How to Age Wood Instantly

Using tea, vinegar and steel wool

I don't know about you, but I love working with aged wood that has a gorgeous gray patina. Salvaged wood is definitely my best friend. But there comes a time when salvaged wood may not be available and pallet wood is usually plentiful and almost always free. But what is a girl to do when the pallet wood looks new, like it just came out of the factory. Well, you can take it apart and leave it outside for a year or more to age, or you can do it quickly using the following technique.

What you will need:

  • Black Tea Bag
  • Water
  • Distilled White Vinegar or Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Steel Wool (0000 Super Fine)
  • Scissors
  • 2-Pint Jars with Lids
  • 1"-2" Natural Bristle Paint Brush
  • Wood Boards
  • Plastic Sheeting or Plastic Bag (Optional)

Using the scissors, cut the steel wool pad into thirds, and place one piece into the glass jar with about one cup of vinegar. The vinegar will start to break-down the steel wool. Very fine steel wool will break-down in as little as 24 hours, while a course steel wool may take weeks or even months to completely break down. You really can use any type of steel wool, but you can use the solution more quickly if you go with the fine steel wool.

Once the vinegar solution starts to turn gray or black, you can use it. You will notice that the steel wool pad may be smaller or completely dissolved. That is a good thing.

Once the vinegar solution is ready to use, brew a cup of tea in the microwave until the water turns really dark (about 2 minutes). Allow tea to cool slightly, then transfer to pint jar. I usually leave the tea bag in the water in case I need to add more water to the solution.

Lay the boards that you will be aging on a flat surface. If you are worried about staining the surface you are using, you can put down plastic before laying the boards down.

How to use tea, vinegar and steel wool to age wood quickly

Using the paint brush, paint the tea on the boards. Allow to dry and then paint the other side and ends. If you run out of tea, add more water and nuke in the microwave for another minute or two using the same tea bag.

I'm using pine pallet boards for this example. Below is a picture of the boards before and after the tea solution (On the left shows before the tea solution and the right shows after the tea solution.

How to use tea, vinegar and steel wool to age wood quickly

Once the boards are dry, paint on the vinegar solution and let that dry overnight. The next morning you will be surprised to see how much your boards have changed in color. The vinegar and rust from the steel wool pads are reacting with the tannins in the tea to change the color of the wood.

The picture below shows the change in color after the vinegar solution has been allowed to dry for 24 hours.

How to use tea, vinegar and steel wool to age wood quickly

To get a more uniform aged color, you can sand the boards first. I did not sand these boards before aging them since I wanted a rough board for my finished project.

If you are not completely happy with the color of the wood after it has reacted with the tea and vinegar, you can sand it to remove some of the coloring. Experiment with different kinds of wood, as the color change will be different. As I try different types of wood, I will post pictures on this page.

One thing I did notice, was that there were small batches of wood that did not change color at all. I figured it was because I did not get enough tea solution on the wood. Some of the patches were because the wood was so rough that the tea didn't absorb. A little light sanding on those spots and reapplying with tea and vinegar solved the problem. As you try this technique over and over, you will know when you might need to do some light sanding and when you don't. I imagine that harder woods like oak, would benefit from a light sanding to help open up the pores before applying the tea solution.

The vinegar solution can be added to indefinitely over time. As you use the solution just keep adding more vinegar to it. If the vinegar looks too light in color and the steel wool has dissolved, simply add more steel wool.  Mark your jar clearly so that no one uses it or ingests it by accident.

Tea will grow mold eventually, so use that up within a few days. Storing in the fridge overnight if needed.  Again, mark this jar for craft projects only and do not ingest.

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