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:

  • unfinished, untreated, and sanded wood
  • white vinegar
  • #0000 grade steel wool
  • large (24 oz) glass jar
  • black tea (~10 bags)
  • disposable paint brushes
  • 400 grit sandpaper
  • some type of finish to seal and protect the wood

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.

IMG_3960

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.

 

63 thoughts on “Oxidize! Getting A Vintage Wood Look

  1. Kelly August 15, 2016 / 2:22 am

    How much area would the 24oz. Solution cover?

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    • gadgetsandgrain January 26, 2017 / 11:20 pm

      Hi Kelly. That’s a great question, especially as you start to consider staining large areas. I can’t give you an answer based on personal experience, but if I use other wood stain products as a reference (like this one: http://www.minwax.com/wood-products/stains/minwax-wood-finish) then 24 ounces could cover approximately 112 square feet. That’s just a guesstimate though. Good luck!

      Like

  2. Susan January 15, 2017 / 8:59 pm

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

    Like

  3. aaronfields January 17, 2017 / 12:46 am

    Hey man. When should you do the tea? Anytime during the 4-5 day wait time for the steel wool?

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    • gadgetsandgrain January 26, 2017 / 11:31 pm

      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.

      Like

  4. anjuli January 18, 2017 / 7:38 pm

    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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    • gadgetsandgrain January 26, 2017 / 11:32 pm

      You’ll want to apply the finish last after you do all the letter and applying the oxidation solution.

      Like

  5. Thomas January 21, 2017 / 2:03 pm

    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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    • gadgetsandgrain January 26, 2017 / 11:37 pm

      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.

      Like

  6. Larry February 3, 2017 / 11:57 pm

    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?

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain February 10, 2017 / 6:42 pm

      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 🙂

      Like

  7. Sublime February 10, 2017 / 6:21 pm

    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.

    Like

  8. Erin February 10, 2017 / 6:32 pm

    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

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain February 10, 2017 / 6:47 pm

      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.

      Like

      • Erin February 10, 2017 / 7:43 pm

        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. 🙂

        Like

    • Sublime February 10, 2017 / 7:55 pm

      Oak has a lot of tannins in it naturally. You might try skipping the tea step.

      Like

  9. Jklecko February 26, 2017 / 1:53 am

    Could you do this with a butcher block island countertop and safely seal it?

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain July 31, 2017 / 5:43 pm

      It should work! Just make sure you’re using a food-safe finish to seal the wood. Sounds like an awesome project.

      Like

  10. Jennnifer March 6, 2017 / 12:33 am

    What wood did you use in the demonstration? Is that cedar or pine?

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain July 31, 2017 / 5:44 pm

      I used pine wood in this video. I’m hoping to make a new video soon to test the solution on a variety of woods.

      Like

  11. Beth March 9, 2017 / 2:56 pm

    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??

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain July 31, 2017 / 5:46 pm

      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?

      Like

  12. Seth March 19, 2017 / 11:43 pm

    Is this video with the species white pine or yellow pine?

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  13. Susan April 5, 2017 / 3:36 am

    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

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain July 31, 2017 / 5:49 pm

      It should be, but always test your finished before applying your final project.

      Like

  14. Ben April 5, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    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

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain July 31, 2017 / 5:51 pm

      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.

      Like

  15. Vilnis Porinsh April 9, 2017 / 2:49 pm

    and how did you get that picture on wood? some photo/drawing transfering?

    Like

  16. crobar April 20, 2017 / 7:45 pm

    What about instant tea, would it work?

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain July 31, 2017 / 6:04 pm

      Not sure, but test it, and let me know how it turns out. I think it should work.

      Like

  17. Stefanie April 26, 2017 / 2:14 am

    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?

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain July 31, 2017 / 6:06 pm

      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.

      Like

  18. Marc Dettmer June 6, 2017 / 4:06 am

    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?

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain July 31, 2017 / 6:13 pm

      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.

      Like

  19. Marc Dettmer June 7, 2017 / 9:30 pm

    Have I done something wrong?

    Like

  20. Steph June 8, 2017 / 8:45 pm

    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.

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain September 21, 2017 / 4:02 am

      I’m not sure what could be going on Steph. What kind of wood is the furniture? Did your husband also apply a finish?

      Like

  21. Michelle June 10, 2017 / 10:57 pm

    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.

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain September 21, 2017 / 4:04 am

      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.

      Like

  22. Layla rodriguez June 22, 2017 / 5:09 am

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

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain September 21, 2017 / 4:06 am

      Try using a really light colored wood like pine and after applying the steel wool stain, sand the wood to reveal more of the base wood color.

      Like

  23. Red July 1, 2017 / 4:36 pm

    Do you think brew coffee will work also instead of tea?

    Like

  24. Ed July 9, 2017 / 10:09 pm

    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

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain September 21, 2017 / 4:09 am

      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!

      Like

  25. Youngdane July 17, 2017 / 1:08 pm

    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!

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain September 21, 2017 / 4:10 am

      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!

      Like

  26. Pierre July 18, 2017 / 2:33 am

    Would that work with alder. I would like to try it on an alder guitar..

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain September 21, 2017 / 4:13 am

      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.

      Like

  27. Jim July 23, 2017 / 12:32 pm

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

    Like

  28. Tommy Gun Outdoors. July 28, 2017 / 10:49 pm

    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.

    Like

  29. mickydfw August 16, 2017 / 11:45 pm

    how did you do apply the artwork on the bottle opener?

    Like

  30. Egon Sorensen August 24, 2017 / 12:11 pm

    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 ???

    Like

  31. Jeanette August 28, 2017 / 5:30 pm

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

    Like

    • gadgetsandgrain September 21, 2017 / 4:17 am

      I don’t have a good answer for that at this time. I’m hoping to run some more tests and post a new video.

      Like

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