Canadian Woodworking

12 ways to add texture with tools you already have

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: February March 2013
adding texture
adding texture

If you can open your eyes to what else your tools can do, you will start to look at your cherished tool collection in a whole new light.


A big part of adding texture to your work with tools you already have, is looking beyond their typical use. Sure, your nail set was made to set nails, but it can also be used to create small dimples in wood. A chisel was made to pare small surfaces and remove small chips of wood, but it can also be used to create slightly faceted, uneven surfaces. I’m not encouraging you to abuse tools, or use them in a dangerous or careless way. Just keep your eyes open to what a tool can do for you in terms of adding texture to a surface.

This list is by no means exhaustive; it’s just a starting point to introduce woodworkers to what can be done if you cross the tools you likely already have in your workshop with a little outside-the-box thinking. I didn’t even mention how spokeshaves, handplanes, carving knives, blow torches and other tools can also be used to add gorgeous texture to wood.

Nail Set

nail set

Best Use: Works well in most woods. Can be time consuming if texturing large areas. Great for creating small to medium sized areas of focus.

What to do: If your nail set is old or has been abused, you will have to smooth its sides and end in order to create a cleaner, rounder hole. A belt sander is great for this simple task. Use either a light tap with a mallet or hammer for a shallow dimple, or a heavier hit for a deeper, more pronounced effect. If you’re finding you are getting lots of chipping and splintering space the dimples slightly further apart. Different diameters of set will give varied looks.

Effect: Great for creating an even, light texture to fill in smaller areas. Can be spaced evenly or randomly.

Carving Gouge

Carving Gouge

Best Use: As long as the gouge is sharpened correctly, it will work nicely in most woods. Heavily figured or very hard woods may pose a challenge, especially if the gouge isn’t extremely sharp. Very soft woods will also crush with a less-than-razor-sharp gouge. Works quick enough to cover large surfaces in a reasonable time, especially with larger gouges.

What to do: Though passes generally work best crossgrain, working parallel to the grain is possible with care. If an extra-deep groove is needed, multiple passes may be required. With firm footing, use both hands to control the gouge. Practice will give a good feel for how to produce the size and depth of groove you’re looking for.

Effect: Shallow grooves can feel quite delicate, while deep grooves are a very dramatic addition to a project.




Best Use: Works well in most woods. Can be time-consuming if texturing large areas. Great for creating small sized areas of focus where only light texturing is needed.

What to do: With awl in one hand and mallet or hammer in the other, slowly add tiny dimples to the wood. Very similar to using a nail set to add texture.

Effect: Great for creating an even, very light texture to fill in smaller areas.

Cold Chisel

Cold Chisel

Best Use: Works great in most woods to create a textured border, or can be used to texture larger surfaces.

What to do: Used similarly to the nail set and awl, except the grooves work best when oriented parallel with the grain of the wood. Cross-grain grooves have a tendency to split the grain and cause splintering. Sharpening the tool may improve cross grain work. Strike lightly for almost imperceptible results, or heavily for deeper, more pronounced grooves.

Effect: Narrow but long triangular grooves are left in the woods surface.

Screw or Lag Bolt

Screw or Lag Bolt

Best Use: Works best on softer woods, but can be used on medium density species as well. Works great near an edge of a workpiece to produce a border as the head of the screw or bolt will not permit it to be being used anywhere but the edge. Removing the head is also an option.

What to do: Hold the screw or lag bolt in one hand and a hammer in the other. Be sure to keep your fingers out of the way of the hammer, as you will likely be holding the screw or bolt fairly close to where the blows occur. With one finger referencing off the edge of the workpiece, slowly move the screw or bolt along, using quick hammer blows to press the threads into the wood. You will likely notice small flats on the threads, where the hammer is hitting the threads. Keep those flats up or the textured marks will vary slightly.

Effect: Small marks add slight texture to a surface. You can change the effect by holding the screw or bolt at an angle to the edge, as well as striking the screw or bolt near the center or one end.



Best Use: Works with all woods, and in many different situations. Can add very dramatic texture over a small or large surface.

What to do: Chuck a bit into your router and make multiple passes over the workpiece. There are many ways to proceed, but carefully controlling the path of the router somehow is usually the best approach.

Effect: If a circle-cutting jig is used circular grooves can be added in a geometric pattern. A template guide and bandsawn template can be used to cause the router to follow certain paths, creating various effects. Adjusting the type of bit, depth of cut or number/density of passes can create heavy or light texture. There are lots of texturing possibilities with a router.



Best Use: Because a chisel is flat, it’s easiest to use on outside surfaces. It’s possible to work flat or inside surfaces if you’re determined. Any density of wood is appropriate.

What to do: Create faceted surfaces with a sharp chisel, working ‘downhill’ to reduce tear-out. Sometimes it’s easiest to create the general shape you want with other tools/methods, and then add texture to the surface with a chisel.

Effect: Texture from a chisel is less obvious, and can play a more subtle role in a piece of furniture.

Rotary Tool

Rotary Tool

Best Use: To create a subtle, even texture on flat or round surfaces. Texturing large areas will be time consuming. Though results depend on bit selection, this technique works well on most species.

What to do: Systematically move the bit over the workpiece, creating small cuts directly beside one another.

Effect: Bit selection will determine the type of texture left, but a tight, simple texture will likely be the result.

Round Nail Head

Round Nail Head

Best Use: Best for small areas of light texture on softer woods.

What to do: Used similar to the nail set and awl. First chuck the nail in a drill, pull the trigger and smooth the nail head with some 120 then 220 grit sandpaper to remove any inconsistencies. Light hammer taps are all that’s needed to create the textured dimple in softer wood.

Effect: Smooth, concave dimples in the wood that can be spaced evenly or randomly.

Pyrography Pen

Pyrography Pen

Best Use: Deeper texture can be added on softer woods. Great for texturing smaller areas.

What to do: Adjust the temperature to produce the type of effect you’re looking for, then touch the pen tip to the wood’s surface to add texture. A random or even pattern can be created.

Effect: The effect depends partially on the tip used, but generally speaking a small round or linear mark is burnt into the wood, creating a small recess in the wood. The texture effect is fairly light, and comes with a visual effect of the darker burnt area.

Round File

Round File

Best Use: On corners of most woods. Non-porous woods generally splinter less, but if care is taken porous woods can be worked. Not great for high-use edges, as the wood remaining on the edge can be susceptible to damage.

What to do: With the file in both hands, guide it into the corner of the wood at a 45º angle. Don’t push too hard or you will likely chip the area. I find it’s best to ease the edge before adding texture to it, as it will be less likely to splinter. Try to space the notches as evenly as possible.

Effect: A row of notches is created on the edge of a workpiece.

Angle Grinder

Angle Grinder

Best Use: Works well in most woods. Much less subtle than many other forms of texture. Best for medium to large areas, but can be used on small areas in experiences hands.

What to do: Practice on some scrap as an angle grinder works very fast. Move the tool across the workpiece in a sweeping motion. Experiment with different speeds, angles, etc. to produce a variety of effects. Make sure you’re familiar with power carving before starting.

Effect: A heavily textured, wavy surface is left. Slightly different surfaces can be produced using different cutting attachments, or manipulating the grinder certain ways.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches


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  2. Could you recommend and Angle Grinder to achive this effect ?
    Preferebly budget freindly.



  3. This was a really good article, and it does help one to think outside the box. I liked it so much i have sent it out as an FYI to both my Woodturning and Woodworking Clubs. Thanks Rob.

  4. your email video I really enjoyed well presented easy to understand for a slow learning Irish wood carver ,But if ye can help ,I am carving an OLD BOOT & would like to have the surface looking like leather BIG ASK but think it can be done , just have to keep asking wood workers if they have any ideas ,HOW TO , , again enjoyed your video & as they say Knowledge is no good if ye don’t pass it around the world ,STAY SAFE & ENJOY LIFE , YOURS IN FRIENDSHIP PADDY in Western Australia

  5. You have provided some interesting techniques I can possibly use on a front entrance table I’m
    building in the near future.

  6. Immense merci pour vos idées sa m as donné le goût de continuer as m amusé sur de beau petit projet xoxo

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