how to stencil on wood

How to Stencil on Wood – All You Need to Know

Stencils are a beautiful way of adding graphic spice to wood. It can make any odd-looking wood filled with life. There is something very special about taking out a stencil, revealing a beautiful design beneath. If you are planning to explore this aspect of woodworking, learning how to stencil on wood is the best place to start. Note that you might not get the results that you expect right away on your first try. You may even get annoyed with the extra smudges and bleeding. Before getting into the more advanced stuff, let us learn the basics in this article. 

What You Need

  • Stencil
  • Wood surface
  • Paper plate
  • Paint
  • Repositionable spray adhesive
  • Makeup wedges
  • (Optional) Mod podge
  • (Optional) Toothpicks

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1 – Choose the Wood Surface

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Before starting the process of stenciling, it is very important to choose the right wood surface. This is true whether you are stenciling on furniture, wood planks, or custom signs. Whether you are using an old board, or extra lumber you found somewhere, choosing the wood surface will allow you to plan your project well. 

When choosing a wood surface, take note that it is easier to stencil on a smooth surface of the wood instead of one that is highly textured. When the surface has a lot of texture beneath the stencil, you may expect a lot of little groves for the paint to absorb. 

If you are working on a rough surface, it is important to sand it first. On the other hand, if you are stenciling on a more rustic board, you can still expect clean lines, but it could be quite challenging. 

Step 2 -Spray Using a Repositionable Spray Adhesive

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Before placing your stencil, spray its back using a repositionable adhesive. It will keep the stencil right in place while helping in keeping small details of the design stuck to the surface of the wood as you paint. Be careful as you spray the adhesive since it could create a sticky mess around. Some spray over a wrapping paper or old posterboard to catch overspray.

Some also choose to use painter’s tape in keeping the stencil right in place, though the spray adhesive will ensure that the whole surface is kept in place instead of just a few small portions where the tape should be. Tape or glue will no longer be needed if you are working on a one-time-use stencil that comes with an adhesive back. 

Place your stencil in place, firmly smoothening it into the surface of the wood. Make sure that the design is exactly centered where you wanted it to be.

Step 3 – Start Painting

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To achieve a flawless stencil, you may want to avoid using a paintbrush, or even a stencil brush. Using a paintbrush could make it challenging to achieve. Some use a foam brush instead, as it is better than using a bristled brush. Some consider it best to use a makeup wedge sponge. While the idea is strange, this cheaper makeup applicator is ideal for stenciling. 

When it comes to choosing paint, any type of paint will do, though paint that features a flatter sheen is better, such as acrylic craft paints. After spraying the stencil using adhesive, you can now pour paint (just a small amount), onto a paper plate or palette. Dab the edge of the sponge to the paint, gently blotting any excess paint. 

When painting, you would want the sponge to be damp enough with paint, but not covered thickly. Rather, you would want the sponge to be covered with a thin layer of paint. Excess paint will only squish beneath the stencil, which could result in an unsightly mess. Dab the sponge lightly onto the design, with an up and down movement. Avoid sliding it back and forth like that with a paintbrush, as it could also be messy. 

If you are working on a very light color paint on a dark background, two coats of paint may be needed. Allow the first coat to dry first, before repeating the process. You can then pull the stencil carefully off the wood. 

If the abovementioned method is challenging for you to accomplish, using a Mod Podge over the stencil may be a good option to take into consideration. This is not mandatory in this process, but optional for you. 


Learning the basics of how to stencil on wood is your first step in exploring more creative woodworking projects. It could be challenging at first, but when you finally get the hang of it, you are on your way to enjoying more creations. Stenciling is an art, and one of the fastest ways to make beautiful designs and signs even if you don’t trust your handwriting or if you are not artistic enough. Why not share with us your stenciling favorites? Leave them in the comment section below. Feel free to share this article as well!



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