Staining with tea.

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Blog entry by RaggedKerf posted 01-06-2013 08:29 PM 1288 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Okay, there are a lot of pictures in this one, so I’m going to post the final image down below—-to see all the in-between shots, please click here.

So the practice box that has been sitting neglected on the bench for…I don’t know how many weeks…finally saw a little love a few days ago.

I got really sick the day after Christmas and haven’t fully kicked whatever it was that knocked me out, but enough is enough. I had to DO something other than lay around the house coughing and sneezing.

So, since standing out in the freezing garage (the garage, always a little warmer than outside, has been averaging about 25-30° for the past 3 weeks) was out of the question, I decided to bring the work inside.

I have been kicking around an idea I noticed on Dan's blog (if you haven’t seen his blog, I highly recommend it, he’s got some genius ideas) where he played around with staining wood with tea. This has become more interesting to me as the temperature continues to get lower and lower. See, I don’t want to stain something out in the garage because (1) it takes FOREVER and a day to dry in cold weather and (2) it needs ventilation to get rid of the nasty fumes…which means opening the garage door. I could bring things in the house to dry, but then I’d have to have a window open and the heat on…and my better half would NOT go for that. I don’t think I would either, it’s just plain wasteful.

However, I’ve used tea in the past to stain paper and make it look like parchment for school projects, etc. So after reading Dan’s blog and a few others espousing the benefits of staining with tea, I figured, why not?

I started with a 2 qt saucepan full of water. I got it going at a rolling boil and put in 6 Tetley bags of tea (just your plain, generic iced tea) I happened to have laying around. I let this steep for about 10 minutes, then removed the bags, cranked up the heat again and let the tea boil for 20 minutes. What I had left was this:

You can see the line in the pan where the tea was originally at and where it reduced to. I gave it another 30 minutes to cool off and poured it into an empty tomato sauce jar. It certainly looks concentrated enough.

I spread out some newspaper on the table and used a sponge brush to apply the tea. After one coat the brush had snapped so I just used the sponge. It wasn’t hard at all, took maybe 5 minutes to coat. I noticed immediately that the darkness of the concentrated tea did not get transferred to the wood. When the first coat was on, it literally looked like the wood was merely wet. That piece of basswood in the foreground is my practice board for chip carving. The box looked pretty similar in color to that piece of basswood before I started staining it. Here’s the lid after one application:

So when that first coat was dry (maybe an hour or so) I put another one on:You can see the Q-Tips there in the picture, I dipped them in the stain to get inside the little parts of the scrollwork badge on the lid. It took me a while but I got all the little bare parts of aspen stained…

Then I added another coat…

And another.

The photos don’t look too different, but I can tell you when it’s right in front of you, there is a dramatic difference. It almost looks like I took a cherry stain pen to it!

Finally, I added one last coat to bring the total to 5:

Again, looking from one picture to the next, it’s kind of hard to see a difference, but when you’re holding it in your hands there’s a big difference. Take a look at the first and last coats…I decided to go light on the inner panels and it worked great—-the oak and the poplar are now pretty similar in color (the oak trim is still darker) and the pine inner panel is lighter than both so it makes a nice 3-tone contrast. I really am happy with how this is turning out.

I learned a bit about how different woods react to the tea too—-the main shell of the box is just plain pine…that took the stain okay, I guess, but seemed to resist pretty well. The parts that were poplar took the stain much better than the pine, especially the end grain. The oak trim already had some stain on it (I recycled quarter-round trim) so it got hardly any benefit from the tea at all. The aspen lid, however, soaked up the stain like nobody’s business. It went from bone white to the color you see above, which practically matches the poplar (that went from a light green to the cherry-esque color). The grain raised more on the aspen than on the other wood types, but man did it soak up the color.

As far as how long the stain stretched—-the 2 quarts of water I started with boiled down to about 1/3 a jar of pasta sauce. That 1/3 jar gave me 5 good coats. Obviously, the more I stain, the darker it gets, but for this project, I think the 5 coats I’ve given it are plenty. I’ll have to sand it gently before I finish with poly to make things nice and smooth again…

-- Steve

5 comments so far

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2831 days

#1 posted 01-06-2013 09:00 PM

Tea really gives it a nice tone. I’ve used coffee on a few small items just experimenting. Never continued to follow thru with it. For as bad as wine stains carpet, could you use it on wood, I wonder? Thnx in advance.. I would rather drink the wine tho. :)

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2514 days

#2 posted 01-06-2013 09:10 PM

Problems with the stain not taking on the pine could be because of the pitch and resin.

Polar is a lot more conducive to the transfer because mostly it doesn’t have the pitch problems.

I tried using coffee once, but it didn’t work as well as I thought it should, so I went to the Minwax stains.

Your project looks great! Come back with some more and we’ll all learn more!

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 3411 days

#3 posted 01-06-2013 09:21 PM

Thanks for sharing your little staining experiment. I have never tried tea even though I heard it worked well. It does look like it worked out well to me. I am a little surprised it took so many coats to darken that much. I guess you would really have to boil it down to get it to go on darker so I guess it makes more sense to do what you did and coat it, plus as you pointed out, it gave you more control to match different woods better that way. One thing you may want to do differently next time, or any time you are using a water-based stain, is wet the wood, let it dry, then sand down all the raised fibers. It works better than sanding after, since you can’t sand the stain off the corners and edges that way.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View NormG's profile


6141 posts in 3031 days

#4 posted 01-06-2013 10:12 PM

Great looking color and you can used recycled tea, yea

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View RaggedKerf's profile


425 posts in 2148 days

#5 posted 01-07-2013 02:45 PM

Thanks for the kind words, guys! I discovered after a touch up with 220 sandpaper, the silky smoothness returned pre-staining. I have since started to add polyuerethane (spray) onto it and have 2 coats so far. This project is all about learning from start to finish. Literally! Only the second thing I’ve ever finished (the bottle opener was the first) so now I get to play with sanding between coats, etc.

With temps in the garage in the 30s and 40s, it will take a few days to get this thing sealed up and dry I think…

-- Steve

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