I was pondering my latest Kijiji find, a set of IKEA nightstands. The stain held a yellow tinge that made me queasy, they definitely wouldn’t suffice. My bedroom, miss-matched furniture and all, held a cooler tone and clashed terribly with the golden-yellow tables. My first thought ventured to a white or cream paint, that would be easy enough! However, as I considered the project, I knew I didn’t want to cover all of the wood as I had done on previous projects. I resolved to leave the top unpainted and dabble into the world of wood stain.
My vision included a beautiful grey toned stain sitting on top of a creamy white painted base. Instead of buying a whole stack of pricey cans to try out, I opted to make my own stain. I was hesitant at first, given my inexperience, but I found a DIY (do-it-yourself) solution that made things easy; a simple wood stain using steel wool and apple cider vinegar. Surprisingly, the process was straight forward and gave me the exact color I was hoping for. A rustic brown with a grey undertone. Here is how I did it:
How to make your own Rustic Wood Stain
- Place 1-3 bunches of steel wool into your jar. For smaller projects, you will only need one, for large wood surfaces you will need more.
- Pour apple cider vinegar into the jar until the steel wool is mostly covered. Seal tightly and put in a safe spot out of direct sunlight.
- Let the solution sit for at least 24 hours. The vinegar will cause the steel wool to dissolve, creating a chemical reaction. Waiting longer than 24 hours is beneficial as this makes the solution more concentrated and effective. I recommend 48 hours, but if you are pressed for time 24 hours will work fine. When the color of the solution is murky and brown it is ready to use.
- Once the wood surface is prepped (sanded, washed, and dried) you can begin applying the stain. Some people recommend using the saturated steel wool directly on the wood surface, but I find this to be extremely messy and sloppy. Instead, I use a large foam brush. Dip your brush in the solution, wipe excess off on the side of the jar, and evenly apply to the wood surface. Have a cloth handy to pick up excess drips or pooling, as the color will dry unevenly if there is too much stain applied. When first applied it will appear to not have any color, but it will deepen as it dries.
- Allow time for the surface to dry between applications. The color will darken with every additional coat. This end table has 4 coats of stain on it.
- OPTIONAL: Once the project is to the desired darkness and completely dry it is beneficial to add a polyurethane coat. This adds durability, protects the finish, and creates a nice sheen. This is optional based on the amount of usage the wood surface will get, and personal preference. Use an old brush that can be discarded after use, and follow the instructions on the can.
Whether you are dabbling in the world of wood, or an experienced refinisher, this simple solution will blow you away. Easy, cheap, and effective: three favorite things when it comes to projects. It’s hard to tell from these photos, but the end result is a stunning brown color with a grey undertone. It pairs beautifully with whites, creams, and any other cool color tone. I can’t wait to see how your projects turn out!