Introduction: Dyeing Wood

About: I love to stay home as much as as I love to travel, I've been to 49 states (missing Alaska) and 31 countries. I have two wiener dogs now and a cat. We all live together in a house in the woods. With no roaches.

This is an Instructable about dyeing wood, making fun wooden-handled utensils and colorful coat hooks. It's also about finishing your wood with natural non toxic conditioners that both protect the color and enhance the wood.

Step 1: Supplies

  • Wood - For the handles and hooks that I make I collect cedar driftwood or any wood that looks interesting. I especially like cedar because the grain is so pronounced. After collecting and washing, I soak it in bleach-y water for a few days or until it looks nice and evenly colored. I use about a cup of bleach to 5 gallons of water. Sometimes I have to turn the wood half way through because it is too long for the bucket. If there is any residual smell to the wood after rinsing I soak it a few days longer in some water with vinegar.
  • Dye - I use Procion MX dyes. They are made for natural fibers such as cotton and silk. They work wonderfully on wood. I buy them from Pro Chemical. This is because I am a fabric dyer so it's what I have. I like to mix my own colors so I usually buy the basic pure colors primaries - blue, red and yellow - they are labeled online as being pure so you can tell, and black. I love black dyed wood.
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Jars with lids
  • Dust Mask
  • Gloves - If you get dye on your hands you will have dyed hands for many days.
  • Paintbrushes
  • Beeswax - or the finish of your choice. I use either straight beeswax or beeswax the way it is used for encaustic - meaning a small percentage of pine resin is added to the beeswax. Tons of information is available online about encaustic recipes and it is not important for the sake of this 'ible to go into them as it is not at all necessary. I only say this because if you are into encaustic and are running out of ideas the glossy finish that encaustic puts on wood is incredible.
  • Temperature gage - for heating beeswax so it does not go above 147ºF, or 63º C

Step 2: Mix Up Some Dye

You can use whatever to mix up your dyes as long as you can get a paint brush into the container and hopefully a lid on top. Really, you must be very careful and mix up your dye and water outside with at the very least a dust mask on, although I use a respirator because I do it so often.

Once the dye powder is dissolved in the water it's safe to bring inside. It will continue to be safe to work with inside as long as you know that it will dye your fingers and last for a long long time on your skin. Yellow looks the very worst.

This is a try-as-you-go type of mixing, you might start with 1/4 of a tsp dye powder to 1 cup of water. But it is much easier is too mix concentrates - use 1 Tablespoon of dye powder to 1 cup of water - once this concentrated dye solution is mixed up you can add water to the concentrate in a separate container to get the intensity of color you like. You may even like the effect of using the dye highly concentrated strength. The dye will continue to work, if stored in a coolish place, for at least a year.

In fabric dyeing one would add soda ash to activate the dye and get it to bond to the fabric, but this step is not necessary for dyeing wood.

Step 3: Dye Some Wood

It's hard to tell just what color you are going to end up with until it drys. A heat gun or blow dryer will speed this up.

You can also just stick the wood into the dye and watch it creep up. This is a huge waste of dye but fun to watch. Blending colors right on the wood is fun to do as well.

You might wonder if this dye is light fast - meaning is is a good idea to dye some wood that you will use outside? No it is not. I dyed something black, set it outside (because it was pine and leaking sap all over after I put it in the oven) and it faded. So only use this process for objects you are going to keep inside out of the sun.

Step 4: Takes Notes!

You will be having so much fun that you will not remember which dye made the wood which color - take notes!

Step 5: Clean Up Is So Easy

Water is all you need for cleaning up.

Step 6: Putting a Protective and Enhansing Finish on Your Wood

The addition of beeswax really darkens the darker colors, it darkens all the colors. Putting it on black is super cool looking. It looks like burnt wood. So before you dye a lot of wood do some complete samples to be sure you lke the outcome. I dyed a huge batch of wonderful orange but once the beeswax went on it ended up looking like regular un-dyed wood. One of the reasons to put a finish on is to protect the color on the wood and to protect your hands if you use the wood as a handle, or your clothes if you use the wood as a hook. Of course you can put anything you want on the wood to seal in the color - poly, shellac, spray varnish etc. Experiment.

Mind, it takes some major effort to have the dye get onto another surface after it has been dyed - I'm just being extra careful. Even if it gets on to something like clothing, without the addition of soda ash as a bonding agent, it will wash out and not stain the clothing.

I use an electric skillet to melt the beeswax but you can use anything you want as long as you don't want to use it for anything else ever again. It is hard to get the beeswax all the way out and why bother, just grab something you don't care about, even a tin can set in something that can go on the stove - BUT remember this: It is so important that you do not heat up the beeswax over 145 -147º (63 Celsius) or it will burn and the fumes are toxic. At any rate it's best if you do this with your ventilation fan on, or better yet - outside. Outside would be best.

Step 7: Getting Excess Wax Off of the Wood

To get the excess wax off of the wood, if there is any, I use a heat gun. Set the wood on newspaper or other absorbent paper. The wax drips off and afterwards I can rub the dyed wood to a nice luster with a soft lint-free cloth.

Another recipe I use that I made up is a mix of beeswax, coconut oil and mineral oil. At room temperature this mixture stays thick and creamy. I will often put my dyed driftwood into the oven at the lowest temperature to heat it up, then the wax mixture goes on every so nicely. I've had this mixture now for three years and it still smells wonderful. I picked these oils because they don't seem to get off-odors or go rancid.

Step 8: What to Do With the Dyed Wood

There are many things to do with your colorful dyed wood. I like to make handles for measuring spoons and hooks to hang stuff around the house. Remember to cut the wood to the size you want to use before dyeing.

For hooks I cut the driftwood at a 45º angle on the end that is going to be up against the wall. I drill two countersunk holes in that end. They have made great gifts, as have the measuring spoons. Be sure to hand wash only.

For utensil handles, hammer the real utensil flat as shown, I use a bandsaw to make a slit into the wood, drill holes into the measuring spoons that will be inserted in the same places that the wooden handle has holes drilled, and use rivets to attach everything together.

Remember to vote for this 'ible in the wood contest.

Step 9:

Wood Contest 2016

Participated in the
Wood Contest 2016