Steel Wool and Vinegar Wood Aging/Ebonizing/Weathering (A Controlled Experiment)

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I have read a lot about using Steel Wool and Vinegar to age/weather new wood. I guess the acidic solution reacts with the Tannins in the wood to create a chemical reaction to weather and essentially stain the wood with somewhat of an acid wash. I decided to do a test of various commonly found woods to see what type of coloration and saturation I could come up with.


I Started with a test board with a bunch of different woods.



You can see that there are two rows of test area that has been treated with Black Tea. Many woods have high tannin concentration, but there are some like PINE that are low. Adding a tea mixture provides some tannin to aid in the reaction. This will give us an idea of what type of depth of color we can achieve.

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Step 1: Different Vinegar Mixes

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I decided to test just two Vinegar choices, Balsamic Vinegar and Apple Cider Vinegar. White Vinegar is also a choice, but knowing that I want a darker stain for the furniture that I will be using this on, I went with what I had heard would make a darker tint.

I chose Mason Jars from Target that were 16 oz each. I am sure that I could go much bigger, but this was the trial. I will adjust mixture if necessary.

The first Jar you see is Apple Cider Mix, with ONE WHOLE steel wool (0000), ripped into pieces to try and speed up the process of degradation. 

The Second mix is Balsamic Vinegar with ONE WHOLE steel wool (0000), ((I also did a jar with half of a steel wool, to see if that would make a difference).

The third Jar, (Bigger one) is bleach, with various woods soaking inside. My plan is to wire brush them to remove the softer fibers that have been weakened by the bleach. Then I can treat them with the wash and see how the grain looks.

You can see my tea mixture here also, and the pouring of the Vinegar.

Nice post, thanks for the instruction!
How did you add the tea mixture? Did you mix it with the vinegar before coating the wood or did you add the tea mixture to the wood and then coated the wood with the vinegar?

jezibel7 months ago
So, I'm using plain white vinegar and regular steel wool I'm a jar. I was expecting some kind of color change, but after 24 hours it still looks like plain old steel wool in clear white vinegar. I left it over night, as well as putting it I'm the sun today. Is there something else I should be doing, or is the color from the other products not the vinegar itself?
kjbills (author)  jezibel7 months ago
From my limited knowledge on all this, the reaction in the jar is much less important than the reaction on the wood. The jar is just to produce an acidic, metallic mixture that will react with the tannins and wood fiber to age and weather it.
Here are the ways you might run into trouble....

1) Steel wool is too thick or vinegar too diluted or cheap to dissolve enough of the steel wool in 24 hours. Break up the steel wool so that the most surface area is in contact with the vinegar. I didn't use white vinegar, so maybe it just doesn't change color, but the reaction is still happening....

2) The wood you choose has a big influence on how the color change takes place. Just remember that the reaction takes place with the tannins and so some woods will not change like others. Pine has very low levels, and will not darken or react much unless you add something to react, so that is why the Black tea was added to the mixture or pre-applied to the wood. Hope that helps.

I would test your mixture on a piece of scrap wood (Same wood that you are going to use for your project) and see if your current mixture works, regardless of wether it changes in the jar or not.
romonster7 months ago
Think you could give a list from top to bottom of the combinations that you used. I see that you wrote them on the side but I am unable to really make it out. Thanks in advance. This is really what I've been looking for.
kjbills (author)  romonster7 months ago
Okay, I will try to remember exactly what order they are in.

Here goes.

Very top section, No Treatment
2 Coats of Apple Cider Vinegar mix
1 Coat of Apple Cider Vinegar mix
1 Coat of Apple Cider Vinagar mix WITH BLACK TEA
1 Coat of Balsamic Vinegar mix
1 Coat of Balsamic Vinegar mix WITH BLACK TEA

Hope that helps.
cad_il10 months ago
Would this work for exterior applications? A cedar deck for example? Would it rust?
waldaddy1 year ago
Adding watercolor paints to white vinegar makes for some pretty nice stains too.
ccrome1 year ago
I love to see real science used on an instructable :-) Science doesn't have to be complex or difficult -- a simple method gives you a great array of choices.

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