Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DIY Stain: the deal with steel wool

I'm a lazy crafter disguised as a "reuse" or "repurpose" crafter. I prefer to use what is already in my home because I loathe putting 3 kids in the van and dragging them to Hobby Lobby, or Home Depot, or the Restore. All my "free time" (when 2 of them are at school) is spent cleaning, or grocery shopping (another place to avoid going with 3 kids under the age of six), or taking my weekly shower (wait til you have kids, then you can comment on my "natural musk"). 

So, projects that are quick, don't involve buying anything, or are small enough to store on the counter as I pick away at them sloooooowly ( my husband so looooooooooooves that! lol) are my favorite projects.

DIY stain didn't quite fall into all 3 of those categories (we don't keep steel wool around regularly, if ever). After googling several homemade stain recipes, I decided that steel wool was optional enough to skip. Yes! Trip to the store avoided! But, this is only true if you don't mind a lighter stain color. 

Instead of a quickly made stain to finish up my shutter headboard (((((( I ended up delaying the project for over two weeks while I figured out ways to avoid putting steel wool into the jar. 

We'll ignore the obvious point that somewhere in those two weeks I was already at the store. 

new ingredients added to the same jar with the same vinegar
As you can see below, the tea&vinegar stain did highlight the wood's natural grain, while pretty, I was really looking for a darker overall color.  You know, like a stain.
tea & vinegar stain
Somewhere in blogland someone suggested adding coffee grounds to create a more brown stain. Yes, coffee grounds did do that....but not as dark as I was envisioning for this project.

Finally, in frustration, I found some steel wool in my husbands grill cleaning tools and after a good washing I chucked it in the jar. As you can see, BIG difference in color!

Why? why? why? is steel wool so essential to DIY stain? While researching the answer, because I really wanted to know why letting coffee and tea sit for almost two weeks wasn't creating the brown I wanted, I ran across this link: It uses sci-ency words like tannin, iron acetate, oxidize, and acedic acid. Oh, and BTW, ANY steel will work: nails, staples, steel shavings (because if you don't have steel wool around you certainly should have shaved steel! lol).

Here are a few projects I've used this stain on. I tried to compare it to an unstained or alternately stained piece.

DIY stain

UPDATE: Aug. 20, 2015
This mixture included a few rusty nails/screws to deepen the color. Click Here to see the full post.

Take away lesson: avoid avoidance, its worth the effort to do it right the first time. 

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  1. I had no idea you could make your own stain! This is such a cool idea, I wonder if there's anything else you could add to change the color more? We just re-did our back deck, and I kept all of the wood from the old one we tore up. I really want to experiment with this on some of that wood :-) Thanks for sharing, this is awesome!

  2. A woman after my own heart. I thought I was the only one who came up with stuff because I didn't want to haul my butt to the store:)

    I can't wait to try this stain-- thanks!