How to Make the Easiest Reclaimed Wood Stain from 3 Simple Ingredients

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by Robin

reclaimed wood stain

The reclaimed wood stain finish we did on our $30 DIY floating wood vanity AMAZES me.  I can't believe how beautifully it turned out - especially given the ridiculously simple materials that went into creating it.  

There was not a drop of purchased stain here!  We made the finish from common, everyday things around the house. 

To my eyes, this is the perfect reclaimed wood finish.  It's got enough grey and enough brown to appear authentic.  I think I would have had to buy a dozen pots of stains to get it just right.

inspiration for reclaimed wood stain
My goal was to reproduce the deep brown finish on the authentic boards of the second from the bottom.

In the end, we chose to keep our counter smooth - without scrapes and gouges - this is a bathroom counter after all.  Easy to clean wins.

Instead of clearing out the stain shelf at the hardware store, I grabbed a couple of ingredients from the kitchen.  I'll bet you have them in yours, too.  I did some countertop chemistry - and Voila - a most lovely rich brown with just enough grey.  

I estimate the oxidizing stain cost about $0.75 to make.  Seriously.  And we already had the oil topcoat from our kitchen makeover - though it's pretty inexpensive to purchase a fresh jug.

So, enough preamble!  Here's how to DIY your own reclaimed wood stain from simple, low cost, household ingredients...

DIY reclaimed wood stain

How to Make an Easy Reclaimed Wood Stain from 3 Simple Ingredients

What you need:
  1. A steel wool pad (no soap!)
  2. Vinegar
  3. Black tea
  4. Foam brushes
  5. Tung oil (this one is our favourite - and we've tried a few.)
  6. Automotive sandpaper 

Start Here:
  • A few days before you'd like to begin your finish, tear up a steel wool pad into a glass jar.  
  • Fill the jar with vinegar to cover the steel wool.  Close the lid.  
  • Let soak for a few days.  Shake every day or so.  
  • The steel wool should rust into a mess, and possibly dissolve, though this isn't required.

A Word to the Wise:

Consider doing a test piece with a scrap cut of your projects' wood.  

We did this with a small piece of leftover whitewood.  It worked out beautifully - but we were more confident to try it on a piece we hadn't put any measures or mitreing work into.

Step 1) The Tea

first step DIY reclaimed wood stain
The first step:
Over-steeped black tea.
I let it steep overnight with about 4 bags in it.

DIY reclaimed wood stain first coat
I won't lie - I was a little nervous with the first coat after we carefully made this floating wood vanity.
Above is how the wood looked after the coat of tea.

Let the tea soak in and dry. Sand your piece smooth.

Step 2) The Solution

reclaimed wood stain second step
Step Two:
Brush on the first coat of vinegar/steel wool solution. 
It was amazing to watch the colour change right before our eyes!  

Those lovely gray tones started to appear almost instantly.

reclaimed wood stain solution
The colour deepened with time.  
We did 2 coats of the steel wool/vinegar mix.

two coats reclaimed wood stain
We did this coat in the morning before work.

deep color reclaimed wood stain DIY
A few hours later the colour was this rich and dark. 😍

Step 3) The Top Coat

reclaimed wood stain top coat
The final step was a couple of coats of our favourite protective finish: Tung Oil. 
It gives a lovely hand rubbed sheen.

DIY reclaimed wood stain how to
Rich brown with lovely, deep gray undertones.

A Note about Tung Oil:

There are many tutorials online about applying Tung Oil. In our experience, it is pretty forgiving - but patience is a virtue.

  • Apply a coat, let it soak and cure for 3-4 hours minimum. 
  • After the early coats (which soak in a lot on softwood like this), you should wait a day between applications.
  • This project got 3-4 coats before installing and 2 more after the sink was in.  
  • The final coat hand-rubbed with automotive sandpaper (5000grit) while the oil was wet. Wear gloves!

If you'd like to see a video showing the whole process, check out this one from Gadgets and Grain.

I want to stain ALL THE THINGS with this method!

Would you believe we built this gorgeous floating wood vanity for less than $30!
You can read all about it here.  (The IKEA sink and stunning matte black Delta faucet cost extra, of course.)

floating vanity with reclaimed wood stain

We did a whole lot of DIY magic to turn the old cluttered basement closet into this stunning modern basement bathroom.  Can you believe we did it without any major construction?!

All the details...

  • And we'll share about how we did all the finishing touches on our Classic, Modern, Natural Powder Room


  1. Replies
    1. That's incredible, your thoughts on this diy projects is totally awesome, I'm going to give this one a try. Ty for sharing

  2. Yep, best frugal stain ever! I've been using iron oxide for years and often have a jar of it brewing in the garage. The end colour is often a surprise since the resultant colour is due to the reaction with the tannins present in the wood, which varies with species (softwoods typical less it seems). Because I often use softwoods, I use the tea trick but it's my least favourite result- I find that it often darkens too much to my taste and looks too solid, less like stain and more of a wash. Yours came out beautifully, though. The first photo looks more reddish (which it love, too) than the in process photos, is that just how it appears in the photo or is it true to life? Either way, I like the resulting colour in both.

    1. I wish I found this method earlier, Cred! It's like magic. :) The tung oil really seemed to bring out the warmth in the wood - so the finished project does look a bit reddish than the process shots. I love it that way. I wonder if another finish - polyurethane maybe - would have a less reddish tone?

    2. Interesting, I've never combined the vinegar stain with tung oil before; will have to give that a try when I'm going for a warmer look (reminds me of MCM teak or cherry).
      I had been using tung oil on my dining table but because the odor is so strong, I do it in the garage. But it renders my table out of service for a couple days because it takes several coats and must dry in between each. I have been using a beeswax finish for it instead, so I can do it right in the dining room. I wonder if the beeswax might give it a more natural finish.
      But however you finish, the homemade stain is great- I love it cuz I can stain indoors without worrying about odor or fumes- I used it to stain my son's bunkbed, dried quickly and there was no concern about him sleeping in his bed the same nIght (I left it raw- no wax or urethane)
      Frugal, safe and beautiful!

  3. This is gorgeous! It's funny because it's almost the exact color of my favourite stain that I always use but obviously way way cheaper! Thanks for sharing this trick!

    1. I love this finish so much I think I’d do it even if it cost MORE! It’s so lovely. 😍 Thanks for your comment, Courtenay!


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