Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

How to Age Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool

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Learn how to age wood with vinegar and steel wool and see the effect of different vinegar solutions on 10 different types of wood.

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

There are a lot of posts out there on how to age wood with vinegar and steel wool. The posts are good in that they explain the ratios of vinegar and steel wool (and sometimes water or tea), but you only see the results on one project they made or maybe a few test strips of pine or cedar. I wanted to know more, so I started playing around a bit.

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About a year ago, I mixed up a batch to see what was what. I used one quart of apple cider vinegar and one pillow of #0000 steel wool. After about 4 days, the steel wool had mostly dissolved. I added one tablespoon of black tea leaves, and let that steep for about 30 minutes. I then strained the mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer. I named that batch “blackwash” due to the liquid’s inky-black color when in the jar. The results it gave me on pine skewed red, not black (or gray, as some folks claimed). You can see those projects here and here.

***Update: a reader who goes by the handle Lazy Gardens pointed out why I wasn’t able to get the gray color I was after with my pre-mixed blackwash:

Here’s why … the tannin from the tea leaves precipitated out the iron acetate, so it couldn’t get into the wood.

If you brush the tannin solution (strong cheap tea, the water from soaking acorns or hickory nuts, etc) into the wood separately, it soaks into the fibers and the chemical reaction happens in the fibers. All those black particles makes the wood turn grey.

Doesn’t matter which order you do the solutions, but separate applications is the key.

I can confirm that separate applications does the trick. That was a great piece of advice! That’s what I love about this job – no matter how much I teach myself, there is still so much left to discover, and I love it when I can learn from our readers!***

I was looking for something to turn wood gray, like beautiful weathered cedar. I had read that distilled vinegar and steel wool would turn wood gray, so I mixed up a batch of that. This time, I added a pillow of #0000 steel wool to 1/2 quart distilled vinegar. That solution sat for almost two weeks before the vinegar oxidized and broke down the steel wool. I strained out the remaining particles with a coffee filter and then added 1/2 quart water. When I took it to the basement to try it out, I grabbed three pieces of scrap wood: pallet wood (which I think was pine, as most pallets are either Southern yellow pine or oak, and it definitely wasn’t oak), milled pine from Home Depot and cedar. The results were interesting, and not what I expected. It had piqued my curiosity. I gathered up scraps of my most commonly used woods: pine (from pallet and from mill), cedar, oak, maple, mahogany, cherry, jatoba, walnut and poplar. I gathered three scraps of each, one for each of my solutions and one to stay untreated for comparison. The results of this experiment really blew me away! The most striking transformation was oak treated with the distilled vinegar and steel wool solution. The most beautiful and rustic was the cedar treated with the distilled solution. The most unexpected was the maple treated with the distilled solution.

There are infinite possibilities when creating and working with these solutions. You may dilute with water or not. You may add more or less steel wool. You may let the steel wool steep for minutes, days, weeks, months or years! My blackwash is now about a year old, while my (let’s call it) “graywash” is only a couple of weeks old. Get creative and have fun. There are no rules! Want to try adding lemon juice? Go ahead! Blueberries? Why not? Red maple leaves? Sounds like a great plan! Who knows what you may discover!

In case you can’t read the writing on the boards, if they are stacked vertically, the bottom is the untreated, the middle is the distilled vinegar solution, and the top is the apple cider solution. If the boards are lined up horizontally, the left board is the untreated, the middle is the distilled vinegar solution, and the right is the apple cider solution.

Southern yellow pine pallet wood aged with vinegar and steel wool

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Home Depot milled pine aged with vinegar and steel wool

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Cedar aged with vinegar and steel wool

The distilled vinegar solution gave the cedar a beautiful rustic look!

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Oak aged with vinegar and steel wool

Holy crap! The distilled solution turned that oak black!

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Maple aged with vinegar and steel wool

The maple was the most interesting and the only wood to turn gray. If you want the weathered gray look, grab some maple for your next project!

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Walnut aged with vinegar and steel wool

Walnut is generally not stained or treated except with polyurethanes and lacquers, but here’s what happened with the solutions. It could come in handy if you have a light-colored piece of walnut, but you really want it to be darker.

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Mahogany aged with vinegar and steel wool

Again, mahogany is so beautiful on its own when finished…but I have to say I really like both the solutions. I may try finishing a treated piece with polyurethane to see how it looks!

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Jatoba aged with vinegar and steel wool

Jatoba is a wood I use in my cutting boards. It’s not something you’re likely to encounter. But just in case…

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Cherry aged with vinegar and steel wool

Cherry also gave a grayish result with the distilled solution, but not as striking as the maple.

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

Poplar aged with vinegar and steel wool

Poplar can be a tricky wood to work with, because it does not accept stain very well. But both of these solutions dramatically increased its otherwise-drab appearance. For this one, I especially like the red tone of the apple cider solution – it’s almost like mahogany.

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

I hope you found some value in this little post and learned a bit about how to age wood with vinegar and steel wool. If you discover anything cool, please let me know in the comments!

Aging Wood with Vinegar and Steel Wool | DIY wood aging techniques for several wood types | DIY wood aging solution recipe | How to faux age a wood in minutes | DIY black wash recipe | Woodworking | TheNavagePatch.com

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72 Comments

  1. Very informative post, saving this on a couple of my boards for later! Thank you for sharing with us at the To Grandma’s house we go link party! Hope to see you tomorrow when the next party starts!

  2. This is amazing! I’m pinning it for future reference because it is absolutely amazing the way it works! I can’t wait to try it!
    Kate | The Organized Dream

  3. I love using steel wool and vinegar for staining wood. You’re right, though, there aren’t many posts out there that show how different all the treatments can be. Thanks for sharing so much detailed information! I’ll be adding this to my extra resources list in my post about steel wool and vinegar.

  4. Very useful post Greg! I did this last year and here is my story. I didn’t have any of your type of steel wool so after 3 days, in the apple cider vinegar nothing happened. I ended up adding some rusty nails and boy did that do the trick. And Greg I also forgot to seal it! Shhh… don’t tell Handan!!

    1. Thanks, Mary! It’s funny…when I did the batch in cider vinegar, the steel wool was gone in three days, but when I did the batch in white vinegar, there was no change even after a week! Eventually, and very slowly, the wool did dissolve in the white vinegar, but it took a lot longer than everyone said it would.

      1. Just read your post after doing some experimenting of my own. I found that when I followed the instructions that others have provided, my solution didn’t change either. After 1-2 weeks, nothing but nice-looking steel wool in clear clean white vinegar. I took the steel wool out, let it sit in the sun and air until rusty, then reinserted into the vinegar. It dissolved completely in another few days. On subsequent batches, I started by wetting the steel wool first, with vinegar, letting it rust, then letting it soak. The process is much quicker that way.

  5. ” I added one tablespoon of black tea leaves, and let that steep for about 30 minutes. I then strained the mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer. I named that batch “blackwash” due to the liquid’s inky-black color when in the jar. The results it gave me on pine skewed red, not black (or gray, as some folks claimed). ”

    Here’s why … the tannin from the tea leaves precipitated out the iron acetate, so it couldn’t get into the wood.

    If you brush the tannin solution (strong cheap tea, the water from soaking acorns or hickory nuts, etc) into the wood separately, it soaks into the fibers and the chemical reaction happens in the fibers. All those black particles makes the wood turn grey.

    Doesn’t matter which order you do the solutions, but separate applications is the key.

    1. Thank you! That is great info. I’m going to update the post with your information. What is your name, so I can give you credit (first name is fine, or both, if you prefer)?

      1. Walnut – for big domestic kinds, soak the hulls and eat the rest.
        Wild walnuts – the tiny ones that are really bitter. Those you can break open and soak. Same with acorns.

        If you do this, do NOT let them ferment. It’s very stinky.

  6. What grit did you sand the wood to before applying the black tea? I’m assuming the black tea will raise the grain a little. When do you knock down the grain? Do you seal the wood with wax or poly? If you choose poly, is this considered a water based or oil based stain?

    1. Hi Lisa, for this demo, I didn’t sand the wood at all. If I were applying it to a real project, I’d let the wood and the project dictate how much I would sand, but 150-220 is usually fine. Again, your wood will dictate if you need to knock it back down after applying the wash. If it feels fuzzy, or you can see the grain popping up, you can knock it back down a bit. Sealing depends on the intended use. Sometimes just wax is ok for a low-traffic item. But for something that needs more protection, you can use either a water-base or an oil-based polyurethane, since the wash is water-based. On top of the poly, I would finish with a coat of wax for additional protection.

      1. Thank you! I’ve just sanded off some Danish oil that was horribly blotchy on the pine bed frame I made. I’m hoping the black tea will act as a wood conditioner (I’ve read other people use black tea as a wood conditioner under commercial stain) and that the steel wool and vinegar will give a more even color. Does the steel wool and vinegar need to just dry or cure before sealing? My main concern is the stain coming off on my mattress or sheets.

        1. Hi Lisa, it doesn’t need to cure – just dry. If you’re at all nervous, just try a test piece of wood to put your mind at ease. Good luck! 🙂

  7. Great post. I’m using rough maple and ran some tests last night, one with distilled solution only and the other with brushing tea on first. Both resulted in a heavy, even grey finish. Very cool, but not really natural. I did not dilute the solution with water.

    I’m wondering if your apple cider solution yielded a different color because of the apple cider or because the tea precipitated out in it first. I’m thinking the maple would need brown undertones with streaks of grey to look like it was aged and not just stained. Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

    Thanks again for the post.

  8. Hi, and thank you for this great instructable on the effects of the stain on different woods. You don’t say it specifically in the article, but did you use the tea on the pine before you stained it? It doesn’t look as tho you did since it’s not very dark, but before I start staining, I want to be sure because I would like the same result that you got with the distilled vinegar. Thank you.

        1. It’s a question of tannin–which in turn is a question of what wood you are working on. Oak to the greatest extent, other woods to a lesser extent, and pine hardly at all, contain tannins; that’s what reacts with the iron in the vinegar to produce the gray color. So if you are working with pine, you need to paint it with tea first, to put tannins from the tea in the pine; then the wood will stain properly.

  9. Fantastic post – so thorough! I just now learned of this technique. I wanted to learn more, and your article popped up first thing. I will be saving this article, and going to IG to see more of your work!

  10. I was just thinking about doing this on an old vanity I’m not sure what kind of wood it is ( I’m new to redoing old furniture ) but I love all your research that will help me figure it out. I’ll keep you posted Thank you Greg

  11. Thanks for checking out a few “recipes” and giving me a place to start! Love reading about your projects – I always pick up something new!

  12. Hi I was wondering if you found any combinations or have any ideas of what combo might help me get the look between the distilled color and the acv color on the pine wood?

    1. I can’t say for sure, Athena. You could try mixing the two? Most of this is all trial and error until you hit upon something you like. Good luck to you! 🙂

  13. I have used this technique several times on six pieces of unfinished furniture, over the last several years and have loved the results. I do want to share an unexpected experience with my latest piece. I have used this process with four pieces made from parawood (rubberwood) and two from pine. One piece was a large custom-built unhewn pine cabinet and one piece was an Amish finish grade cabinet built out of pine. On each piece, I used tea solution and then the vinegar-steel wool solution (waiting approximately an hour). I was expected gray, but got brown. However, I was not unhappy with the brown. However, in my latest piece, the Amish cabinet, it must have been made of two different pines; the body of the cabinet stained brown but the cabinet doors stained reddish. The whole cabinet was treated the same with the tea solution. I am not happy with the result and will be using commercial stain to even out the color.

    1. Hi Pat, I’ve noticed the same thing with pine. There are different species out there, and the lumber they give can be wildly different colors. I know that reddish pine well, and I don’t like it either!

  14. Pat –
    How did the parawood do? I have had good luck with it and oil-based commercial stains.

    Pines are tricky.

  15. Your Maple example introduced 3 additional pieces, each varying in shades similar to the full sized cuts above them. If all maple, can you describe the difference in effect? Did you apply additional treatments? Thanks!

    1. I had two different maple boards lying around – one with pronounced grain (the bigger pieces) and the more standard type with minimal contrasting grain. Since the two types were so different in appearance, I figured I’d try the techniques on both. Though they were dissimilar in original appearance, they behaved the same when treated with the solutions.

  16. I’ve used this distilled vinegar solution on fir, being careful to test on sample boards… to a nice grey driftwood-like color. after drying for a couple weeks I covered it with clear polyurethane for protection. that was a few years ago. The wall has since turned a dark brown color. It seems the vinegar solution is still working. What can be done to prevent this happening?

  17. Fir will continue to age to its normal deep orange-tan color. Combined with the blue-grey of the iron acetate, you have brown.

  18. I’m trying this effect on a waterfall dresser and vanity I’m redoing and the dresser drawers are turning out great.. but, the vanity drawers are purple!! How do I fix this??

    1. You can’t fix it unless you sand it off to lighten the color, and that might remove the veneer. Careful hand sanding might be possible.

      The drawers turned purple because whatever wood they used was high tannin – this is a fun method, but totally unpredictable and permanent. You have to test, mess with solution strength and still test again.

  19. I love this technique, we used it on a farmers table my husband made-now we want to protect(at least the top) and are running into problems. Tried poly and the product changed my beautiful silver gray table to brown, which is not what I want. Tried wax, and that changed the color darker- trued sprays, too uneven. Does anyone know what works best, without changing the color ? Also- I let my vinegar solution soak for a few days, and nothing happened so I thought I would try it anyway on the black tea infused pine—-it worked just fine. You don’t necessarily have to see a change in the vinegar solution. My steel wool looked brand new sitting in the jar…I don’t think it matters. The change was instant, and beautiful!