Friday, October 26, 2012

Cheap and Easy DIY Dark Wood Stain

Last week I made some very simple, light colored natural wood stains. This week I experimented with a few ways to make darker colored stains. I was surprised to see how well my experiments turned out. Check out the results below!

Why make your own wood stain? 

Many conventional wood stains on the market are made up of toxic and harmful chemicals. Additionally, many of these stains have high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) which degrade your indoor air quality and smell terrible. The best part of making your own wood stain is that it is super easy and it will save you money! I spent less than $10.00 to buy all the ingredients necessary to make multiple different colors and shades. You will probably spend even less as many of these ingredients are common kitchen items.

How to Make Light Stains Darker

One easy way to make dark wood stains is to just make your all natural DIY stains darker. Check out this post for all natural stains you can make in less than 5 minutes. The steel wool and vinegar will react with the other stains to produce a dark vibrant color. This happens due to a chemical reaction where the steel wool will begin to dissolve as the vinegar oxidizes the steel. With this stain you are essentially creating rust in a jar. Here is a video from P. Allen Smith at P. Allen Smith Garden Home that first inspired me to try to make DIY wood stain.




If you liked his recipe I recommend giving it a try. Keep on reading if you would like to see more variations of DIY steel wool stain!



DIY Steel Wool & Vinegar Wood Stain

First we need to tear up one pad of steel wool - buy the finest texture you can find. I purchased a big pack of the fine steel wool labeled Grade #0000 at my local hardware store for about $3.00.

Steel Wool Grade #0000

Once you have torn up the whole pad, add all the pieces to a jar  and fill the rest of the jar with vinegar. Let it soak overnight before use. You can leave the steel wool to soak longer for a darker hue. The steel wool will completely dissolve in about a week. This is what the jar looked like after about 5 days.

Wood stain after 5 days  made from steel wool and vinegar

After you let the steel wool soak overnight you can go ahead and apply it using a foam brush. I applied one coat of the steel wool mixture to each light natural stain that I made last week. Just one application of the steel wool stain significantly darkened the other stains. You can see the difference in the picture below. The before picture is the left side, and the color to the right is after one coat of the steel wool stain. The stains I had previously applied were (from left to right): Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Tomato Sauce, and Red Wine. For these stain recipes check out this earlier post!

Natural DIY Wood Stains with one coat of steel wool wood stain on top

You can also just apply the steel wool mixture to wood for a faded gray color. Applying a coat of brewed tea over the steel wool mixture will react with the tannins in the wood and the tea and give you a nice dark gray/black color. The picture below is with one application of steel wool stain followed by one coat of regular black tea.

Steel Wool and Tea Stain



DIY Dark Wood Stains in Under 5 Minutes for Under $5.00

After playing with the steel wool stains I decided I wanted to make a nice rich, dark brown stain. After  a little research, I found the website  The Woodworkers Gazette with an article by Jim McNamara with many recipes for DIY wood stains. Unfortunately many of the recipes called for toxic materials, intense chemicals, or very involved processes. Once of his recipes mentioned food coloring as an option, so I decided to go ahead and give it a try.

After looking through my cupboards I decided I need to go to the grocery store and pick up some materials for this experiment. I bought one packet of food coloring which included 4 colored vials: yellow, green, blue, and red. I also picked up one box of Lipton tea to use as the base liquid to which I would add the colors. I also used white vinegar for this project but I already had a big bottle of that at home. All total I think I spent around $5.00.



To start with, I created a basic stain to which I would be adding the food coloring. First I added about 6 tea bags to 2 cups of boiling water. I let it steep for about 15 minutes and squeezed all the remaining liquid out of the tea bags. I then added about 1/4 cup of vinegar to the hot tea to aid in the adhesion of the food coloring to the wood. This mixture essentially served as my base mixture to which I would add my color. I split the tea into 6 different jars and began adding colors, here are some of my favorite stains that I was able to produce.


The results of a DIY wood stain project.

To create the different colors I had to remember some basic coloring mixing formulas from middle school art class. I needed to learn how to mix prime colors to create the dark brown I was trying to achieve. I found this website that suggested I mix red, green, and yellow and mixed it all up. After I got the reddish brown I desired (the bottom row of the picture above) I started adding different colors to see what other fun colored stains I could mix up!


DIY Food Coloring Wood Stains

The bottom left was achieved using red, green and yellow. The lighter brown used mostly yellow and a few drops of red and green. If you remember the ratios you can get more intense colors by adding more of the food coloring. The darker grays were achieved using steel wool and tea, while the blue and purple came from using food coloring.

Conclusion

The steel wool and vinegar was extremely easy to use and seemed to work really well. It would be great for adding that aged and distressed look to furniture, especially if you are going for the farmhouse/barn style decor. The food coloring also worked really well, although it was pretty tricky to get the exact colors that I wanted, it would also be hard to recreate the exact same color. Also it required a good amount of food coloring and would probably make the most sense for small furniture. The food coloring method is quite fun and it allows you to create some very unique colors. 

In my research for this project I found read about using different foods to create all natural dyes. I did not seem to find anywhere that used these dyes on wood, but in this post I gave it a try! What do you think? Does the steel wool and food coloring stain seem easy enough to try it yourself?  

34 comments:

  1. Thanks for the ideas! have a table i am making and want to stain the legs, middle of winter and no where inside the is well ventilated enough to do pre made stain . making up some of your food coloring recipe now to try to get a chocolaty brown

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How did the recipe turn out? The dark chocolaty brown has been difficult for me to get exactly the way I want it. The food coloring method works really well for projects exactly like you described. Sure beats leaving windows and doors open when it is 20 degrees outside!

      Delete
  2. What Is the second one below the green??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you are referring to the light brown in the bottom right. If so, I used mostly yellow with a bit of red and green. Those colors mixed together with the tea made a nice light brown color.

      I would suggest playing around with just a few drops to get the right ratio. Once you get the color you want then just multiply the ratio. Example 4 drops yellow +2 drops red +1 drop green could become 40 drops yellow +20 drops red + 10 drops green. This would give you plenty of stain for a small indoor project. I hope that helps!

      Delete
  3. I'm so glad I found your blog. I found a rocking chair in a shed yesterday and wanted to "help" it. I used the steel wool and vinegar mixture after lightly sanding. The chair did not need very much distressing, but the mixture did dull the remaining finish on the wood. Then the magic- my fiance is working with purple heart wood currently and I wanted to recreate that look. I am now watching a coffee and purple food coloring combination dry on the wood and I am in love! It is dark brown, dark purple, and light purple...exactly what I wanted. I will send you before and after pictures when I complete this project. I still need to create a woven leather belt seat. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Purple heart wood is a beautiful look. I am glad my post helped inspire you to give it a try. I am looking forward to seeing the pictures, so please do post when you finish your project!

      Delete
  4. Can I ask what you used on the 3rd one straight down on the left side.
    The blue-ish one!

    ReplyDelete
  5. To prevent wood swelling and warping due to changes in temperature and moisture, finish all exposed surfaces of the wood item. This includes areas not easily visible, like the insides of cabinets and drawers and the undersides of tables.

    ReplyDelete
  6. When you did your red wine stain and used a coat of the steel wool and vinegar mixture, how many coats did you use of the red wine before applying the week old wool/vinegar?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I will give this also a try. There are really rich, dark, red wines here to use for the stain and I will give it a try next week as well as the beeswax finish.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow great article. Im looking for the deepest brown stain for inside a camper, partly to cover up existing stains and avoid marks in the future. What about boiling down walnuts and other wood that has high resin content? Any ideas for a natural wood sealant? Im thinking of using some kind of wood resin as it is attractive and naturally tough. thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Walnut is a great way to get a very dark color. If you are looking for a natural wood sealant, check out my post on beeswax wood sealant.

      http://themoderndiylife.blogspot.com/2012/12/diy-beeswax-wood-polish-and-sealant.html

      Delete
  9. I recommend this small independent business for affordable non toxic wood dye kits, free shipping.
    http://www.kedadye.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your post. Are you affiliated with this company or have you ever used their product? If so, I would like to chat further to learn more. You can reach me directly at benjaminnyquist@gmail.com

      Delete
  10. I'm experimenting with the vinegar and steel wool stain. I made the stain and put it on some wood, but am wondering if I need to seal it. What is your experience?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Fantastic!! I'm starting my own furniture business, and making my own stain is a wonderful way to cut down expenses dramatically and to avoid all those nasty chemicals! One question, how about shelf life? Will it "go bad" at some point? I want to make large quantities so I can duplicate the color on multiple pieces. Thanks so much for this article!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I am currently making kitchen utensils, will thiese recipes ba safe to use on sodden spoons and spatulas etc?

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've been searching for a way to slightly warm and darken whitewashed cabinetry throughout house. Would like to retain grain character. Therefore, stain seems the best option. Your experiments are quite interesting. Our cabinets are in great shape, but in need of updating as we renovate whole interior of home. We are big on DIY methods. If old finish is sanded off first, would steelwool stain give us more of a drftwood look?

    ReplyDelete
  14. this is super awesome- thanks so much for posting this...I hate using nasty strong chemicals. this is a great detailed how to post

    ReplyDelete
  15. Had a idea to use the sediment collected on a whole house well water filter.Shade is orange from iron in water. On pine it looks like vintage "pumpkin pine".Do ya think this is OK? I have wiped a teak oil on ,but is staying dull compared to a reg.stain on same piece of wood.Not sure why??

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks so much for the information on the food coloring stains. We purchased a large butcher block counter top to replace the rather ugly solid-surface we had on our kitchen island. The wood was a very light, untreated color and we wanted to a) darken and b) add color to it.

    We were afraid however, to use potentially toxic stains on a food prep surface, so we followed the recipe exactly (except we doubled it, just in case) and made a color very similar to the bottom left that you show. Great advice!

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is very useful information. Another material to consider is charcoal. Just grate a briquette and add it to whatever mixture you are working. I am busy on a turtle shell project and the only stain I had on hand was cherry, much to light. So I added a bit of charcoal to the stain and got the exact effect I was looking for. Also it was a good way to use up those last bits of stain left in the can, rather than throwing them out.

    ReplyDelete
  18. wow, thanks for sharing this! I am looking for a method to stain a table top that I plan to affix to a battered old treadle sewing machine base and this will be perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Great post! I'm interested in staining wood for a garden fence and raised garden beds. I don't want chemicals leaching into the soil from regular wood stains. Will either of the methods you describe above stand up to outdoor use? Or will the rain wash away any dark stain?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hi
    Top web site, I hadn't come across idlemendacity.blogspot.com earlier during my searches!
    Keep up the superb work!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Can you create the hot chocolate and steel wool-vinegar mix together, or do you think it's best to apply a coat of one recipe followed by a coat of the separate recipe?
    Thanks! :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. I love the food coloring idea. Going try it on some tangerine crates I'm saving for my daughter's graduation party.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hi, for the food color technique, will the color fade in the long run? thanks

    ReplyDelete
  24. Will have to give this a whirl on my outdoor wood furniture. Thanks for the tutorial/guide!

    ReplyDelete
  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  26. So glad I found your blog, specifically these posts! I am making a bed for my 4 year old, and have been looking for natural stains. It looks like the steel wool solution OVER the 3 layers of 1Cvinegar/halfChotcocoa (no tea) creates a chocolate brown stain? I'm double-checking! It seems like such a darker (beautiful!) color after you applied the steel wool solution. Did you apply the hot cocoa stain after cooling it off, or while still warm? Did you thinly apply or or let it 'puddle' a little?

    ReplyDelete
  27. UV might be the long run issue. Why would stain inventors use harsh chems when they too have brains and probably helped make Easter eggs as kids. And no, I do not work for any stain making companies. Besides....a pack of food coloring probably costs more than real wood stain by volume.

    ReplyDelete