How to Age Wood Using Vinegar, Steel Wool and Tea

fir-one-coat-tea-swatchIt’s easy to get that rustic, aged look of wood with a few simple steps and common household materials. When this process applied to a new piece of wood, it can help match the new piece, to a naturally aged blank or create your own style.

To get started, you will need just three household ingredients: distilled white vinegar, grade #0000 steel wool and tea.

1. Pull apart the steel wool and fully submerge in a container of vinegar for at least 12 hours or until the steel wool disintegrates. Strain out any loose pieces of steel wool using cheesecloth or a paper filter. When steel wool is combined with an acidic acid (vinegar) it causes the steel to oxidize (rust), making iron acetate. Safety note: Making iron acetate produces hydrogen gas. Do not seal containers and keep in a ventilated area.

2. Steep tea for at least 1 hour and brush steeped tea onto bare wood to saturated it. Let the wood dry completely.

3. Brush your vinegar & steel wool solution (the iron acetate) into tea-saturated wood.

Why does it work?
Tea contains tannin, a bitter astringent that occurs naturally in many plants and organics such as wood. Brushing wood with tea adds more tannin, allowing the vinegar/steel solution to have a stronger reaction. The iron acetate reacts with the tannins and turns the wood a dark color. Different woods have various levels of natural tannin content so results will vary by wood species. (See our photos below for some of our experiments.)
fir-one-coat-tea-swatch yellow-cedar-one-coat-tea-swatch fir-vinegar-no-tea-swatch
You will notice that whenever wood comes in contact with water, the wood fibers swell and the wood will feel rough after it has dried. This is called raised grain. To keep a smooth surface you will need to sand the surface again very lightly using dull sandpaper, just enough to remove the raised grain but not exposing new wood. Always sand in the direction of the grain. Don’t use steel wool to remove the raised grain as small pieces of the wool will break off and lodge in the wood pores, which will then rust and spot the wood when you apply the stain or finish.
aging_fir_yellow_cedar_wood_w_labelsWe recommend experimenting with a sample piece of wood. Try multiple coats and different teas until you get the look you want. There are many tricks and recipes for achieving different finishes. Consult your local Windsor Plywood for some of the latest products and finishes to get the look you want.

fir-w-two-coats-tea-swatch yellow-cedar-two-coats-tea-swatch

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