Tuesday, 15 March 2016

'Old' Wood from New - Now!

I really love those old apple crates that are everywhere just now.  I know: I'm such a cliché.  Ho hum.

They are just so damn versatile.  Fill 'em, stack 'em, put things in 'em, on top of 'em, sideways, upside-down, even the right way up.  The problem is that they're so flippin' expensive.  I blame all those bars with bare Edison bulbs (I love those too) that use mini ones to hold their cutlery and big ones piled high as the gantry.  Cool = pricey.  The solution?  Tea and vinegar.  Yes, tea is the solution to many a crisis, but vinegar?  Stay with me...

My reasons for doing it this way, and not with a commercial wood dye or stain are pretty much my reasons for everything: first, the supplies are cheap and I may even have them already; and second, I believe they are less harmful to the environment and to my health. (Disclaimer: this is purely speculative!)

The other hero here is Ikea, as is often the case.  Ikea here in the UK is currently selling these pine storage boxes for £5 or £9, depending on size.  Sure, they're purdy, but they're not a patch on an old, beaten-up, discoloured version.  So here's a quick run down on how to make new wood look old - giving it heaps more character and individuality.

How to 'age' new wood - instantly!

what you'll need

steel wool (the fine threaded, messy type and not the stuff that is like silver plasticky ribbon and often called a scourer)
white distilled vinegar (other types will work, I'm sure, but this is cheap and it's easy to see the colour change)
a teabag and boiling water
a couple of jam jars
a paintbrush or two - about 1/2 inch wide

what you'll do

First, fill one of your jars about 3/4 full of vinegar.  Then take a chunk of steel wool that will fit comfortably inside and pull it apart a little.  Remember school chemistry - the more surface area, the quicker the reaction?  That's the fella.  If some of the steel wool sticks over the surface of the vinegar, that's cool.  You'll see it start to rust really quickly because it needs the air.  Leave the jar lid off if the smell of vinegar doesn't offend you too much or put it on loosely if you want.  Let the air get in there though and you'll hear it start to fizz.

You'll need to leave it for at least 24 hours until a decent amount of rusty steel wool has started to colour the vinegar brown.  I poked it all around with my paintbrush to get it going but really, it just needs time.  After 24 hours, you can use it.  Wait another day and it will be darker and give a darker result.  Water it down and it will be lighter.  (This is the case for new steel wool.  If you're using previously rusted stuff to make a further batch, the vinegar will go brown within a few hours.)

Once the vinegar jar is ready, brew a jar of strong tea.  You don't need to leave the bag in, but you can if you like.  I left mine in for a couple of hours, although I started using it immediately.  I'm impatient like that.

Before you start painting the potions on, beat up your wood a bit.  I took mine outside and rubbed the neat ends of the panels on my paving stones so they looked worn down.  Then, I put some gravel on the paving stones, lay a panel on the gravel and rubbed it around a bit.  (Happily, it was a wet day, so some mud got on there too.)  I hit it with a hammer and clawed it a bit with the claw end.  My husband jumped on it.  I stabbed some with a pointy thing so it might look like woodworm.  Do whatever you will with whatever you have.

My new wood, after a good beating

Next, paint on the tea with a paintbrush.  It goes on very easily and you will see a slight darkening straight away.  Paint with the grain and try not to leave and puddles or very wet patches.  You don't need much to make a difference.  Apparently, this all works because there are natural tannins in the wood which discolour when the rusty vinegar hits them.  Adding tea increases the amount of tannins.  (I've also read that you can add some coffee grounds to your tea for a darker finish.  However, you have to rub off the grounds right away or they'll leave dark spots.  Sounded like more trouble to me so I didn't bother but give it a go if you want.)

Let the tea dry (use a hairdryer if you're an impatient git, like me) and then paint on the vinegar mixture.  You will see it darken before your little eyes.  As with the tea, avoid very wet patches as they will show when dry.  I know this because I let my boys do some 'painting', and those areas are very patchy and look, well, faked.

This photo was taken immediately after I put rusty vinegar on the tea-stained top panel.  The bottom panel has been covered with tea only.  Look at the instant colour change!

Both panels have been painted with tea and one coat of rusty vinegar, then left to develop overnight.

My first batch of wood went a grey/blue colour, which I was a bit annoyed about, but then decided that it looked natural and rustic.  Then I gave one panel another coat of (older) rusty vinegar and it went really brown, almost as if it had been painted.  It was too regular.  I wiped it down and, hey presto, the finish was brown but still distressed.  Perfect!  I'll have to do the same with the grey/blue panels now so the thing looks like one piece!

I've also wiped down wood that has been stained and dried for a few days and some brown came off.  I'm guessing that some of the rusty vinegar soaks in and the rest sits on the surface so it can be removed easily. 

Bottom panel after tea and one coat of one-day-old rusty vinegar.  Top panel after the same, plus one coat of two-day-old rusty vinegar, then wiped down.  They're sitting on a piece of new crate, before any staining.

You could try mixing the tea and rusty vinegar together and painting just once but, as the tea will eventually grow mould, I thought it better to keep them separate. 

I think sanding would also add some good effects so I might give that a go.  Incidentally, on my last panel, I tried the (now about 4 days old) rusty vinegar on its own, without putting tea on first.  It turned out just the same!  The vertical end batons here were painted with vinegar only and the four horizontal pieces in tea first.  Can you see any difference?!  Made me think I'd wasted my time by using tea at all!  However, the age and darkness of the rusty vinegar and the individual piece of wood both seem to affect the final result, so I can't be sure that all the panels would have behaved the same way throughout the process.  I guess that's the fun of it - it's a bit unpredictable, just like a real, ageing piece of wood.

But I think it's fair to say that the older the vinegar mixture, the darker and more brown it will turn the wood.  Removing the steel wool slows down the darkening of the vinegar but, as there were still little 'crumbs' of metal in my jar, it continued to get darker over time, despite the wool having been taken out.

As for cost, the steel wool set me back around £2 for a large bag.  Apparently, it has "hundreds of uses around the home".  The vinegar was about 40p, the paintbrushes were pilfered from the kids' painting stash (although I'll probably not return the rusty one!) and the teabag - well, that was free cos I made a cuppa in the process.  (You could even combine your wood ageing with baking and make my Chocolate Tea Cake at the same time!  Then it would almost be like the teabag giving you money back!  Man, I'm suuuuch a skinflint...)

If you want to know more, check out this tutorial at A Piece of Rainbow or the links from my Pinterest Homey Ideas board for lots more photos from someone who is obviously a lot better at planning than I am!  And make sure you let me see the fruits of your labours.  I'm especially looking forward to hearing how you choose to abuse your wood before staining.  Get in touch on facebook if it's too tricky commenting here (I have that issue with other blogs I follow).  Have fuuuuun!

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