or rag. Make quick pulling strokes from one direction only, down the length of the stave. For the next stave, start the stroke at the bottom and draw upward. Let the paint dry.

  6. Apply a second highlighting wood color on a stave, painting over the other colors. Use a woodgraining tool to carve a woodgrain into the paint. As you draw the tool through the paint, it will remove the paint and reveal the other colors underneath. Wipe off the tool after each “pull.” Allow the paint to dry.

  7. Measure 2-inch wide steel bands around the circumference of the rain barrel, on both end edges, around the exact center of the barrel, and a few inches in from the ends. Paint these steel bands with a metallic steel or pewter colored paint.

  8. Paint small round nail heads or rivets, uniformly positioned and spaced, around the steel bands using a small artist's brush and a slightly darker metallic paint. Make the nail heads look three-dimensional by painting in a small shadow under each nail head. Add a small "rust stain" with a reddish brown or orange paint, leading down and away from the bottom edge of the faux nail heads for even more realism.

  9. Seal your rain barrel with a heavy duty outdoor sealant product like marine shellac. Use a matte finish sealant.