Tea Staining

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Introduction: Tea Staining

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Think that staining wood means stinky lacquers, rubber gloves, and long drying times? Think again!
I'll show you how to stain wood to look weathered and old, with nothing more than household items, and with results achieved in a fraction of the time.

Naturally aged wood has a great faded look that occurs from oxidization; this is usually achieved by leaving the wood outside, exposed to the elements until it has a faded, aged patina. Depending on the type of wood and weather conditions this can take weeks, even months. Luckily there is a simple method to achieve almost the same results and it can be done in a few days, instead of weeks. Though this Instructable is called tea staining, it's actually the steel that's doing the staining.

This classic woodworking trick uses three common household ingredients: vinegar, steel wool, and tea. The best part about these ingredients is that even close substitutes work well!
Don't have white vinegar? Use any other type of vinegar.
Don't have steel wool? Use any other steel bits (staples, nails, shavings, etc.)
Don't have tea?...what's wrong with you?!

The process is easy:

  • Pull apart steel wool and submerge in container of vinegar for 10 hours or more
  • Steep tea for 1 hour (any temperature water will do)
  • Brush steeped tea onto bare wood, ensure complete saturation - let dry completely
  • Brush vinegar + steel wool solution into tea-saturated wood


Why does it work?
  • Tea has tannin, a bitter astringent that occurs naturally in many plants.
  • Tannin is also found in many other organics, such as wood. Wood with high tannin content does not need the tea solution
  • Brushing wood with tea adds more tannin, allowing the vinegar/steel solution to have a stronger reaction.
  • When steel wool is combined with an acedic acid (vinegar) it causes the steel to oxidize (rust), making iron acetate
  • When iron acetate reacts with the tannins and turns the wood a dark colour.

Making iron acetate produces hydrogen gas, do not seal containers and keep in a ventilated area.
Staining will occur mostly on wood surface, be careful if you need to sand afterwards.
The tannin content of the wood is the predominate factor in the darkness of the stain. Experiment, and have fun!

Looking for more ways to distress wood?
Check out my easy guide for 9 ways to distress wood!


Have you used this technique to stain wood? I want to see it!
Share a picture in the comments below of your tea staining and get a free Pro Membership to Instructables!
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101 Discussions

0
JessR23
JessR23

4 years ago

Hello, just wondering if this is food safe? I'm making a chopping board with pine but I need it to be darker and I can't find any food safe stains to use...

0
KenD79
KenD79

5 months ago on Introduction

Thanks for posting this! It worked for me, just fine. Here's two pieces stained this way next to the board they were cut from:

20200421_TeaStainedWoodBesideSourceWood_2.jpg
0
clapierlinda
clapierlinda

Question 1 year ago on Introduction

I just used this staining method on our beams in our remodel and we love it! I'm wondering if we need to seal it with something or can we just leave it as is?! Thanks so much!

0
mikeasaurus
mikeasaurus

Reply 1 year ago

Seal with a clear polyurethane is always a good idea. I like a matte or satin finish so it's not too glossy. :)
Do you have pictures to share?

0
clapierlinda
clapierlinda

Reply 1 year ago

I really like the way it looks, so I'm nervous to put the seal on it. I would use a matte finish for sure. I was hoping that since it's inside the house that it would be ok not to seal. But, if you think that's best, I'll do it.

Thanks for your help! I will send a picture, too! I have a half-way through and the finished.
Thanks!

0
mikeasaurus
mikeasaurus

Reply 1 year ago

I probably wouldn't bother, if it were me. I like the way wood looks when it ages, whatever the finish (or lack thereof).
:)

0
chrischem
chrischem

Question 2 years ago

I am looking at western red cedar which isn't very aromatic. I am hoping to use tea and the iron acetate staining which I already tried on pine and poplar with really nice results. Will using tea and the iron acetate stain work on cedar and will this affect cedar's bug repelling properties? Also, does the stain fade over time? Finally, does the stain help with repelling bugs or could this possibly attract some? Thanks!

0
mikeasaurus
mikeasaurus

Answer 2 years ago

Try a small test piece of your cedar before committing to your project.
The stain will fade a little over time, like all stains.
It should not effect any bug-repelling properties of cedar, and won't attract any new bugs :)

Happy staining!

0
JohnLittle73
JohnLittle73

Question 2 years ago on Introduction

Is there any post-staining work to do before putting on a clear coat? Will it smell like tea and vinegar?

0
mikeasaurus
mikeasaurus

Reply 2 years ago

The smell dissipates in less than 24 hours

0
curbowman
curbowman

2 years ago

I want to try this on a brand new swamp ash guitar body. Could it be possible to use a tung-oil finish after the staining?

0
mikeasaurus
mikeasaurus

Reply 2 years ago

Loads of finishes can be applied after staining with tea. However, always test the process on scrap or in an incospicuous area before committing to the final piece. Good luck!

0
joettle
joettle

3 years ago

Turned a horrid grey stain that stained edges and faces differently... Had to salad the whole lot off again unfortunately :( i used wire and staples as my steel source, any ideas?

0
mikeasaurus
mikeasaurus

Reply 3 years ago

Any steel source should work, so long as it oxidizes. If the wood stained differently in a few areas then it sounds like there was a coating of something already on the wood.

The coloring is brown-grey, you can see my results from this process on my magnetic bottle opener.

2
RichardDaisyA
RichardDaisyA

3 years ago

I am working with pine wood. Would it be advisable to use a pre stain before using the tea or coffee staining method? What would you recommend for water resilient finish?

0
kinivondini
kinivondini

4 years ago

Hello,

I have a pine floor that I would like to make a more ash/gray colour and this looks like a good option so I am going to try it on a test piece. I cannot find any info on the best way to protect the wood after. Would the vinegar react with varnish or oils etc and what would you recommend for a floor?

Thanks,

0
mikeasaurus
mikeasaurus

Reply 4 years ago

After application, any regular protective coating should be no problem. However, it's always best to test out on a sample piece before committing to the final project.

I'd love to see the results, good luck!

0
zelko
zelko

4 years ago

Oops. Sorry no attachments on my last post

image.pngimage.pngimage.pngimage.pngimage.pngimage.pngimage.pngimage.pngimage.png
0
mikeasaurus
mikeasaurus

Reply 4 years ago

It's so neat to watch the transformation of color. Thanks for sharing your pictures, enjoy the Pro Membership!