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How to stencil on wood
1. Choose your brush
Dome-tipped have slightly rounded tips that to me, help distribute the paint more evenly when stenciling since there is more brush touching the surface.
Flat-tipped distributes paint to surface by direct tapping up and down.
My personal preference is using dome-tipped stencil brushes as they appear to give a smoother finish, as well as making a swirling application easier to achieve.
Some others also like sponge brushes and makeup sponges to stencil with. On glass in particular, I like to use a high density roller like I did in THIS WINDOW PROJECT.
2. Choose your paint
Nearly any paint can be used for stenciling. However, what you choose can make a difference.
There’s paint for floors, walls, ceilings, craft paints, and furniture. And since each type of paint is made slightly different, you’ll be required to practice each one on your surface of choice.
For most of my own DIY projects, I like to use Fusion Mineral Paint. It’s a DIY furniture paint that is extremely durable, the pigment covers well and it dries very quickly with no top coat required.
3. Load brush with paint
- pour a small amount of paint onto a surface
- load stencil brush with paint
- remove most paint onto a rag until brush feels dry
When you first load your stencil brush with paint, there’s too much paint on the end of your brush. This will lead to excessive paint bleed underneath the stencil because there’s really nothing to stop the paint.
The fix is to remove most of the paint off the brush until it’s pretty much dry-to-the-touch.
I like to use a piece of scrap wood which you commonly see in my stencil video tutorials, however you can also use a paper towel or rags.
4. Consider stencil spray adhesive
- flip stencil upside down
- spray a light coat on the back of the stencil with spray adhesive
- allow to set until it feels only slightly tacky
Stencil spray adhesive is a spray you apply underneath the stencil which creates a slightly tacky surface. This helps reduce stencil bleed and also helps hold the stencil in place.
What I don’t love about adhesive is it never really leaves the back of your stencil, so over time, your stencil will collect dust and lint. I just prefer my stencils adhesive-free so they stay cleaner.
If you master the dry-feeling-brush technique, you won’t require stencil spray adhesive.
5. Tape over off-limit areas
If there’s an area that is in close proximity to the stenciled images to come, I suggest to place some masking tape to protect the surface. Stenciling over the edge of the stencil is a common potential, so may as well play it safe.
6. Position stencil where desired
Position the stencil where desired, holding it in place with masking tape.
Since the most common position is in the middle of your project, you’ll find nearly all THESE STENCILS with middle registration marks make it effortless to center your stencil.
7. Tap or swirl brush through stencil
There are two techniques I like to use when stenciling.
Tapping is using an up and down motion, that can have a patchy look at first. Just keep stenciling until the coverage you wish is desired.
Swirling offers a more smooth, and somewhat transparent appearance. I swirl on most of my own stencil these days but it works easier if you use a dome-tipped brush and master the art of a dry feeling brush first.
Tip: for a more transparent look, wet the brush with water first, then dry off with a rag. The paint will disperse more easy with a water-conditioned brush.
8. Stenciling on wood vs. other materials
Stenciling on wood grain is a little different than stenciling on say, a pre-painted surface or fabric. Each surface accepts paint a little differently, so it pays to test out the amount of paint you apply on a scrap piece of surface if you are uncertain.
- Wood grain is slightly absorbent so it’s relatively forgiving and easy to stencil with good results.
- Fabric such as stenciling pillows absorbs more paint, so you may need more paint.
- Pre-painted surfaces are already sealed, so you’ll need less paint.
- Stenciling on glass like THIS window project requires very little paint and a special touch. We suggest a sponge roller.
- Stenciling metal (such as these metal planters) does not absorb paint, so you will need less.
Stencil all your letters at once so they have a nice, even finish.
9. Lift stencil from surface
Remove the stencil once the stenciling is complete.
If you used spray adhesive, lift slowly to avoid damaging the stencil or your surface.
Tip: Tape along one side of the stencil to create a door hinge. This will allow you to lift the stencil to check your work before completely removing it.
10. Wait for paint to dry
Allow paint to feel dry to the touch before using your project.
11. How to distress stenciling
Distressing is a way to achieve an older sign look to your stenciling efforts.
- Ensure paint is 100% dry or it will smear.
- Use a variable speed orbital sander set on a very low speed, or hand sand with a sanding sponge.
- Use a higher grit sandpaper so you avoid removing too much paint.
- Gently scuff the surface of the lettering until you achieve the effect you’re after.
12. Clean stencils if desired
Cleaning your stencils is completely optional. I personally don’t clean my stencils. I ensure the cut edges are free of paint buildup, then allow them to dry until they are needed again.
However, many prefer to clean them, especially if they are heavily used for workshop classes. This reduces the paint build up on them.
How to clean stencils
- Soak stencils in soapy water right after using.
- Try using baby wipes to ‘rub’ them clean.
- Simple Green works great!
Now that you know how to stencil, what will you tackle?
Other helpful stencil tip posts
Learn how to stencil old wood signs