Staining Wood with Steel Wool and Vinegar

brian forbes westfarthing woodworks author biography about me experience

Staining wood with steel wool and vinegar is an easy way to incorporate an older method of chemically staining wood. Modern stains use dyes and pigments to add color to wood. When you use this steel wool and vinegar recipe, you are chemically altering the wood itself. This is different than adding a color layer like with a modern stain.

If You Like My Posts, You'll Love My Books!

See My Woodworking Books Here!

Steel Wool and Vinegar Stain: The Ingredients

staining wood with steel wool and vinegarThere is a small amount of preparation that you need to do before you can start staining wood with this recipe. First, head to the store and buy a bottle of Distilled White Vinegar, a couple 8oz. glass jars, and a package of 0000 steel wool.

These ingredients only cost a few dollars, and can be used to make quite a large volume of wood stain.

It is important to buy the exact ingredients on the list, and make sure that the steel wool is the 0000 type. Steel wool comes in a few different types. Each are marked with a scale ranging from 0 to 0000. The 0000 variety is the thinnest, and will work best in the reaction.

See Also: Rustic Wood Staining Technique

Making the Wood Stain

staining wood with steel wool and vinegarIn an 8oz. glass jar, put one of the 0000 steel wool pads. Then pour in the distilled white vinegar until the pad is covered. This will fill the jar to within 1/2 an inch from the top.

Free Woodworking Tips Every Monday!

Add Me To The List!

Make sure to wear your safety equipment, as you do not want to get vinegar in your eyes.

Leave the mixture to rest with the lid off for several days or several weeks. The batch in the picture was made only four days ago, and it has already turned color nicely. Some woodworkers have seen their batches take longer, but this is a little higher steel wool to vinegar ratio, so it makes a concentrated liquid.

Essentially, the acid in the vinegar eats the steel wool, creating a solution that chemically alters wood. Strain your steel wool and vinegar wood stain through a coffee filter or a paper towel, and the resulting liquid is your stain.

See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing

Applying Steel Wool and Vinegar Stain

staining wood with steel wool and vinegarDepending on the type of wood that you are working with, the reaction can be different. Some woods take a while to darken, some darken quickly. Others darken quite a bit, while some don’t change much at all.

On this piece of Briar, it only took about five seconds to darken.

Briar is a commonly used wood for making tobacco pipes. In finishing, a dark under stain is applied, and then sanded back, leaving only the dark grain. This steel wool and vinegar stain does the job of an under stain very well. It also dries fairly quickly.

staining wood with steel wool and vinegarWear the same protective equipment that you use when handling stain and finishing, and apply an even coat of your homemade wood stain to the surface.

Free Woodworking Tips Every Monday!

Add Me To The List!

Depending on the wood, it will darken over time as the solution begins working on the wood.

Leave the piece for several hours to allow the stain to have the maximum impact on the wood, and you can also leave the surface extra wet to increase the effect.

On this piece, I left a layer of liquid on the top, and allowed it to penetrate into the wood. The more time this wood stain stays on the piece, the more of an effect it will have.

See Also: 9 Unbelievable Wood Finishing Myths for Beginners

Sanding Your Homemade Wood Stain For Contrast

staining wood with steel wool and vinegarHere is another piece of Briar that I stained with vinegar yesterday. I have had good luck with sanding after a couple hours. However, leaving it overnight can produce better results on some woods.

Sand the surface with very fine sandpaper to pull back some of the wood stain. This reveals the grain, and gives it contrast.

If You Like My Posts, You'll Love My Books!

See My Woodworking Books Here!

Briar is a burl, so there is a lot of grain to see when it has a coating of steel wool and vinegar wood stain. You can control the amount of color simply by varying the sanding. If you want more black, sand less. If you want less black, sand more.

I made my wedding ring from Briar, and used this same contrast staining technique.

After sanding the wood, you can now apply a lighter color of stain, which will color the rest of the piece, and add contrast. You can also just finish the piece, and have a very interesting story to tell about how you made your own wood stain.

If you have any questions on Steel Wool and Vinegar Wood Stain, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Also, please share my work with your friends on Pinterest! Happy building.

Post Author-

brian forbes westfarthing woodworks llc owner

  • 20 Years Experience in Woodworking
  • 7 Published Books Available on Amazon
  • 750+ Helpful Posts Written
  • 1 Million+ Words Published

You Can Find My Books on Amazon!

woodworking and guitar making books

Sorry, but nothing matched your filter

An Exclusive Member of Mediavine Home

Westfarthing Woodworks LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.