How To: Oxidize Wood

I recently built a plumbers pipe bench and decided I wanted a grayish stain, something that looked weathered.  A friend told me to try a vinegar and steel wool mixture to make my own stain.  After doing some research I found three different recipes so I decided to give all three a try to see which color I liked best that worked with the piece of Douglas Fir wood I had for my bench top.  So I was off to experiment with this home made stain on a scrap piece of wood.


weathering wood

White Vinegar
Steel Wool
*Coffee (optional)
* Tea (optional)

First: I ripped up a piece of steel wool and put it in a glass jar then I filled the jar with white vinegar, I let this sit for 24 hours, shaking it occasionally.

Second: I brewed some coffee and drank a cup :) put the left over brewed coffee that I didn’t drink in a container and let it cool, drinking a cup is totally optional!  I boiled some water and put it in a cup with a tea bag and let that cool.

Third: I used a scrap piece of the same wood as I was using on top of my bench, I painted one stripe with coffee and a second stripe with tea.

vinegar steel wool wood stain

Fourth: After the coffee and tea had dried I used my oxidize “stain” and painted three stripes, one on top of the coffee, one on top of the tea and one by itself.  The reason coffee and tea are suggested when using this oxidize wood stain is because some wood species do not have enough tannins in them, the coffee and tea help with that!

Here you can see the wood changing color

Vinegar steel wool coffee tea stain

My favorite color was the Tea at 5 minutes.  So after sanding the wood for my bench with 320 grit, I brushed some cold tea on let that dry (took about an hour) then stained with the vinegar and steel wool oxidization mix, that took about an hour to dry then I sanded again with 220 grit until I got the desired color.

I think the color came out a little dark I may sand it a little more but here is the end result!

oxidizing wood

gas pipe bench

If you want to try this yourself you can buy everything you need in the link below!

Related Posts:
Board & Batten Wall
DIY Air Return Vent
Plumbers Pipe Bench

45 comments for “How To: Oxidize Wood

  1. Wayne
    November 21, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    I have used the vinegar and steel wool on several patio ice chest .i use pine wood and they all look a little different. Part of it seems to have something to do with how long the mixture sets . I also have tried several different strengths of the vinegar al the way to industrial vinegar at 18 percent . I don’t see a lot of difference except that the industrial is $20 / gallon. Anyway great ideas . I haven’t tried the tea or the coffee .

  2. Jackie
    October 21, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Ladies, you are truly an inspiration. I have a kitchen table I would toss out the door tomorrow if I could but this is an idea I plan to try. You may have saved the life of a table…
    Once you painted the legs did you put any stain on them?

    • Dria
      December 29, 2015 at 11:31 am

      I used furniture wax paste on mine but wouldn’t recommend that if you fear water getting on the wood. If you want to seal it use a clear sealer.

  3. Dalene
    June 8, 2015 at 5:21 am

    I just want to know – was the coffee nice?? Thanks for that – love someone with humor!!! Great idea by the way

  4. May 12, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Ok so i stained my table with an apple cider/steelwool mixture and i loved it once i wiped off the powdery residue. But now i decided to use a white vinegar mixture on some crates. I loved it even more. So what color will my table be (more-or-less) if i put a coat of white vinegar mixture over the apple cider one??

    • Dria
      May 14, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Azucena, I’m not sure what color your table will be, it depends on the species of the wood. You could test it out on the under side of the table.

      • May 14, 2015 at 5:12 pm

        Well i went ahead and gave myself the privelege of surprise and put the white vinegar mixture over the dried acv mixture on my table. I know it was risky cuz its an 8’×3′ table of reclaimed slabs. Well I LOVE IT… it has the reddish tint…

        • Dria
          May 17, 2015 at 8:02 am

          That’s awesome!!

      • May 14, 2015 at 5:14 pm

        Oh its oak….

  5. Sarah
    April 6, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    Does this not work on pine or what??? I have done every thing correctly, except I used #000 steel wool, but it is dissolving and rusting out… but still not staining this wood, even after I applied the black tea mixture and let it dry. Any suggestions?

    • Dria
      April 18, 2015 at 6:55 am

      I’m sorry Sarah, I’m not sure why it’s not working, if the steel is rusting it sounds like it has been in the vinegar too long.

  6. Patricia ellison
    March 17, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    I have done the tea stain with the steel wool an vinegar I loved the way it turned out I am going to do several more pieces

  7. Meta Kumer
    March 8, 2015 at 6:38 am

    Why this is not working for me? The steel wool does not want to dessolve in vinegar…it is not even rusting. I added a little water but it is still clear as the first day. European vinegar must be different :)

    • Dria
      March 11, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      I’m not sure it might be the type of steel wool you are using? i have made this several times and never had a problem. You can’t use the steel wool that has soap already on it for washing dishes etc.

      • Meta Kumer
        March 12, 2015 at 1:13 pm

        I tried both :))…just in case…than I washed the soapy one and it finally started to rust…when I added vinegar it stopped. But I discovered that only vinegar works too. The colour is more brown and not grey…I will try with coffee. Thanks for reply.

        • Ana
          March 26, 2015 at 2:03 am

          I read somewhere that you need to make sure you’re putting the solution into a glass jar with a metal lid for the steel wool to dissolve.

          • Dria
            March 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm

            I do make and store mine in a glass jar, you are probably right that it needs to be in a glass jar!

    • September 19, 2015 at 10:54 am

      Try using a few iron nails. However works better with steel wood, If vinegar it´s not working try lemon juice, is an acid like vinegar.

    • September 29, 2015 at 7:07 am

      I had that problem too… it turns out that i had a PLASTIC lid on my mason jar and it needed to be aluminum. I’d had it sitting there for 3 DAYS and no change. I put a piece of aluminum foil as a lid; half an hour later it was rusting…

  8. February 26, 2015 at 11:33 am

    This is great! Thank you for posting this. I have tried the penny one and it didn’t work well.

    • Dria
      March 11, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      I haven’t heard of the penny one, were you able to try the steel wool recipe?

  9. brenda price
    December 30, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    what type of steel wool do you use?

    • Dria
      December 31, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Hi Brenda, I bought the steel wool at my local hardware store, if you look at the photos near the top of this post it shows the package of steel wool I used.

  10. December 16, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    These are great ideas; especially for old wood, or wooden pallets. These natural DIY ways to oxidize wood are a good way to ensure that you are using non-threatening chemicals that could be used safely in the home. The most important thing is if you are bringing old wood,and wood pallets, into the home they need to be clean and to be treated properly. Lastly, it looks great!

  11. Kevin
    October 4, 2014 at 12:44 am

    Hey I really like the table. I wanted to stain one I made but the color is really light and a little reddish, I used the tea and let the wool sit for a day just like you said. Any idea what I did wrong?

    • Dria
      October 5, 2014 at 9:13 am

      Hi Kevin,

      How much wool did you use in your stain? You may not have used enough steel wool in it. You use the tea as a first step to bring the tannins out then you use the steel wool / vinegar stain. The species of wood can also make a difference in the outcome of color. What type of wood did you use?

  12. McKenzie Dove
    July 31, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Did you brush on the oxidize stain from the jar of steel wool soaking in vinegar? Or use the actual piece of steel wool? Do you put that on before or after the coffee/tea?

    • Dria
      July 31, 2014 at 7:53 pm

      I used a paint brush to apply the stain mix and I used the tea before staining, the tea and/or coffee brings the tannins out in the wood you have to let that dry before you use the vinegar stain.

  13. Lauren
    June 6, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    What kind of tea did you use? What size bag? And a coffee cup of water or +-?

    • Dria
      June 6, 2014 at 11:17 pm

      Lipton tea, I am not sure on the size of the tea bag it’s their regular tea bags. I just filled a glass of water, the amount of water you use will depend on how big your piece of wood is, you just want to brush it on, so the amount is different for each project.

  14. Chris
    October 16, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Did you seal your project? Has the color remained the same over time? Great samples – thanks for sharing.

    • Dria
      October 16, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      Hi Chris, I was going to seal it with wax but I never got around to it, I want the color to fade a bit as it’s a tad too dark!

  15. Toni Mackain-Bremner
    July 27, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Love the table — you have done an awesome job! I’m about to do a sofa table for my den. When you said that “My favorite color was the Tea at 5 minutes.” How did you stop the oxidation process after 5 minutes?

    Thanks so much! Toni

    • Dria
      July 28, 2013 at 7:16 am

      Hi Toni! Unfortunately you can’t stop the process, the only thing you can do is not wait as long as I did before using the vinegar / steel wool mix. I waited 24 hours before using it the longer you wait the darker the stain will be. You also need to test this on the type of wood you plan on using as it will react differently with different types of wood. The other option is to sand it after staining to get the color you desire. Thanks for stopping by! Come back and let me know if you do this I’d love to see your table!

      • September 19, 2015 at 11:04 am

        Anyone had tried to stop the chemical reaction with baking soda?

        • Shane
          November 19, 2015 at 3:10 am

          It’s is a really good question. I’d love to find out if that works.

  16. June 5, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Way to go! I had no idea you could do this either!! A lot cheaper than buying stain! I like the color!! ~~Angela

    • Dria
      June 5, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      :) Thank you Angela!! Super cheap and easy stain that’s for sure!

  17. June 5, 2013 at 7:42 am

    Wow!!! I had no idea you could stain with coffee?!?! Like a fool I’ve been only drinking it! Hahaha!

    But seriously, that looks great – I’m totally stealing that idea!!

    • Dria
      June 5, 2013 at 11:45 am

      :) Now you can drink your coffee and stain with it at the same time! Can’t wait to see your project I’m so excited!!

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