It has been quite sometime since I said I was starting my Woodworking deep dive (April 6th, 2021). It is definitely worth discussing the things I’ve done, worked on, and have to show since that time.

Just to recap for those who do not remember or haven’t read “Wood Painting Deep Dive: Part 1 The Questions, Inspiration and Self Reflection”.

I have begun an epic quest to improve my knowledge, tools, and experiences for painting wood textures for my tabletop projects. Being tired of painting everything the same and having all the shields, staves, trees, buildings looking the same I decided to attempt to learn more. This knowledge along with increased practice painting wood grains and trees would also help improve my confidence while painting.

I also have many other goals and ambitions is to do deep dives into the paint process and methodology of many different types of things in an effort to increase my understanding and skills in the hobby. Read more about my Deep Dive goals here.

The Questions

I began with attempting to seek out answers to these questions:

1) How can I paint different wood species to provide a larger variety color palette while still looking realistic?

2) What are the main wood types that I can use in the space and still not break the immersion of my tabletop? Primary focus in Fantasy or medieval time periods.

3) What are the various ways to add mold, decay, age, etc to wood grain?

4) What if the piece of terrain does not have a wooden texture. What mentality should I have while painting by hand? What are great ways to practice this?

5) How do I increase the variety of plant life on my tabletop based on season and biome? Almost all my trees end up being deciduous tree from a temperate climate.

6) Is there a “best” way to make trees? How many should I have? Considerations to have when playing on the table?

The Research

I began my search for information with the go to location: YouTube. Compiling an immense playlist for all things WoodPainting. In the end I compiled four primary playlists: Wood Effects, Wood done with Airbursh, Barrels & Crates, Faux Wood. The Wood Effects was my catch all for either unsorted or truly unique videos. In the end I collected over 80 videos on YouTube ranging from 2013 to 2021 and view counts sometimes as low as 200. As I was attempting to sort, take notes, and design painting challenges to grow in this space I realized one thing. Without a doubt I realized I might have dove too deep for starting out.

So I decided to peel back a bit into more manageable chunks. Starting with:

What are the main wood types that I can use in the space and still not break the immersion of my tabletop? Primary focus in Fantasy or medieval time periods. 

Thanks to a fantastic write up, “Wood in the Middle Ages” from the Rhode Island School of Design and Art Museum website. Essentially it gives the springboard to my ponderings.

Wood Type and Usage was primarily broken down by geographical region in roughly the 8th to 15th centuries.

Germany/Central Europe: Limewood or Lindenwood
Mediterranean: Popular
England: Oak or Walnut (less common)
Flanders, Netherlands, France: Beech & Elm

Wood Samples by Type

Well here was a start. I have about 7 different wood species to attempt to work on in my painting as inspiration. However I encounter a problem. I had no idea what colors I had if I was going to work towards a specific color palette.

Which was the perfect first series of tests and experiments!

The Beginnings of a Paint Experiment

Using my previously mentioned inspiration from Michael Cavagnaro on several facebook groups, who began making color swatches for contrast paints and wood textures.

Michael Cavagnaro’s color swatches. Source Miniature Painting Tips and Tricks Facebook Group

I began to make my own collection of swatches to hopefully give me a better picture on how to paint different types of wood. I thought about making the larger 2×2 dungeon tiles of which I actually even started printing and painting them but quickly realized that it would take too much time and material. So instead I printed 25 mm, standard tavern bases. These round bases were absolutely perfect and used very little material and I could print a large amount of them relatively quickly.

Beginning with the mentality i’ve seen very frequently in my lengthy YouTube research playlist I started with a collection of 25 bases all of which were primed black to start and then heavily dry brushed with a color of my collection. Almost all wood painting tutorials start with a black undercoat to help with shading.

Wood Painting Bases using a Black Primer
First Batch with a Black Primer

While seeing this collection grow gave me a large amount of satisfaction. However I was overall feeling disappointed with the small amount of diversity in my choices. So many colors were so dark I couldn’t even see the color only Black. I’m looking at you MSP Reaper Brown Liner! Perhaps I am doing myself a disservice by only doing a black primer by blindly following the teaches of the interwebs. So in the end I decided to build the project in the only way a crazy mad scientist knows how….

I added two more undercoat colors: Grey and White making it a total of 75 bases using the original 25 colors. All of these colors were model hobby paints coming from the brands: Vallejo Model and Game Color, P3, Army Painter, MSP Reaper, and Citadel. I have slowly been growing my collection of paints from various sources to also see if I prefer any over the other.

Not only that but I also decided to test my 4 contrast paints and brown & tan colors from my cheap hobby acrylics. This was most important since I was most likely going to use the cheap acrylics like $0.50 Apple Barrel paints.

In the end I created 123 total swatches of color for wood painting! In order to distinguish between the varieties I have labeled each underside of the bases with either a number (model paint), the letter C followed by a number (contrast paint), or an alphabetical letter (hobby paint). The key to the code of all the bases are put into my paint journal so I can always search through the swatches and pick out my favorites at any time without the bias of name.

Wood Painting Color Palette

Below are the images of all the swatches used in this test along with their name, brand, and my own cataloging tag. Each color is in three columns based on the primer undercoat; white, grey, and black.

Let me know what you think!

Contrast Paint

Model Paint

Hobby Paint


This painting palette test for wood painting has definitely taught me a few things.

1) Before this experiment I will admit I have heavily been biased against contrast paint as a “lazy painters” paint. As a form of shade and wash many paint in a one and done fashion. Without the need of additional layers or other painting techniques. Well after this test I will say that I’m definitely a contrast paint convert. Some of my favorite choices done are the contrast paint swatches.

The twelves bases painted to showcase contrast paint at three different undercoats.
Experiment using Contrast Paints

2) Do not underestimate the power of grey. So much wood has a grey hue to it. Some of the most realistic painted swatches are using the grey primer.

3) The cheap hobby paint does not nearly have the same opacity as the model paint. This would require several coats of paint for terrain projects. Which leaves me for a later question. Is it worth saving the money on the cheaper if you will perhaps spend so much more time on it?

4) Black might be my last favorite go to choice for undercoat for woodworking. While some looked decent I have so much more variety and capability while painting when using grey or white instead of Black.

Wood Bases showing extreme dark wood colors which are almost unnoticeable
Some of my Darkest Colors using a Black Primer

What’s Next?

Now I am left with of course more questions. Will a variety of colors look good on a single project? How can I push these swatches to look even better for painting projects? Which colors will match specific wood species.

This Deep Dive of course did not answer all my questions about wood painting but has definitely helped to take a step forward in the right direction. I have significantly more confidence in painting wood and am excited to experiment further, rather than intimidated.

Do you experiment anything when painting? What would you like to see tested further? Have an idea on the next step or something you want investigated in your hobby? Nominate it here.

As always Happy Hobbying.

~ Carrie the Crazy Mad Scientist

New Website Sections!

I’ve recently added new sections to the website to make this conversation and others for deep dives more easily accessible. Found under Painting you can navigate to either the homepage of all Deep Dives or directly to Wood Painting for more easily accessible information and pictures of the color palette.

Previous Writings


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

3 thoughts on “Wood Painting Deep Dive: Part 2 Improving your Color Palette

  1. Wow. That is a lot of work and research! I agree that the black does not seem to yield as many good options as the white and grey. I appreciate the time you have taken to explore all this. Happy painting!

Leave a Reply