To borrow from a classic movie about stealing cars- “Metal is cold and ugly; wood is warm and clean.” While the ugly part is certainly up for debate, there is no doubt that wood can add a certain warmth and charm to a hot rod. The classic woodie is undeniable, with the rich colors and grains striking a powerful contrast to the blend of metal and paint, all manner of woodie-inspired hot rods have been built. The original woodies were made with veneers of real wood, held on with more strips of wood and screws, then the 70s got in the way and wood panels became vinyl stickers that weathered even worse. Restoring or building a custom woodie with wood is a labor of love and effort that requires serious carpentry skills. Any builder capable of that is to be commended. There is, however, another way to get some wood on your wagon. And it only takes a few hours with an airbrush.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to airbrushing woodgrain. The traditional method is to spray every detail with the brush, tailoring each individual stripe of grain to the panel. This method takes a tremendous amount of time, days even to complete one project. Then there is the quick method. In most areas, the quick method produces a lesser quality finish, but in this case, it adds to the overall effect of the piece with a level of randomness. With a brand new airbrush from SATA (the Foose—edition SataGraph 3), some water-based paint, and a clean slate ’63 Buick LeSabre wagon, the goal was set; add realistic woodie graphics that invoke the surf-wagon image. To do that, we brought the Buick to Scotty Mccubbin.
The trick to airbrushing wood is in the technique and the paint itself. You can air brush wood with traditional solvent-based paint, but that means you have to wait much longer for it to dry and mistakes are harder to fix. For this task, we used Auto-Air Colors water-based paint, which dries almost immediately and can be cleaned up with water or even just a little spritz of more paint. The other half is the technique. The base for the grain pattern is created by fogging the base color on the car and dragging a scotch-brite pad over it. This streaks the paint, giving both depth and a base grain structure to build from. While airbrushing take a lot of practice, this technique is very forgiving, after all wood is naturally asymmetrical, and imperfect.
To give the Buick Wagon a clean slate, we fixed the body issues (a little rust here and there), removed the chrome side spears, and welded up the holes. Then we sanded it all down and fogged the entire car with House Of Kolors new DTS (Direct To Substrate) KD3000 series primer. This made the car all one color, and is a high-build sanding primer and sealer all in one, it worked very well for our needs. Best of all, it is designed to be mixed in colors, to closely match the intended paint color. In the event the paint gets chipped, the primer will blend in and make the repair less noticeable, always a good thing. We chose a light yellow color, which in the full flat state of primer, looks like the car was carved from a stick of butter, which is kind a cool in itself, if you like butter. We call it Buttered Toast.
01. The wagon started out as a bone stock ’63 LeSabre. It had been given some rattle-can primer and scallops before we bought it. The primer was thin and chalky, it had to go.
02. The day before hauling it over to the body shop, we fired up the media blaster and removed all of the paint. We used crushed walnut shell, since the trim is still on the car. Then it was on a trailer and off to the paint shop where we welded up the side trim holes and smoothed out some dents and dings.
03. We used House of Kolor KD3000 DTS primer, which we mixed in the shop. This is a “direct to substrate” primer, meaning it seals the metal and it works as a high-build sanding primer too. One-step primer, which saves time and money. Since it is tinted, we chose butter yellow. Where’s the popcorn?
04. Yes, it looks like a giant stick of margarine, hence the name “Buttered Toast”. We hit it with 2 coats, then sanded down a few rough spots and hit it with another two coats for a nice finish. It’s going to stay in primer for a while.
05. Scotty masked off the sides of the car. The wood is going to be sprayed on the center of the doors, below the fin and above the lower belt line. The spinning hubcabs are a joke.
06. Next we scuffed the body area to be painted and wiped it down with thinner.
07. Using the SATAGraph 3 airbrush, Scotty laid down the semi-opaque light brown base color in small sections.
08. Then gently wiped a scotch-brite pad across it. This creates long scratches that give the effect of woodgrain. Once the base is on, Scotty used the airbrush to go back over the base grain with more of the same color.
09. The entire quarter panel was sprayed in this method. It looks splotchy now, but this part of the process.
10. It is always a good idea to have some wood samples for reference while laying down woodgrain. These are laminate wood flooring scraps, which provide several different grains in one piece.
11. This is the basic wood grain detail. Takes some time to practice your patterns, your woodie project will thank you for it.
12. Here you can see a close up of the woodgrain effect as it starts to take shape. Scotty is now laying down details, like this knot.
13. Using the scotch-brite pad and light pressure, a twisting motion forms the center of the knot.
14. Then the air brush is used to darken the center of the knot.
15. Finally a few detail strokes give the effect of the woodgrain bending around the knot.
16. Once the entire side of the car was completed in the base grain, we masked off the area for the trim wood. We used a 1—inch border around each section.
17. At this point, we are using a lighter colored wood, so we had to mix our own colors. It takes some effort to find the right color. Don’t mix too much at a time, this stuff goes a long way.
18. Before we could spray the lighter color, we used the scotch-brite to remove most (but not all) of the darker brown base grain. By leaving some streaks of the darker color, we get a natural effect that really adds to the look of the wood grain.
19. Since this is a traditional-styled woodgrain project, we have to create a seam for the trim panels. The vertical sections are grained vertically, while the horizontals are, you guessed it, horizontal grain. You can see the beginnings of the seam here, this is an important detail.
20. Next a little semi-opaque light brown was added to the trim using several different grain patterns. Here Scotty used the classic V pattern.
21. Down low, a more knurled swirling patter was used. There are so many types of wood and each wood has its own grain patterns, as long as it looks good to you, it will work.
22. Here is a detail we added to the Buick wagon—the door jambs were grained together, as if the lower strips were cut from the same length of wood and sectioned in. It is really coming together now.
23. Next, the tape was removed, exposing the darker wood grain. The contrast is striking, but it still looks flat and unfinished.
24. The SATAgraph 3 is a versatile brush, perfect for broad strokes or fine details, it was the only airbrush used for this entire project.
25. Scotty wrapped the outer edges of the trim with fine—line masking tape, and then used wider tape for the broad masking of the trim. You want a solid line for this next step.
26. Using black paint, Scotty sprayed a thin shadow mask to all of the edges of the panel. This will create the raised edge of the trim.
27. Scotty also added some more detail with the black paint, to complete the woodgrain effect. Note how the entire panel looks as if it were now sunken into the door.
28. The last step is to spray some House of Kolors clear coat and then buff it out. If you don’t seal and clear the water-based paint, it will just wash off in the next rain.
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).