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Stenciling wood

After years of teaching art classes, the one technique that fills a lot of people with uncertainty and dread is stencil work. While it can be tricky and can go horribly wrong, it should not put you off being creative and taking your projects to the next level! Worst case scenario? Sand it off and start over! But applying a stencil to wood, or any background for that matter, is actually a lot easier that it seems, if you have the right directions. Follow the steps below to take the intimidation factor out of the creative process and enjoy your newly-created hand made project!



To get started you'll need:

  • a stencil, reusable or one-time use

  • 1 stencil brush/ make-up wedge per color

  • thick undiluted paint

  • 1 paper plate

  • 1 nail/ weeding or picking tool/ toothpick

  • your painted and fully dried wood, which could be a tray, a pallet sign, table, box or anything else you've bought or created. Make sure your project is completely dry. Any moisture will affect the finish of your stenciling and will cause the stencil to run and distort.

  • optional: masking tape


I have used a recent directional sign project with a one-time use stencil to demonstrate.


Your one-time use stencil has three parts:

1. A card stock type backing, which often has a grid or printing on it, such as "Cricut" or 'Oracal" etc.

2. A top layer, which is usually a fibrous white or clear film, which keeps your design parts together.

3. The middle layer, which is the actual design. This can be any color, but most often is black or bright blue. It is very adhesive on one side.


A re-usable stencil is made of thick vinyl, plastic or heavy card-stock, without the other two layers. It is typically not adhesive and you'll need masking tape to prevent it from moving. To see how to apply this type of stencil please see this post.




Before starting, position your stencil onto your project to see where it would look best- center/ corner/ top/ bottom.




Rub the grid side with a credit card, to make sure the design transfers to the top film. Then carefully and slowly peel away the grid layer. If part of the stencil design lifts with it, just lower the grid layer and rub the section a little more.

It helps to lay the stencil on a hard surface, rather than peeling away at it up in the air, in case it rolls back on itself like sellotape.





Place your stencil, sticky side down, onto your wood, making sure that it is evenly aligned. You can eyeball it or you can use a ruler to carefully measure from the edges of the board to the base of your lettering to ensure that your stencil is straight! While this seems like an annoying step, it'll be less work than having to sand off your art and start again, in case it's off-center!





Once your stencil is straight, gently trace the edges of the text or design with your finger to ensure a seal which will prevent paint from running under the stencil. Carefully remove the top layer. Again, if any of your design lifts with the removal of this layer, gently rub the part back onto the wood before continuing. Don't rub your stencil too hard, or it may damage the painted wood underneath.


If your design is cut close to the edge of the stencil, use masking tape to prevent you from painting over the edge onto the wood!





Using a stencil brush or sponge wedge, with a thick chalk-based paint, dab a thin first layer of paint to your design. Less is more. The less paint you use, the less chance there is of paint running under the stencil. Acrylic paint will work as well. Do not overload your sponge/ brush or your paint will run under the design.


Do not use any water for this step! Move away your glass of wine or cup of tea, to prevent inadvertent dipping!





After a first thin coat of paint, the wood grain is still visible. Always err on the side of caution and rather apply a few thin layers than one that is too thick. The first coat is the most critical. Once that has dried, it'll dam up the design edges for further coats.


Dry between coats.





After 2-3 light coats of paint, the coverage is sufficiently opaque.





Once the paint is dry, remove the stencil.

Use a nail/ toothpick/ picking or weeding tool to help you remove the finer parts of the stencil.

If your stencil has run, use the nail to scrape away at excess paint.





If your project will be exposed to moisture or weather, coat it with a sealant or varnish, to protect your work from weathering.


I have used non-yellowing Krylon, Rustoleum and Mod Podge products with success. They are available in sprays as well as liquid formats. If you use a spray, make sure you do so in a well ventilated area or outdoors. You can find these brands at hardware or craft stores.


It does take about 3 coats of spray varnish, with drying time in-between to sufficiently seal each board on all sides.


A glossy varnish will be easier to clean, for trays, tables and other functional art. Matte varnishes are great for a more rustic flair.


Now put up your feet and admire your work!


I hope you enjoyed this post and that your project turned out gorgeous! Please send feedback or share your work with tag #threeandme.


A few other stenciled projects:




#woodsign #directionalsign #woodwork #stenciling #stencil #tray #palletart #woodart

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Camas, WA

What an amazing experience! Claire is an incredible instructor and makes these projects so fun and truly easy for those like me who are not artsy! She is extremely organized and everything is so well thought out and ready in advance. I can hardly wait to take more classes in the future. I would highly recommend Three & Me!

Angela H.

Camas, WA

I just went to my first Three & Me workshop. It was a wonderful experience. Claire is a warm hostess and an excellent instructor. Making everyone feel engaged and successful. The materials are top notch and every detail is well thought out. It’s a great escape for a personal creative moment or a fun way to connect with friends and family while expressing your inner artist.

Camas, WA

Such a fun string art class tonight! Claire is a wonderful instructor and everything was so beautiful; the display, the art, the examples, the supplies, the snacks! So fun!

Camas, WA

This is truly a fun night out! Claire's instruction is helpful, humorous and fun! I love how she allowed us options to be creative and put our own twist on our projects. There is a lot of attention to detail with the set-up, supplies and refreshments which did not go unnoticed.  I can't wait for the next project!

What a fun evening! Claire has thought of every detail and guides you step by step through the whole process! She is such an encourager and makes you feel like you have just made a masterpiece! I highly recommend her classes! I can't wait to take another one!

Camas, WA

I had such a fun evening! Three & Me had everything presented beautifully and organized in a way that made it easy to follow along for those of us that aren't necessarily crafters by nature! Thank you for a fun night!

Courtney H.

Camas, WA

Thank you Claire Houlding for an incredible night! It was so much fun creating with Three & Me!

Hollen F.

Camas, WA

You all did such a great job! Claire Houlding what a fun thing you are starting in our community! Love it. So fun to be there tonight!

Jennifer B.

Camas, WA

I craft a lot at home, but doing crafts in a class with friends is so much better. THREE & ME makes it so easy to do the things I am interested in, without having to find the supplies and figure out how to do it on my own. I've just booked my next ladies night with Claire! I can't wait. 

Vancouver, WA

Tonight, a bunch of lucky ladies got to craft along side one of the very best. Claire's heart, is hands done one of the very best and those of us who were there got to create something amazing that we will proudly display in our homes. Many laughs and much fun was had by all. I highly recommend one of Three & Me classes to anyone in the area! Spread kindness around like confetti!!

Lana E.

Camas, WA

Art is not my strength. I don't have a creative bone in my body. So I came to a workshop because my friend made me... and I made something I now love. I was expecting to sit and watch, but landed up getting fully involved! My husband and kids don't believe that I made it myself. I'm coming again and I'm bringing my sister... she's even worse at crafts than me.

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Washougal, WA

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Camas, WA

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