Vinegar and steel wool staining

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Forum topic by Brandi_D posted 01-18-2016 06:37 PM 694 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 279 days

01-18-2016 06:37 PM

Topic tags/keywords: wood vinegar stain grey tea weathered gray

I am currently using steel wool and vinager to stain wood for the top of my coffee table. I am using white pine that has dried for years! I let my steel wool sit for over 3 days and strained it. I brew black tea and painted my wood with the tea mixture. I then let it slightly dry and put on the vinegar mixture. So the the wood was still damp from the tea. The wood did turn a light grey color but I wanted to get a darker grey color.

Can I just re-apply the tea mixture then vinegar for a darker shade?
Should I brew the tea longer?

I am not sure how to get a darker shade. It clearly did work I am not sure how to go about getting a darker shade. I appreciate anyone’s input! Thank you

**The lighter wood is without the “stain” and the darker wood (the piece at the top) is the result after.


9 replies so far

View conifur's profile


955 posts in 571 days

#1 posted 01-18-2016 06:59 PM

Your standard big box store steel wool has an oil coating on it to prevent it from oxidizing. I use Briwax, no oil on it.

-- Knowledge and experience equals Wisdom, Michael Frankowski

View mahdee's profile


3457 posts in 1187 days

#2 posted 01-18-2016 11:37 PM

The steel wool tea works best on woods that have a high tan content like oak. If the steel wool if not rusting in the vinegar, then the oil thing maybe the cause.


View Vicki's profile


1040 posts in 2764 days

#3 posted 01-24-2016 04:51 PM

I saved coffee grounds for a couple of days in an empty Folgers can. When I wanted it darker, I did give it a second coat. A day or so later I also wiped on some Minwax golden oak to warm it up a bit. Only left it on a few minutes.

-- Vicki on the Eastern Shore of MD

View xeddog's profile


108 posts in 2427 days

#4 posted 01-24-2016 06:13 PM

I got some better results on some maple using this technique. A couple of things I did -

1. Before adding the steel wool to the vinegar, wash it with soap and water to remove any contaminates. Make sure all of the soap is rinsed out too.
2. Add the steel wool to the vinegar and let it set for at least a week. I also had to add additional steel wool when the first bunch completely dissolved. (I did one batch where I let it “stew” for about a month and added additional steel wool 2 or 3 times.)
3. The Tea mixture should be as strong as you can brew it. I put 8 tea bags in a quart jar and added boiling water. Next time I might try 12 bags.

Doing this gave me a grayish black that was fairly dark. I don’t know how this will work on pine though.

1. I tried mixing the tea and steel wool solutions and then applying, and also using the tea first then steel wool mixture. I did not notice much of a difference on maple. However when mixing them together, the two mixtures reacted with each other and the solution became ineffective after a day or two. (duh!)
2. I also noted that at some point the result was not the grayish black, but a very nice brown color. But I have not been able to reliably duplicate it.

View bandit571's profile


14063 posts in 2103 days

#5 posted 01-24-2016 06:47 PM

Oldtimers did not have steel wool, so…..any iron scraps, filings and other bits of iron were used. IF you have a few broken, non-plated screws, or a big handful of old bent up nails.

They would also put all the metal pieces into a cheese-cloth “sack”, and dunk the sack into the Vinegar. That way, they could remove the metal and just brush on the vinegar…

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View xeddog's profile


108 posts in 2427 days

#6 posted 01-24-2016 11:59 PM

I almost forgot. (ok I DID forget). Instead of tea you could also use tannic acid, or Quebracho powder. And instead of vinegar/steel mix you could use POTASSIUM DICHROMATE. I have not used any of this stuff, but I am considering some.


View shipwright's profile


7085 posts in 2218 days

#7 posted 01-25-2016 02:40 AM

If you really want to get a light coloured wood really black (ebonized) dye it or stain it.
The way this solution (ferrous ions) works is by chemically reacting with the tannin in the wood. Brown woods generally have lots of tannin while light and white woods don’t.
There are ways to add tannin and get some joy on light woods and tea is one of them but you are really making it harder than it has to be. Keep your solution for the walnuts and oaks where it will truly amaze you with what it can do and dye the pine.
Here’s a short video of ferrous ion solution ebonizing walnut jet black in seconds in real time. It is part of this blog for context

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View Brandi_D's profile


2 posts in 279 days

#8 posted 01-25-2016 03:27 AM

I appreciate every ones input. I have done this in the past with great results on lighter woods. I believe my issue is the steel wool that I have. It has been in the vinegar for over a week and still has not rusted. I am going to try a different steel wool and see what it does.

I am well aware of the chemical process hence why I used tea to add tannin into the light wood. I appreciate your opinion on staining but that is not the look I am going for. I do have black stain and I know the outcome. I am not looking for black but a dark grey old wood look.

Thank you everyone you have been very helpful!

View xeddog's profile


108 posts in 2427 days

#9 posted 01-26-2016 01:42 AM

Your steel is probably DISSOLVING and not rusting. At least not yet. It will eventually rust, but when it does its effectiveness will be declining/


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