My Experience Staining Wood With Tea, Steel Wool And Vinegar

Yesterday I finished up my dumpster coffee table makeover. If you’ll remember, just a few days ago, I found this coffee table leaning against the dumpster at my condo.

Initially, I planned to paint the entire thing, including the cheap particle board top with the plastic paper-thin veneer with wood print. But then I decided that those pretty little turned legs were worthy of a real wood top, so I removed the cheap top and painted the base.

Then I used my new Kreg Jig to make a new table top out of 1″ x 6″ pine lumber.  I’ll do a whole post on the Kreg Jig soon, because it’s AMAZING.  If you like to build things with wood, then you definitely need one of these.  I could kick myself for waiting so long to buy one!!

With the table top put together, I attached it to the base with L-brackets.  You can see the pocket holes that I drilled with the Kreg Jig that hold the table top together (orange arrows).  There are more than six, but the others aren’t really visible.

Then I moved on to staining the top.  Now in  my experience, pine doesn’t stain very well.  It starts out so orangish-yellow, and stain just highlights all of the yellow parts and turns the grain almost black.  Not a good look.  In fact, let’s revisit this horror from from last  year that I made for John & Alice’s breakfast room.

So this time, I decided to try staining/antiquing the top with the tea, steel wool, and vinegar method.  After researching the topic, I finally decided to follow the directions found at Craftaholics Anonymous.  However, I confess that I was very impatient, so rather than letting my steel wool/vinegar solution sit for 24 hours, mine sat for about 10 hours.

This first board shows what the wood looked like immediately after applying one coat of the vinegar to the wood.  You can see a slightly gray color.

And here’s what the entire table top looked like after waiting about an hour.  You can see the dark splotchy areas on the last board.  Those were areas that just hadn’t completely dried yet.  And on the first board, you can see what the wood looks like with a coat of wax on it.

And here are the three in comparison:  raw pine wood, pine treated with the tea/steel wool/vinegar treatment, and pine wood treated and then waxed.

Let me also point out that I used my electric sander to give the edges of the top a slightly rounded look.  I think this looks so much better than the squared edges.

So after I got the entire surface waxed, I decided that the wood wasn’t quite dark enough to give enough contrast with the light aqua base.  So I decided to give it a coat of stain.  Yes, I stained right over the wax.  I figured since both were oil-based products, it would be just fine.  And it did work just fine.

Here you can see the difference between the table top and a piece of pine that has one coat of Minwax Special Walnut stain on it.  See how the grain is so dark on the separate piece of wood?  And that makes all of the yellow areas look really vibrant.  Definitely not a good look.

I still need to give the table top another coat of wax, but here’s how the table looks now after staining the top and antiquing the base.

Sorry that I don’t have pictures that are all styled and pretty, but the top was still wet, and I was losing daylight quickly, so I wanted to go ahead and get some pictures to show you.  :)

I really love how the top turned out.  Definitely a different experience than I’ve ever had in the past when I tried to stain pine.

And the dark wood in combination with the antiqued aqua base just makes me smile.

To antique the base, I simply let the paint dry and then sanded it (manually, not with an electric sander).  Then I rubbed Minwax Special Walnut stain on it, let it sit for about a minute or two, and then wiped off the excess.  I do this in sections, because if the stain sits on there too long, it’ll start drying and won’t leave a subtle antiqued finish.  I really like antiquing furniture like this because the stain acts as a sealer and leaves a very nice satin finish, almost like furniture wax.

So that’s my experience with using the tea/steel wool/vinegar method.  I’d definitely like to try it out again after letting the mixture set for 24 hours or more.  Then I’d like to compare it to other methods, such as using wood conditioner on pine before stain (which I’ve never tried).  I’d also like to try the steel wool/vinegar method, and then follow up with stain BEFORE waxing the wood.  :)  That’s actually how it should have been done, but I was too anxious to get wax on the top.

And as you can see, my steel wool/vinegar treatment didn’t really result in “antiqued” wood.  I’m not really sure why.  Perhaps there are many factors, such as weather conditions.  (It was pouring down rain while I was working on this coffee table outside.)  So there’s definitely lots of testing and comparing that I want to do to find the absolute best way to stain cheap pine lumber and get the best results.

Have you ever tried this antiquing/staining method?  Did yours result in an actual antiqued wood look?  Have you had success staining pine wood with other methods?  I’d love to hear about it!  And if you have a post showing your project and describing your method, please feel free to leave a link in the comments.  I’d love to learn from your methods!

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Comments

  1. says

    The top does look much nicer in the darker stain. Good on ya! I used to stain all of my painted wood furniture the way you described and never poly-ed or waxed over it. It does seal it nicely. Now, I like more of a “clean” distressed look. The table came out beautifully!

  2. Wendy R says

    I am lusting after that table, it turned out gorgeous! I have to stop reading your posts…..I will never finish any projects with new inspiration that I get from your posts! Shame on you! lol….I haven’t ever heard of the vinegar and steel wool treatment, definitely something I want to try. Geez, I must live in a cave, so many new finishes I haven’t ever heard of before! :-)

  3. Wendy R says

    hmm I do have a question now. In the cabin the upper section of the cabin was an add on and they used plywood for paneling, quaint for a mountainy type of look but I don’t like it AT ALL. It looks gross to me like it isn’t finished. Do you think this type of finish would work on plywood? A big job but if you get that kind of look (as in your coffee table) I am thinking it might make that nasty plywood look better too…..What do you think?

      • Wendy R says

        Yep I could try it on a wall in the loft. This might be just the thing to make the walls on the upper part of the cabin look great. It wouldn’t be so bad if the walls matched the lower half especially in the loft area but as it is now it sticks out like a sore thumb. I will let you know how it turns out….this may be another Monday project to finish in the future! :D

  4. says

    That’s a hit for sure! I love it. And I like how you used the jig for connecting the boards for the table top. What size screws did you use? I’d be afraid they’d go through.

    • says

      You actually have to use the Kreg screws. :) I think the ones I used were 1 1/4″ long…maybe 1 1/2″. It worked perfectly! But yeah…the Kreg screwdriver bit that comes with the kit isn’t a standard Phillips or flat head screwdriver bit, although it does look like a Phillips screwdriver would fit into the screw head.

  5. says

    wow! so cool… I didn’t know about this type of treatment. I totally agree with how lousy the stained pine looks, it reminds me of those cheap waterbeds with huge bookcase headboards from the 70’s… oops, I guess I’m dating myself. :) thanks for the great tute! Little Bit

  6. Monica Benson says

    I am blown away by your patience and diligence with this project and many of your others. You are so focused and the results are inspiring. Thanks for the detailed explanations, even when you make a faux pas, it helps me understand the process. Beautiful table looks like something at expensive furniture store for $500!

  7. Bbardot says

    Nicely timed! I just saw this technique earlier in the week but it was simply one of those “handy tips” that have no comments or demonstrations showing how said tip works – now I know that it works beautifully – that first photo of the entirely stained table is *exactly* the sort of color I want for my new bedroom when I move next month – yay!

  8. says

    Hi Kristi!
    The table turned out beautifully!
    I have never heard of putting the stain over the paint…but, it makes sense. Looks great too.
    Regarding the wood conditioner. I stained a whole house before I learned about it…the difference is amazing. Get some and try it. It really makes pine look very even in coloration.
    Take care!

    • says

      I used wood conditioner on my butcherblock countertops in my kitchen. I was very pleased with the difference it made! I’ve never tried it on pine, though. I’ll have to do that!

  9. says

    Loving the finished product, especially the dark rich wood top. Will have to try that! Also looking forward to the post on the Kreg Jig. I had to do a web search just to see what it does and it already went on my Amazon wish list!

    • says

      If you go onto YouTube and watch the videos about the Kreg Jig that are actually by the company, I think you’d probably want to go TOMORROW and get yourself one!! :-D I love mine, and I’ve only used it once. I can’t wait to start building actual furniture with it. I can now imagine that building a coffee table from scratch like the one above would be a pretty simple task now that I have my Kreg Jig. Buy it! You won’t regret it!

      • says

        Not sure I can justify it right now (sigh!), but it’s high on my want list! I did check youtube and am doubly sold on it – there are lots of projects I can imagine trying with that that I think would be out of my league without it. My birthday and Christmas are the same month, so it’s going to be a long wait if I have to wait for it as a gift! LOL

  10. Lisa T says

    Hi! I just found your site by Pinterest and I love it! We have used the steel wool/vinegar/tea method on pallet projects and it turned the wood really dark which was gorgeous, but since we wanted a lighter weathered gray look you can just sand off some of the color and it’s gorgeous underneath! Love your table like it is!

  11. marsha says

    I had no idea I could revamp my coffee table with just a few things that I already have around the house! I’ve been meaning to give that table a facelift for a while now! Between keeping up with my job at Dish and the rest of the household, I never have time to shop for staining supplies. This project idea is the perfect solution! How do you find out about this stuff? The only place I know to turn to for DIY help is DIY Network, and now your blog! My DVR is filled with DIY shows; it’s addicting! Luckily, I have the Hopper DVR that has plenty of recording space to accommodate my little DIY obsession. They never show ideas as simple as this one though, so thanks for sharing! I look forward to seeing how it turns out for me!

  12. says

    Hey! I’m about to build a farmhouse dining room table for my dining room and REALLY didn’t want to have to buy expensive wood for the top, but I knew pine wouldn’t stain well so I didn’t want to use it. NOW I can rethink buying that pine top! I also have a kreg jig and can’t wait to put it to good use! I do have a question though…..is there a reason you didn’t use the kreg jig on the apron of the table to connect it to the table top instead of using the L-brackets? I just wondered because I had planned on putting mine together that way and now wonder if there’s a reason it won’t work. :-)
    Thanks for being the staining guinea pig!
    Hugs!
    MIssy :)

    • says

      Hey Missy! If I were making the coffee table from scratch, I certainly would have used the Kreg Jig to put the whole thing together. But since I found this at the dumpster at my condo :) it was already put together with the L brackets, so I just left them attached to the apron and reused them. Your Kreg Jig would certainly work, and probably make everything sturdier in the end. Can’t wait to see your table!

      • says

        Well that makes perfect sense! lol I went back and looked at your first picture…..if I had been paying closer attention I would have noticed those L-brackets in the first picture! :-) I’ll send you a link when I get my table done. I’ll also send you a link to the window seat I just built in my dining room when I get the post done….it turned out doggone cute! :0)
        Thanks for letting me know I can attach my table top with the jig…I thought I was missing something! lol
        Missy

  13. CalleN says

    This table really looked really great after the makeover. Im going to stain a piece of Cherry wood ( making a “wand” for my 8 year old brother ;o) and I want it to get that lovely dark reddish colour Cherry wood can get. Is this the right way to get it, or would you recomend another method?

  14. legoman says

    Hi there,

    Just stumbled on this post and wondered if I could offer a suggestion. I agree that pine (and other paint-grade woods like poplar) can be tricky to colour without covering the grain pattern, but it’s possible. A simpler solution to the one you posted here would be to apply one or two thin coats of half pound cut shellac. You just want light coats because all this is intended to do is seal the pores of the wood so it will take whatever stwin you are using evenly. I just use a regular amber shellac that I make myself, but you could also use Zinnser or similar. The amber colour won’t have much effect on the stain unless it’s really light. In which case you could use dewaxed (white) shellac.

    The mixture of vinegar and steel wool creates a chemical stain that is used by woodworkers to ebonize wood. This blackens the wood without obscuring the grain. Typically, woods with higher tannin content will react more dramatically with this treatment.

    Another way to colour wood without obscuring grain is to use aniline dyes dissolved in distilled water – places like leevalley.com sell these. You just needto pre-raise the grain as with any water-based finish on wood.

    Hope this might be useful.

  15. dc dixon says

    Hi there,

    Just stumbled on this post and wondered if I could offer a suggestion. I agree that pine (and other paint-grade woods like poplar) can be tricky to colour without covering the grain pattern, but it’s possible. A simpler solution to the one you posted here would be to apply one or two thin coats of half pound cut shellac. You just want light coats because all this is intended to do is seal the pores of the wood so it will take whatever stwin you are using evenly. I just use a regular amber shellac that I make myself, but you could also use Zinnser or similar. The amber colour won’t have much effect on the stain unless it’s really light. In which case you could use dewaxed (white) shellac.

    The mixture of vinegar and steel wool creates a chemical stain that is used by woodworkers to ebonize wood. This blackens the wood without obscuring the grain. Typically, woods with higher tannin content will react more dramatically with this treatment.

    Another way to colour wood without obscuring grain is to use aniline dyes dissolved in distilled water – places like leevalley.com sell these. You just needto pre-raise the grain as with any water-based finish on wood.

    Hope this might be useful.

  16. legoman says

    Hi there,
    Just stumbled on this post and wondered if I could offer a suggestion. I agree that pine (and other paint-grade woods like poplar) can be tricky to colour without covering the grain pattern, but it’s possible. A simpler solution to the one you posted here would be to apply one or two thin coats of half pound cut shellac. You just want light coats because all this is intended to do is seal the pores of the wood so it will take whatever stwin you are using evenly. I just use a regular amber shellac that I make myself, but you could also use Zinnser or similar. The amber colour won’t have much effect on the stain unless it’s really light. In which case you could use dewaxed (white) shellac.
    The mixture of vinegar and steel wool creates a chemical stain that is used by woodworkers to ebonize wood. This blackens the wood without obscuring the grain. Typically, woods with higher tannin content will react more dramatically with this treatment.

    Another way to colour wood without obscuring grain is to use aniline dyes dissolved in distilled water – places like leevalley.com sell these. You just needto pre-raise the grain as with any water-based finish on wood.
    Hope this might be useful.

  17. Tiffany says

    Any idea on how this would look on oak. My mom gave me an old table and she said its oak. It’s yellowish and I want it to be dark.

  18. Felecity says

    What color paint did you use on the legs? My fiancé just made me a vanity and we stained the top dark and I wanted either a soft white or a color similar to this for the x-legs (:

    • Julia Parnitzke says

      Hi! Love the coffee table. I’m wondering what paint color you used for the legs. It looks like Behr brand and you said it was an aqua base…wondering what the color is?

      Thank you for taking the time!!!

      Julia

  19. Scott says

    Hello – I love how the table top turned out. Great color. I looking to do a dining room table in yellow pine (2x lumber) and want to tone down some of the gold/yellow in the wood and bring out a more muted brown overtone like you’ve done here. May I ask what stain (brand and color) and final finish you used after the vinegar/steel wood solution bring out the rich deep brown (walnut-like) tones?

    • says

      I can’t remember if I used Minwax or Annie Sloan wax. I have both, and have used both. I want to say that on this table, I used the MInwax. It’s a lot cheaper, and you can get it at Home Depot.

  20. Chris Hoagland says

    I was wondering. When you were distressing the table legs and then applied the stain, which you said you let sit for a few minutes before wiping off, did the stain completely wipe off or did it turn the blue around it a purply color and if so how did you fix that or did you just blend it into more or the paint?

    • says

      I think it wiped off completely. I don’t remember it turning the paint a purply color. But if it’s leaving too much, you can use a little bit of mineral spirits to remove the excess. If you’ve used latex paint, the mineral spirits shouldn’t affect the paint at all, and it’ll just remove the excess stain.

  21. Wendy says

    You are amazing. Every time I google something to find an example of something I want something I am working on to look like, I click on the picture that I like and its YOUR stuff. I am expanding my business and putting in a classy and rustic bar area. I am learning a lot just by your website. Thanks so much. I wish you could come help me finish this job so I can open. LOL.

  22. says

    I am so excited!!
    I bought a pinewood kitchen table yesterday at a second hand store for $25 that I was planning on making something VERY similar with. I think my legs will be white and the top stained. I am SO HAPPY I found out staining pine isn’t to recommend. I will do what you did with the home made stain. It looks amazing. And exactly what I was looking for!

    Thank you :)

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