Oxidize! Getting A Vintage Wood Look

When it comes to home decor, vintage is definitely in. But if you have ever done some DIY woodworking projects, you’ll know it can be hard to obtain that aged wood look. You can either buy pricey “barn wood” from a boutique lumber supplier or let your new lumber from Home Depot sit in the backyard, exposed to the elements for a couple of midwest winters – or perhaps you may want to use this easy, inexpensive method for aging your wood in just under a week.

What You’ll Need

For this project you’ll need a few household items from your pantry and garage:

Step 1: Make Your Oxidation Solution

Creating your oxidation solution is straightforward. Take a roll of steel wool and tear off bits into your glass jar. Pour in the vinegar until your jar is full and cap the jar with the lid. Oxidation of the steel wool will take about 4-5 days in my experience. In general, the longer your solution can oxidize, the darker your wood color will be. I tested my solution on some pale pine wood after 3 days and it had a nice dark yellow hue to it. After about 6 days of sitting, the solution produced a dark gray. Because every wood will react differently,  I would recommend testing your solution on scrap wood to see what kind of hue you’ll get.

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Step 2: Give Your Wood Some Tannins

To help give your wood more definition and properly prep it, you’ll want to brush it with some strong black tea. I brewed some rather strong tea with 10 bags in 2 cups of boiling water. As you can imagine, the tea will slightly stain your wood, but it will also give  your wood grain more of a pop. I also discovered that the black tea gives the wood a nicer finisher when you finally apply your oxidation solution. If you skip the tea step, and just use oxidation solution, the wood will end up looking dirty and not aged. There’s just something about that tea that gives the wood a more refined look – sort of how British accents make things seems more sophisticated.

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Step 3: Oxidize Your Wood

When your wood is dry from high tea, and after the oxidation solution has sat for 4-5 days, your wood will be ready to get “the look”. When you crack open (not literally) your jar, there will probably still be steel wool floating in the solution – that’s ok. If you leave the solution sitting long enough, eventually all steel wool remnants will dissolve. And you can save the solution for future projects. Using a foam brush, paint on the solution. The wood will almost instantly turn gray, and over the next 10 minutes, it will get even darker.

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Step 4: Sand & Finish

After the wood has dried, give it a light sanding with 400-grit sandpaper. This will help lighten up the stain and even out the color. The more you sand the wood, the more you’ll remove the stain (obviously), but it can produce some unique variations in the grain – up to you, but again, be sure to experiment on some scrap wood before applying to your final project.

For the finish, I use a clear semi-gloss Poly Whey Furniture Finish from Vermont Natural Coatings. This is a really easy-to-use finish with low odor, quick dry time, and it feels great to the touch. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and you have it shipped right to you from Amazon. I like to lightly sand with 400-grit sandpaper after each coat to keep that super smooth feel, and I would recommend applying 3 coats of this finish. Be aware that the finish will change the color of the wood slightly to give it a warmer, almost tarnished hue.

Below is a side-by-side of how far we’ve come with the unfinished pinewood (left) to wood with the tea-stain and oxidation solution (middle) to the wood with 3 coats of finish.

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So what will you build now that you know how easy it is to get this vintage wood look? I’ve got a few projects up my sleeve, and when you think about it, the sky’s the limit. Imagine building your own farm table or a little box for holding those bathroom towels that you’re not suppose to use – whatever! Below is a wall-mount bottle open I made. My goal was to make it look like the plank of wood came from an old crate from the brewery.

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Let me know if you have any ideas in the comments below, and I would love to see what you build.

And a special thank to Hillary at Friendly Home for all the inspiration for his post.

97 Comments on “Oxidize! Getting A Vintage Wood Look

  1. Pingback: Cheers! Create Your Personal Wall-Mount Bottle Opener – Gadgets and Grain

  2. Fabulous! Very informative – I will definitely give it a try for a feature wall! Thank you very much…

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    • Hi Aaron. I replied to you comment on YouTube as well – thanks for watching! Yes – You can apply the tea at anytime. Just make sure the wood is dry before applying the oxidation solution.

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  3. Thanks for posting this. It seems simple to do for my patio sign I have in mind. Q – Do you recommend sealing with the clear semi-gloss coat (like you used) before I finish the sign? Or after I do all the lettering etc. on the oxidized wood.

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  4. Hey I was wondering about the third piece of wood in the picture, I love the color of that piece as well. What type of stain did you use for that color. Both the grey and tan looks amazing. Thanks for the info.

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    • Hi Thomas. The coloring you’re seeing on that third piece was actually the result of some “yellowing” by the finish I was using. This middle piece of wood is one that just has the oxidation solution applied. Finishes can produce a bit of a yellowing from time to time, and I do like the look it produced. As always, test out your stains and finishes before doing a final product.

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  5. I made barn doors from keln dried limber to keep the twisting down on the frames, and but joint T&G as my inserts.
    I want to use the rough side of the T&G with wire brushed frames go the real rustic look and feel.
    Will your method work on a rough surface?

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    • Applying this solution to a rough surface should work. Just be sure it gets down into the wood, and don’t worry too much about saturating the surface. Areas that received more solution than others won’t look any different. You also will want to use a course brush for application, of course 🙂

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  6. I wonder if doing the tea trick to add tannins to pine would allow you to fume it with ammonia. Fuming with ammonia is used on oak (which has lots of tannins naturally) to age it. I might experiment with that.

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  7. I tried this on a test piece of oak plywood after letting the solution sit for 24 hours and my board looks black. I haven’t sanded it yet, but I’m worried something went wrong. Is this a normal response?

    Thank you!

    Erin

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    • I haven’t tried this with oak, but i experienced the same thing with pine – it almost had a charcoal finish to it. Sanding (very lightly) will help tone down the black. I also noticed that the colored lighted up after applying my finish.

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      • Thank you so much! I’m new to this and I’m in a woodshop class building some furniture for my home. I should have my piece lol it together by next week, so just trying to decide on my finishes and trim. I saw your video on how to age and it is beautiful. I really hope to accomplish the same look on my oak. But I’ll keep working my test piece with sanding to see what I get. Thank you for your reply. 🙂

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  8. I have been working with this recipe/method now for several days and my white board pine is getting too BROWN… I really want the grays. Any suggestions??

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    • I’m not sure what could be causing that. I’m going to make a new video here soon to test out what variables affect color. How much steel wool did you use?

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  9. Hi There, can’t wait to try this out. For a finish, is it okay to varnish with an oil based or water based varnish, or could I use Tung Oil?……Thanks

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  10. Those look beautiful. Going to try this on some 2×6 Doug Fir’s for a bunk bed set. We like the darker, “pre finished” look. Any tips on how to retain the darker color?

    Best,

    Ben

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    • Hi Ben. Thanks! I haven’t done this myself, so test it first, but imagine applying a second coat (or multiple coats for that matter) would help produce a darker color. Good look! Would love to see a picture of the bunk beds.

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  11. Hi! I’m REALLY excited about trying this. We’ve been looking for the perfect weathered grey and have purchased multiple stains to no avail. My one question is did you apply the steel/vinegar 3 times or do you mean you applied each of the solutions once?

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    • I applied just one coast of the steel wool/vinegar solution. I just used three different boards in this video because I was working multiple projects.

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  12. My oak wood has been sanded, I want to oxidize with your method. Due to it being sanded, should I leave the steel wool in for a shorter amount of time?

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    • Interesting question, and I don’t know at this time. I want to make a follow up video about how differing lengths of time affect the strength of the solution. If you can, test this on a piece of scrap oak and see how it turns out.

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  13. We recently tried this and our furniture came out a rusty color. Can you think of what might have gone wrong? I know my husband used fine wool and not superfine.

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  14. Hi. I loved this and want to do it on my knotty pine ceiling boards. Is there a combination or ratio of steel wool to Vinegar that gives a more griege or beigy gray color than such a full gray color?? Thank you.

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    • I’m not sure if it will give you the exact color you’re looking for, but if you apply coffee instead of tea. That will give you more of a grey-brown. Test it out and see what you think.

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  15. I would like to have the dark steel stain with a little whiter undercoat ant suggestions?

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  16. Hi man. I’m using your idea to upcycle a dining. One small problem – I live in Ireland and I can’t get your Polywhey Furniture Finish. Can you recommend a close second best? Brilliant tutorial, thanks for the inspiration. Ed

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    • Hi Ed. Sorry for the late reply, but I was waiting to get a response from the Poly Whey folks to get back to me. I haven’t heard from them, so the best I can tell you is to use any polyurethane that has the finish you want. Good luck!

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  17. I wonder if it is crucial that the Wood is new and untreated, or if it is possible to sand down and oxidize some Wood that has already been treated with funiture Oil and a finisher?
    Thank you for a great guide!

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    • This will not work very well to any wood that already has a finish or varnish on it. You would need to completely sand that away in order for the solution to penetrate the wood. Hope that helps and good luck!

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    • It should. But first buy some alder at your local hardware store and test the solution on that piece. Also, make sure you completely sand away the finish on your guitar so the solution is applied on bare wood. Good luck. Would love to see a picture.

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  18. Can you tell me what type of wood you used in the video? Was it cedar or pine?

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  19. Tommy Gun Outdoors. I don’t know. Grains look great but, multiple samples and all look teak or brownish to me. No sun bleached Greys.I cut the black tea in half and added 1 more cup of water to the tea,reheated it,and at best I’m getting dirty grey with 2 coats of distilled vinegar and 000 steal wool. 5 day old ,36 hour old and 60 hour old… Also ,will the tea keep safe for days or do you have to remake fresh tea? 10 bags in two cups of water is very dark….Im going on the aged pine theory iv interpreted from your article,which should be dark or lite grey. Haven’t put a finish on yet. Will get back to you.I may have mis interpreted the grey barn board look. Thanks.

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  20. Hi. I made the vinegar and steel wool solution, BUT it went total brown like rust, why ?? I used the normal household clear vinegar that you make food with like pickles and a large among of steelwool, already 3 days later it went brown, I have seen some use the same type of vinegar on Youtube, is there a difference on the type?, here in denmark it’s called (lager eddike) wine vinegar is what google translate it to, contains fermented vinegar from (water and fermented alcohol) with E223 preservative and (Natriumdisulfit) sodium metabisulphite. What was wrong ???

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  21. What kind of finish could I use to ensure I keep the grey color, like in the second board?

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  22. I let the solution sit for 4+ days, used the black tea and applied them to cedar. It got slightly darker and had a very light gray tint, but never got close to the dark gray look as expected. Is there something else that I could try? Thanks.

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  23. Hello, thank you for your creative experiments. I have ammonia for fuming oak, wondering if you know whether it would be too strong a reaction ( aka dangerous!) to try the steel wool in a jar of ammonia?
    Thanks!

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  24. Hello, thank you for your creative experiments. I have ammonia for fuming oak, wondering if you know whether it would be too strong a reaction ( aka dangerous!) to try the steel wool in a jar of ammonia?
    Thanks!

    Like

  25. Hello! my husband and I attempted to make the stain for a hand me down oak table that was hideous before our attempt but I digress, the color turned out amazing but half of the table is much darker than the other. It seems to have soaked up the stain more maybe? do you have any suggestions on how to remedy this? I am not aiming for perfection, rustic and flawed is more our style. Thanks in advance! (I must admit I already added another coat to the lighter side and that did not work!)

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    • Hi Courtney. Since this is a chemical stain instead of a typical color stain, the reaction of the wood can be unpredictable. What could be happening here is that the wood in the table, although the same species, could have come from different lots. Each board can react to the wood differently. Hope that helps.

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  26. I’ve seen a lot of videos on aging wood but I like yours the best. I want to stain clear cedar. Anyone tried that yet?
    Gypsypainter

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  27. Hello, I’m in the process of trying this method. I’m finding that the wood looks black once the vinegar solution is applied. Would you recommend adding more vinegar to the solution to lighten it?

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  28. Sorry my question was do you sand after staining…or should you sand then stain?

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  29. Hello. I’ve seen the video and I’ve done without the tea just to try.

    How can I remove the smell from the vinegar in the wood?

    I’ve just applied it some hours ago. Will it disappear?

    Thanks in advance.

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  30. Hi
    I used vinegar and steel wool and now my wood looks very orange. I am not sure what to do? I just read your blog after I applied it. Can I apply the black tea on top of it ? or should I sand it and repeat the process from the beginning?

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    • Hi Sarah. What type of wood are you using? Is the wood unfinished? Since the black tea only provides and ever-so-slight grey tint to the wood, I’m not sure that it will balance out an already orange tint. Let me know what kind of wood you are using and we’ll trouble shoot from there.

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  31. hello there, thanks for sharing, this is a rock solid stain! I tried searching for 0000 grade wool on my country with no luck, any advise using other ? I just found one marked as “Abrasion Level: Hard Work”

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    • Hi Luis, you can use other steel wool that is thicker. You might just have to wait longer for the wool to dissolve in the vinegar to get the solution to the right potency.

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  32. I work a lot with red oak and birch plywood, sometimes I want to put darker colors in the deeper grain.Can you color the vinegar water to give it red tones or will it basically go black…..Mike Modesto ca.

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    • Hey Mike. Really interesting question, and I’m just going to venture a guess since I haven’t added any colors to the solution before. Since the solution is basically an active chemical reaction between the vinegar and the steel wool, I would not add any colors to tint the wood. Rather, I would tint the wood before applying the solution. To get red, I’ve seen people use look-aid or you could even use some commercial stains that are red. I am going to make a follow up video to answer all these questions down the road, but I hope the answer helps for now. Test some things out and let me know how it turns out. My email is jeremy [at] gadgetsandgrain [dot] com

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  33. Thanks for the great method. I would like to weather an outdoor sofa I am building. Do you think there would be any problem if I use an outdoor polyurethane finish over the stained wood?

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    • No issues that I am aware of. If you can, test the stain and then the poly on some scrap wood to see how they react, but it should work just fine.

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  34. Hello, I’m going to attempt this on my new $2500 front door. I’m going to try it on a bit of the matching molding of the same wood type first. I was wondering if you could shoot me your email address so I can send you a picture of the door and get any quick bits of advice you may have. Much appreciated!

    Like

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