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I'm going to make some small scale props and accessories using soft wood. Possibly balsa or popsicle sticks. I want to make the grain swell up and come out so that it can be dry-brushed.

Essentially the exact opposite of sanding it smooth.

What is the best method to do this? I want a textured surface that I can add shadows and highlights to with a brush.

Should I steam it or soak it in something?

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You can simply use water. Spray it on, disperse it with a sponge or so, and leave it for a while. The fibers will soak up the water and expand.
For texture to appear the wood naturally needs differences in hardness/concentrations of fibers - I'm not sure small pieces of balsa wood or Popsicle sticks have enough of a grain to really be notable.

Use distilled water if you don't want any contaminants to potentially cause discolouration.

If you plan on grounding the wood before spray-painting, consider using a water-based coating, as it can have the same effect.

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You can brush it with a wire brush, going with the grain. The wires push fine groves into the wood that looks like natural wood grain and works really well in miniature crafting. If you press the brush down hard (without bending the wires) you'll get a deeper texture. If you pass the brush over the wood more often, you'll get a finer texture.

One very common example is a wood floor or wooden furniture for tabletop miniatures made of popsicle sticks. The sticks alone usually don't have much grain at all. Painting it on is much too big for the scale. Wire brushing thin groves into the soft wood and then applying a dark wash (with or without a base coat of paint) makes it really look like wooden boards shrinked down to scale.

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