Want to learn how to decoupage on wood with perfect results every time? This tutorial shares expert tips for using Mod Podge on wood with a real-life example.
Join me as I show you how to decorate a plain wooden tissue box using decoupage! Are you feeling fancy yet?
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What does it mean to “decoupage” on wood?
Decoupage originates from the French word “decouper,” which means “to cut out.” In the 1600s, French artists began applying pictures to furniture as a decorative embellishment.
Today, you’ll still find a beautiful furniture piece or table top decorated with a decoupage technique. It’s one of the easiest ways to personalize a raw piece of wood or upcycle a finished piece. Plus, you can find almost all supplies at your local craft store.
Decoupage is not just for wood, as you’ll see in my other decoupage projects, but the preparation steps differ due to the texture and grain of the surface.
Decoupaging on Wood vs. Other Surfaces
When using a decoupage medium (a.k.a. glue) for wood crafts, there are a few notes to keep in mind.
- Sanding: Before decoupaging, you must lightly sand the surface to make it as smooth as possible and prevent air bubbles. For larger objects like a piece of furniture, use a palm grip sander to strip the finish. Otherwise, say au revoir to your decoupage masterpiece, as it will chip away over time.
- Painting: Most crafters paint their wooden pieces before applying any decoupage medium like Mod Podge. I recommend using an acrylic paint or primer to coat the surface.
Whew, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about picking out the decorative part of your decoupage project.
Decoupage Materials for Wooden Surfaces
In my video tutorial and written instructions below, I demonstrate how to decoupage with napkins and scrapbook paper. If that’s not your cup of tea, try these other lovely options.
- Specialty decoupage paper
- Tissue paper
- Laser printed photos (not inkjet, as these will bleed)
- Wrapping paper
- Sheet music
- Pressed flower petals
Types of Decoupage Glue for Use on Wood
In most of my tutorials, I stick with matte Mod Podge as my decoupage glue because I like its versatility. However, there is a decoupage medium for every man, woman and child out there.
Let me break it down for you, in order of relevance for woodcraft projects.
- Matte: Flat finish, perfect for decoupaging on wood with napkins or scrapbook paper
- Hard coat or Furniture: Ideal for furniture projects or heavily used items that require a strong and durable finish
- Satin: Similar to matte finish, great option for furniture projects to get the “painted” effect
- Glossy: Shiny finish, good option for photo transfer decoupage
- Outdoor: Perfect for any project exposed to the elements (think clay pots)
- Dishwasher safe: Allows objects (like glassware) to survive a wash in the top rack of a dishwasher (*not intended for surfaces near food/mouth)
There are a number of other varieties of sparkle, shine and colors that I will cover in a future post. In the tutorial below, I keep it simple with Matte Mod Podge.
Tutorial: DIY Wooden Tissue Box
- Wooden tissue box cover
- Acrylic paint
- Sandpaper (220 or 320 grit)
- Bristle brush or foam paint brush
- Mod Podge
- Pretty paper, napkins, tissue paper or fabric of your choice
- Clear plastic food wrap
- Varnish or clear acrylic sealer (optional)
Step 1. Prepare wood for decoupage
Use light-to-medium grit sandpaper to smooth the wooden surface. Contrary to popular belief, it’s better to use a clean, dry cloth to wipe the wood after sanding. (A damp cloth will sometimes cause the wood grain to rise or splinter.)
For heavy-duty projects, I recommend using a loosely woven cheesecloth (tack cloth) after sanding.
After sanding, paint the wood in the direction of the grain for best results.
Step 2. Cut decoupage material to size
Before or after cutting the napkins, separate the plies to reveal only the top layer. (Most napkins have three layers, or plies.) You can sand off any long edges after applying Mod Podge, since the paper is thin enough.
For fabric and thicker paper, cut squares slightly smaller than surface area, since thicker materials are harder to sand off later.
Step 3. Apply Mod Podge and decoupage material
Apply a thin layer of Mod Podge to the wood using a foam brush or bristle brush.
For napkins, gently lay a square down starting in one corner and working your way toward the opposite corner. Use plastic food wrap (see video) to smooth out the napkin and prevent wrinkles.
For scrapbook paper, apply a more generous coat to the wood and spread some glue to the back of the paper before applying.
You may also choose to use a brayer and/or squeegee to press out air bubbles on larger wood items.
Step 4. Apply additional coats of Mod Podge and optional sealer
Apply up to three coats of Mod Podge on all sides of the tissue box cover, waiting 15-20 minutes between coats. Once the box is completely dry, you may choose to use a fine-grit sandpaper with water to “wet sand” (smooth) the surface.
For a more protective topcoat, apply a sealer. (If using a spray sealer, always do this in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors.)
10 Tips for Perfect Results on Wood Every Time
- Don’t skip the sanding. While it’s tempting to take some shortcuts, you’ll thank yourself for having a smooth surface to decoupage.
- Throw out that old bottle of Mod Podge. If you see lumps, clumps or bumps, that could be a sign you need a new bottle.
- Don’t use brushes that may have loose bristles. ’nuff said.
- Quick and easy brush strokes in the same direction prevent wrinkles and tearing.
- Hands off! Don’t use your bare hands to smooth Mod Podge onto thin paper because this may cause tearing. Clear plastic storage wrap for the win!
- Apply more than one coat. Chances are you could have missed some spots, and this extends the life of your project.
- Waaaaaait for it! If you don’t wait for each coat to dry before applying another, you might tear the paper.
- You can wet sand projects with thicker coats for a smooth finish and then use steel wool to polish.
- Let your project cure for 1-2 days before use.
- For the most durable finish, use a clear sealer.
What other materials can you decoupage besides wood?
If you’re a decoupage beginner, you may not realize that you can decoupage just about any surface!
Here are just a few examples:
- Terracotta flower pots
- Glass (wine bottles, vases, mirrors)
- Metal (tins, watering cans, frames)
- Hard foam
- Cardboard (puzzles, signs)
- Foam pumpkins!
You get the picture. There are so many possibilities for decorating an object with decoupage!
More Mod Podge Crafts!
If you’re all about decoupage crafts now, be sure to check out my other tutorials. This is part of a series of posts covering the art of decorating using decoupage techniques.
- Wooden tissue box cover or wood furniture piece
- Acrylic paint
- Sandpaper (220 or 320 grit)
- Mod Podge
- Decoupage paper or napkins
- Plastic food wrap
- Optional: varnish or clear acrylic sealer
- Bristle brush or foam brush
- Use light to medium sandpaper to smooth the wooden surface. Clean with a dry cloth.
- Paint the wood with acrylic paint in the direction of the grain.
- Cut napkins or decoupage medium to size. For a tissue box cover, cut 4 equal squares to cover each side and a top square with an oval cut out for the tissue opening.
- Apply a thin layer of Mod Podge using a foam or bristle brush.
- Gently lay the paper down on the wet surface. Use plastic wrap to press the paper onto the wood and prevent the Mod Podge from sticking to your hands.
- Apply additional coats of Mod Podge on top of the paper to seal, waiting 15-20 minutes between coats.
- For a more protective topcoat, apply a clear spray acrylic sealer.