Dye / ageing with; tea, vinegar and steel wool - for wood types with no or low tannins

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Blog entry by mafe posted 05-18-2015 07:39 PM 10510 reads 3 times favorited 42 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Dye / ageing with; tea, vinegar and steel wool
for wood types with no or low tannins.

I have seen some wonderful examples of dying wood with vinegar and steel wool, but this was on wood with natural tannins like oak.

I wanted to age some pine and this has none of that.

So when my friend Thy and I talked about it the other day here in my shop it got me thinking…
A fast web tour gave quick results, the tannins can be found in black tea and there were plenty examples of this recipe.
Then it was just to give it a go!

Two jars.
One with black tea (important since white, green have no or low tannins).
One with white vinegar (I could only had brown, so it will smell a wee like pickles).

Hot water in the tea (ok I think I went a wee to far on the tea bags one or two should be plenty).
Steel wool in the vinegar, the finer, the faster it will work (you can also use scrap iron).
Remember not to tighten the lid on the vinegar steel wool, gasses are produced and it might explode.

Leave it over night.
The longer the stronger (perhaps the tea will not follow this rule)...

Day two:
Painting a layer of black tea, plenty, let it soak and then dry out.

At the other end of the test stick I apply a 50 / 50 mixture of the tea and steel wool vinegar, to see if it makes a difference.

Left just tea – the mix.

This was how it looked on day two.
Remember not to tighten the lid on the vinegar steel wool, gasses are produced and it might explode.

After half an hour.

Now I add the steel wool vinegar on to the tea.

Left two step version – right straight on.

After an hour or so.
There are some difference, more brown in the two step version.

This is what got me going.
A planer basket I made, it was screaming: ‘I’m new’!

And how it looked after one light coat of the mixed version after a day of drying.

Yes I’m happy, this will be a future option.
Think now the planet looks like it’s been around for years.
Then it’s just to experiment with adding water for less dark, longer soaking of steel wool and so on.


Day 4:
Top one is without tea.
Under with tea.
Both not dry yet.
More black with tea, more brown and more transparent without the tea.

This is after 24 hours of drying.
Big difference with and without the tea, really interesting.
Also really interesting to se the difference from the first dye I made.

The tea got rotten, so I had to throw that out after a week.

The brown color on the second test comes from the rust, so perhaps adding more rust and exposing the steel wool with more air, will make a warmer brown color.

The jar looked like this, after a week or so and slowly the process seemed to slow down and the solution become at rest.

So after 24 days I decided to take out the steel wool.

Filter it to make it cleaner.

Hmmmmm don’t think I’ll drink it…

Made a fresh tea and then a third test.
Here the date.

Now I think this is getting really interesting!
The two on right are the new once.
+ tea means that I soaked the wood in tea first and let it dry.
- tea means that it was only the solution added to the wood.

I think it is a lovely color span we have here.
So now it’s just to choose what color needed for the project.

I still smile when looking out on the planter that was the reason this blog started.

Hope it can be to some inspiration perhaps even some color in your life’s.

Best thoughts,


-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

42 comments so far

View mafe's profile


13683 posts in 4426 days

#1 posted 05-18-2015 07:42 PM

Did I mention it is spring here in Copenhagen?

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Sodabowski's profile


2402 posts in 4170 days

#2 posted 05-18-2015 07:42 PM

That’s neat buddy. Now, have you tried washing out the tannins of oak sawdust with pure alcohol, concentrated them (by a partial evaporation) and then brushed or soaked them onto another wood? ;) >hint hint <

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View Dutchy's profile


4293 posts in 3505 days

#3 posted 05-18-2015 08:13 PM

Mad when I understand it right the mixture iron/vinegar is two days old. I have the experience that how longer the mixture is how better it works. I always use a mixture of at least two or three weeks. After this period I filter it and use the vinegar liquid. I,m not familiar with non tannin woods.


View shipwright's profile


8781 posts in 4135 days

#4 posted 05-18-2015 08:21 PM

+1 on the couple of weeks. Thick flaking rust works even better but steel wool is easier to come by.
Keep in mind when I say this that what I use it for requires ebony black. Your short term was obviously long enough for the desired “aging” effect.
Nice planter!

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View mafe's profile


13683 posts in 4426 days

#5 posted 05-18-2015 08:32 PM

Hi Guys,
Thomas I love you, you mad scientist, I’m an architect, laughs. Thy told me we can buy tannins also here in Denmark, where they are already extracted, but Wanted to try it with household items that I had here and that everyone have in the house.
Dutchy, no it was only one day old, I gave it a try, otherwise I was thinking to repeat day by day until it was the color I wanted. Honestly I have no idea of how much or how little tannins different Wood types have, just wanted to try aging pine. Why do you filer it, can’t you just leave it in the jar and add more vinegar when needed?
Paul, yes I have seen you used it on oak, can you get pine really black also after some weeks of soaking the wool? Thank you for the comments, this is what I love about LJ.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View JayT's profile


6448 posts in 3548 days

#6 posted 05-18-2015 08:40 PM

Don’t know how black you can get pine, but I did the vinegar & steel wool on some baltic birch plywood and it got far darker than I expected. I’ll grab a pic when I get home.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View Sodabowski's profile


2402 posts in 4170 days

#7 posted 05-18-2015 08:47 PM

Tea has been used for a long time for cloth also. If you want blue, you can have it too if you happen to have the right plant around (Isatis Tinctoria) ;) The rust trick is actually what happens when old growth dark timber darkens: the iron ions present in the tree (coming from the ground) oxidize, the color darkens. Old ebony was just that, hence the pale new growth stuff that’s around. Again you’ve rang a bell in my head, think I’ll make some stains and blog about the chemistry behind that, thanks my friend :)

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

27255 posts in 4442 days

#8 posted 05-18-2015 08:51 PM

Neat process, Mads. Time for planting!!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Ken90712's profile


18099 posts in 4526 days

#9 posted 05-18-2015 09:10 PM

Well done Mads. I have wanted to try this with steel wool and vinigar but have not had the project to use it on. I like your results and making the basket not scream I’m new LOL

Well done my friend….

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1387 posts in 3050 days

#10 posted 05-18-2015 09:10 PM

Love eksperiments!
After our chat i remebered that i once tryed dying oak with the bark on – and the bark got pitch black. So tryed making oak-bark-tea from fresh logs instead of blac tea. This worked realy great and a pieze of pine turned a nice dark chestnut color when first soaked in tea and then the iron acetate (rust+vinegar)

Like the aging result!

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View Bricofleur's profile


1482 posts in 4530 days

#11 posted 05-18-2015 09:22 PM

Mads, I never heard about the tea recipe. I’ll try it.
In a previous project, my Kitchen Credenzas, I used the vinegar and steel wool recipe, but I added balsamic vinegar to darken it out. As pine darkens with time, the end results after few months is just great.



PS: Good decision of yours to age your planter ! :)

-- Learn from yesterday, work today and enjoy success tomorrow. --

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4640 days

#12 posted 05-18-2015 09:33 PM

this worked out really good mads, i do like the change in the basket and your tea and steel wool worked pretty good, i think if it were me, and some day it might, i will try the steel wool and vinegar, the flowers looked great …:)>

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View mafe's profile


13683 posts in 4426 days

#13 posted 05-18-2015 09:59 PM

I read some used coffe also, but thought that outside it will wash away…
Does anyone have ideas for making it more Brown when wanted in a way that will not be washed away?
Will it help to add rust?
I do have piments, but think it’s more fun to find ways we can all do from what we have.

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View lew's profile


13488 posts in 5092 days

#14 posted 05-18-2015 11:05 PM

Thanks for the information, Mads.

Might just have to try this.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View madts's profile


1959 posts in 3677 days

#15 posted 05-18-2015 11:29 PM

One thing that does a really good job on pine e.g. is shoe polish.
Got wax, got colour. Mix and match.
Mads: Great concept but I do not know how much it protects the lumber. If I did this in Houston with a pine planter it would be eaten/rotten the next week.


-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

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