How to create your own wood stain using household items such as vinegar, ammonia, nails, tea, coffee, and other items to produce a safe and natural color for your woodworking projects.
As a do it yourselfer there are times when you may want to try something different to make a woodworking or refinishing project uniquely yours. An interesting way to accomplish this would be to make a natural, non-toxic wood stain from ingredients found in your kitchen, garage, and garden. Coffee, tea, vinegar, walnut hulls and various berries and flowers have been used for hundreds of years to stain wood and you can make your own natural wood stain the same way.
When making a natural wood stain, test your mixture on a scrap piece of wood that is identical to the wood in you project. Remember the wood stain will absorb at different rates depending on the grain pattern.
An easy way to stain wood is to use brewed tea. To create a dark color, boil four or five tea bags in two cups of water until you have a deep tea concentrate. Brush the hot tea onto your wood to stain the surface. Adding several coats will create a darker color. Since there are several different teas, the colors will vary with each variety. Green tea will produce little of no color difference to most wood species except very light pine or basswood.
For a medium to dark walnut stain, brew some strong coffee and let it cool and apply the stain with a natural bristle brush or rag. Use a heavy coat and allow the coffee stain to absorb into the wood. The stain color will deepen depending on how long you let the stain sit on the wood. After about ten minutes wipe the surface of the wood to determine the color; apply an additional coat if desired.
Black Walnut Hulls
Black walnut hulls, soaked for several days, create a dark wood stain. Strain the mixture before you use it. For a deeper color you can boil the hulls first, and then allow them to steep. Walnut hulls can stain clothing easily so wear rubber gloves and old clothing when working with them. Immature black walnuts are green and resemble an apple. Ripe black walnuts usually fall to the ground and are dark brown. Green hulls will form a yellow stain that will turn brown.
Immature Black Walnut
Mature Black Walnuts
Black Raspberries or Blackberries
Blackberries and black raspberries are an effective wood stain when crushed and then rubbed onto wood. Allow the berry pulp to dry on the wood, and then wipe it away. Berry stains will fade in direct sunlight, so this method is better for wood that stays indoors. This type of stain is often used on toys as a non-toxic alternative to paints. You can also apply a UV resistant sealant to reduce the chance of fading.
Stacking children’s toy with beet, raspberry, and clear coat on maple.
The acid in vinegar reacts with various materials, typically metals, to create a stain. The vinegar and metal need to steep for several days or up to a week before using. Vinegar and copper pipe or pennies will produce a pale blue-green stain. Vinegar and steel wool or common nails will produce a brick red stain. A combination of tea and nails in vinegar will produce a black stain.
For a dark gray or ebony stain, soak iron nails in a jar of vinegar for several days. After the initial application the color will be light, but as it dries, the wood will turn silvery gray and with additional coats of stain it can turn almost black.
Keep track of how many applications it takes to get your desired result.
You can make a brown stain by soaking chewing tobacco in one pint of ammonia and one pint of water. Cover the solution with an airtight lid and store it in a cool, dry place for 24 hours. Strain the mixture and brush the liquid stain onto the wood and allow it to dry. Store the stain in an airtight container until you are ready to use it.
Natural wood stains will often change with age to produce a desirable muted finish that will give your project an arts and crafts look. Once you get the hang of creating your own natural wood stains, you can experiment with other materials such as dried flower petals, cherries, carrots, sweet potatoes, tree bark, clay soils, and more. You should stay away from citrus as the peels contain oils and the citric acid can dissolve an sealer that is applied on top of it.