Thursday, January 23, 2014

Homemade Wood Stain

Homemade Wood Stain

I use vinegar for many jobs around our house: laundry, cleaning windows and floors, clearing out drains, dissolving hard water, etc. It is such a versatile product--not to mention inexpensive, readily available, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly. I don’t mind the smell at all. Hubby is still getting used to the smell of vinegar as a cleaning product instead of an ingredient in hot sauce. ;-)

I recently learned that vinegar could be used to make a homemade wood stain.  What manner of chemical magic was this? I’ve been wanting to refinish various of pieces of furniture in our house, and while my experience with staining wood is limited (read: zero to none), I thought this would be a good way to learn, since the products are inexpensive and non-hazardous. (But apparently steel wool is a slight fire hazard. Good to know, Google. Just be sure to keep it away from open flames, heaters, and any source of electrical sparks.)

How to Make Homemade Wood Stain
All you need is:
That’s it! It assembles quickly but does require time for the steel wool to oxidize.

Step-by-step directions I followed for making my wood stain:

1. Pull apart two steel wool pads to increase the surface area exposed to the vinegar.  Stuff them into a glass jar.
Homemade Wood Stain with Steel Wool and Vinegar

2.  Pour apple cider vinegar over the steel wool and close the lid.
Homemade Wood Stain with Steel Wool and Vinegar
I've read that white vinegar and other types of vinegar will produce a different color stain.  An experiment for another day, perhaps. I think the brownish hue of apple cider vinegar is the way to go for my particular project.

3. Let the jar sit for about 3 days.  Shake it gently to mix.
Homemade Wood Stain with Steel Wool and Vinegar
This is what it looks like after 3 days. I kept the jar in a dark room in our basement. I don't know if that is crucial or not, but it does smell like strong vinegar, so you might not want it hanging out in your kitchen.  The steel wool floats to the top. 
Homemade Wood Stain with Steel Wool and Vinegar
This is what it looks like after shaking it gently (over a sink!).
4. Strain the liquid into a different container. (Make sure you are wearing old clothes and gloves.)
Homemade Wood Stain with Steel Wool and Vinegar
I used a plastic container that had held coleslaw from the grocery deli the day before. Yay for reusing!

5. Brush stain onto wood surface.  
Wood Before Homemade Wood Stain
My kids have a wooden building set that they never use anymore. I almost donated it to Goodwill but realized it was great craft wood. I have a couple ideas of how to use it, and staining it is the first step.

*Note*- I am terrible at identifying types of wood.  I don't know what kind of wood this is, but I think it is safe to say that different woods will react differently to this stain. Old stains, sealants, and finishes would also affect the finished product. When in doubt, try an inconspicuous area beforehand.  I wouldn't recommend lathering this stain all over a piece of furniture until you know how the stain will darken!
Homemade Wood Stain
My daughter and I "painted" on the liquid with sponge brushes. It doesn't require a lot-- just until the wood is wet. Be careful not to flick your wrist, as the stain will splatter. It wipes up easily if you catch it before it dries.

If your wood is small, you can just dunk it in the mixture. Just enough to get it wet.
Homemade Wood Stain

6. Let dry.
Homemade Wood Stain
We used torn pages from an old phone book under our handiwork to absorb the liquid.

Homemade Wood Stain
The wood darkens quickly as it dries. This is the result after about 30 minutes or so.

7.  Enjoy as is or make something with it!

You can see in the picture below what a transformation occurred in a short amount of time. The top left is the starting color, top right is a minute or so after staining, the bottom left is 15 minutes or so, and the bottom right is about 30 minutes. One coat, just enough to get the wood wet, was all it took!

Homemade Wood Stain

*Science Alert*-  Here’s why it works.  Steel wool is made from iron. The vinegar dissolves the coating on the steel wool, so the iron comes in contact with oxygen in the air.  The oxygen causes the iron to rust. The oxidized iron also reacts with tannins in the wood, causing the color to darken.  Cool, huh?

I will show you what I’m going to do with these little stained beauties in a future post!

~Mulligan Mama

Sources for the science stuff:

Sources that introduced me to the process of homemade stain and what to do with it:

*Update to this project*- I let the vinegar and steel wool solution soak for another week then used it to dye dowel rods for my DIY House Numbers project. I also dyed a couple more wood slats to see how the extra time affected the color of the dye compared to the initial dye. I couldn't notice a difference between the wood dyed after 3 days and the wood dyed after 10 days. So, 3 days is sufficient to achieve a nice color of wood stain and more time might not make much difference.*

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