Traditional Wood Graining

Traditional signwriter with 40 years experience

With over forty years experience I offer a complete signwriting service for those in need of traditional sign writing on vintage British manufactured lorries, coaches and buses (including destination blinds and name glasses) alongside traditional sign writing on vintage and classic vans.

I regularly carry out signwriting and coach lining on pre-motor engine transportation era: steam trains, steam traction engines, electric trams with narrow boat sign writing work, which includes decorative pictorial painting that is associated with the art of narrow boat sign writing.

Wood Graining

  • Commercial Vehicles
  • Vintage Vehicles

Some of my recent Wood Graining Projects…

On Imitating Wood &
Faux Finishes

Wood graining is principally a craft that usually imitates an expensive hardwood such as oak by painting a superficial layer onto inexpensive softwood. In the golden age of decorative finishes during Victorian Britain, it was a craft carried out by the painter and decorator as was imitating marble and other faux finishes. Painting, decorating and sign writing were originally grouped together so sooner or later the sign-writer would be called upon to execute the skills of the decorator and visa versa. Some training in sign writing was part of the old City and Guilds painting and decorating course work.

The adverts out of a local gazeteer from 1875 show decorators and signwriters did offer both services and plumbing too, which allowed these versatile tradesmen to keep themselves in plenty of work. Wood graining was mostly for interior decoration such as on doors and on Lincrusta. Varnished oak grain effect was often seen painted on this hard wearing wall covering to give the impression of oak panelling in hallways. Wood graining was also done to lighten dark stained or painted doors, instead of sanding a door back to bare wood. There are many types of wood, each unique to itself, and with the different ways the trunk of a tree can be cut, this will also alter the grain pattern; of all the planks that have been cut of English oak, even though the grain on each plank will have the characteristics of English oak, on no two will the pattern of grain be the same. So if wood is to be imitated correctly, the distinquishing natural patterns and colours of a particular wood that is to be imitated need to be closely studied.

Like all highly skilled crafts, the art of imitating wood takes years of practice and dedication to perfect. Wood graining is another one of those old skills that have not been passed on and even though still done, it is rarely up to the standards of and done by the methods from the past. To give the general appearance of wood many now use pattern cut rubber rockers that can be bought from most D.I.Y stores. Rubber and steel graining combs are also available. However the best results can be achieved with handmade tools combined with a range of brushes and imagination.

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - Wood Graining Examples

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - Wood Graining Examples

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - Wood Graining Examples

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - The Great Exhibition

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - William Sunderland
< The Art of Graining & Imitating Woods

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - William Sunderland
< Inside The Art of Graining & Imitating Woods

Thomas Kershaw (1819-1898) set the standards of faux finishes. His marbling skills were on display at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and so realistic, they deceived many into believing what they were seeing was genuine marble. However, marble effect on two large pieces of wood did not deceive nor impress social thinker John Ruskin: To Ruskin, making wood look like marble is to reject the true purpose of the material, thus breaking the laws of design. To 21st century people, who are surrounded by digitally created designs and products, such fastidious thinking may seem ridiculous, but it was not to Victorian aestheticians

What John Ruskin saw in the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851, were not just Kershaws’s painted marble effect panels, he also saw countless dishonest products manufactured for everyday mass consumption. He realised that the fruitful labour of the lone working craftsman will be brought to an end by “The hands of a machine – minded money seeking generation.” He could see a world that would become full of countless copies of Statues made of fake marble and other production line junk made from imitation materials.

A decadent society when production line work would result in cheap labour and low wages for the working classes, with few or no prospects for the betterment of lives. He also knew that low quality production line items made by the machines would hold little value and those bought would be soon thrown away. And then what will happen? Buildings with P.V.C doors and window frames made to look like wood. Breezeblock walls covered with aluminium pre-coloured panels. Gardens filled with cheap plastic decorations and artificial grass.

Fake chimneys and LED screens as a substitute for the living flame. The use of Formica coated chipboard as a replacement for genuine marble or granite kitchen worktops. Printed on wood grain and marble sticky backed plastic that has covered old melamine coated cupboard doors for years, and now can completely cover vehicles. Plastic wood effect veneered MDF, and artificial objects created with a 3D printer.

In The Seven lamps of Architecture (1849) Ruskin writes the following:

God has lent us the earth for our life; it is a great entail. It belongs as much to those who are to come after us, and whose names are already written in the book of creation, as to us; and we have no right, by anything that we do or neglect, to involve them in unnecessary penalties, or deprive them of benefits which it was in our power to bequeath.

During mid period Victorian England, there was a debate of; What are these rules?

Architect and designer, Augustus Pugin: ‘Carpets must have not flowery patterns, for only those of bad character and with bad temperament will trample all over a flower bed.
Owen Jones: The author of Grammar of Ornament. ‘In design there must be beauty; for what the eyes see affects human moods and the intellect. William Morris “With all our modern mechanical achievements, comforts and luxuries, life is growing uglier everyday” John Ruskin: One thing that humans have in their power, that is doing without the use of the machine; for the machine will not make us any happier or wiser, only shallower in our understanding, feebler in our wits and colder in our hearts:

In the 21st Century, those fortunate enough to be employed most are on a minimum wage doing conveyor belt factory work. The landfill sites are full and so are streets with discarded and unwanted junk. The deserts and oceans are dumping sites for more worthless tat, computer peripherals, silicon chip controlled objects and tons upon tons of plastic waste:
Thus all this rubbish is now threatening the extinction of life on Earth, while a money seeking industry keeps the unbroken cycle going.

Traditional Wood Graining, Imitating Wood & Faux Finishes For

  • Vintage Vehicles
  • Interior doors and furniture made of inexpensive wood such as knotty pine and other cheap woods, to look like they have been made out of expensive hardwood; Such as Mahogany or Oak.

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - Wood Grained ERF Cab

< G. S. Kirk's beautiful wood grained ERF

Robert Stevenson - The Signwriter, Staffordshire - Wood Grained ERF Cab

< Another beautiful wood grained ERF (2)

Robert E. Stevenson – The Signwriter

Traditional Signwriting for Heritage, Commercial & Vintage Projects