I like to think of myself as someone who does their bit to help the environment. I don’t use bottled water, I compost my scraps and I have an appropriate amount of guilt-spasms whenever I throw away tissue paper instead of flattening it out and saving it to reuse later.

If I’m being perfectly honest, that last one is less about the environment and more about being raised by a mother who not only saved tissue paper, but fills out birthday cards in pencil so you can reuse them yourself later.  It’s a cheap thing, not an environment thing but the end result is the same.  Saving the forests one pink puff of paper at a time.

Basically I do what I can and beat myself up a moderate amount when I know I could do more.  Like, sometimes if it’s pouring rain outside and the recycle bins are already out by the curb,  I’ll say a little swear word, look outside,  roll my eyes, then shove my pop can in the actual kitchen garbage and run away quickly.  I have no idea why I run away quickly, I just do.  To date, running away quickly has had little to no impact on anything.

But when I started thinking about how I was going to stain the wood outdoor furniture I made, I found myself gravitating towards the super-hippie, I live in the woods under a fern option of vinegar and steel wool.

Yes.  Staining wood with a solution of steel wool soaked in vinegar.  You’ve maybe heard about it.


You take a small handful of steel wool (about half a pad) and stick it in a mason jar filled with vinegar and then leave it alone.  What you get after a week or so is a brown, rusty looking solution.  When you paint this on wood it doesn’t “stain” the furniture per say, but causes an instantaneous chemical reaction between the solution and the tannins in the wood.

Because of this, the wood ends up looking aged, not artificially stained. Which is perfect if you’re trying to make something look a bit old and worn.

Do not put it on your face because of this.



The great part about using a solution like this is it only stinks like vinegar a little bit and the smell goes away quickly, unlike a traditional stain which will stink up a whole house and stays stinky for a long time.



I started some vinegar and steel wool solutions at a few different times so when the time came to stain I had a few options for staining.  I tested them on the underside of my chair arms so I could get a really good idea of what they’d all look like.  I really liked the second example best, the solution that had been sitting for weeks and weeks.  But I didn’t have enough of it because I forgot to keep a lid on the jar and it evaporated into thin air.

So I mixed all of the very old solution with some of the 1 week old solution and let that sit for a few days before brushing it on.

It seems like a lot of waiting around for the right colour, but I was being picky.  If you’re just trying to make a new wood crate look old, stick some steel wool in a jar of vinegar and let it sit for a few days then brush it on.

It takes no time at all.  You just brush it on and you’re done.

What I ended up with was my DIY Restoration Hardware Aspen collection furniture looking like it had been sitting outside weathering for longer than the 3 weeks or so that it had.


Not only did this eco-friendly method work, it worked better, faster and easier than anything else I could have done.

How easy?  Well, harder than flattening out a piece of tissue paper but easier than running out to the recycle bin in the middle of a lightening storm apparently.


  1. Wendy Knox says:

    The color is beautiful. Did you use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar?

  2. I love the chair in the photo made from 4×4 logs! The staining technique is really nice, but I think I need to make some of those chairs!

  3. I used this treatment on an old farm table that I turned into a sink counter in my mudroom. I love it and get comments on it all the time. Now I keep looking for other things I can do it to!

  4. Mo says:

    And frugal too!!! Right up my alley! I will be trying this. :)

  5. charlotte tataryn says:

    Hi Karen; it’s been a while. Two things I’d like to mention, and one is that this method is ‘awesome’ but can only be used on OLD wood, or brand new wood. I had a lovely tray that needed some work and I thought this the best answer but apparently there were ‘stains’ of some nature on the tray (proteins perhaps) and let’s just say that tray isn’t in my house anymore and I’m sure the Salvation Army couldn’t give it away.
    Also, because I USE all my moss bits in my garden, to keep them spreading their slow works of wonder, and therefore don’t want to blend and paint my still new-looking, after all these years, bird bath base I thought, Aha! What a disappointment – apparently no tannins in concrete so the problem still exists.
    Otherwise, you’re still the only non-health related blog I read and you still make me smile, and sometimes just laugh aloud. Thanks for doing what you do!
    Charlotte T. Winnipeg

  6. Kathy Houk says:

    The first pic of the arm is so pleasing. It is stacked just so. Are the diagonal marks from the saw or somehow your touch. It is impressive work and fit for you and your tiara. I’ll keep the diy stain info in mind because it’s a great look. Love your site and the comments can have good info too. Hell of a drill bit.

  7. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Hmmmm, so do I detect a genuine autographed model City of you-know-where green compost pail being used for illicit staining purposes? Hah!

  8. izzy says:

    Is it me or have the dates disappeared from your posts? I already had a hard time finding your latest and now I don’t see the date.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Izzy! The dates have indeed disappeared. They’ll be gone for a week or two while I conduct an experiment. In the meantime, the posts are in order on the homepage. So if you are on https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com, the latest post is always, always the first one in the grid of little pictures. The second post is next to it, the third one next to that and so on. They’re all in chronological order on the home page always. :) ~ karen!

  9. Andrew says:

    If you’re looking for a darker stain, especially on woods that don’t have a lot of natural tannins, you can first apply a coating of steeped tea, which is high in tannin content. Let the wood dry fully, then apply the iron acetate solution you’ve made.

    This should be done on scrap pieces first, as the effect can be a good deal darker, depending on the concentrations and number of applications (this technique is also used for ebonizing wood).

    Another cheap, durable wood finish can be had by boiling the galls (or husks) from walnut trees in water. This is the true “walnut stain”, and is much warmer in tone than the iron acetate solution. (You can also buy the active ingredient from the walnut stain in crystallized form ― just add water.)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Andrew! Yes, good point. I did indeed do that with my wood when I was testing out stains and yes it’s a great way to get a much darker stain. In my case, on the ash it really brought out the grey colour and made the wood a very dark grey immediately. (I was looking for a more golden colour which is why I didn’t go with the pre-treatment of tea) ~ karen!

  10. Sabina says:

    I love that you say “pop” and not “soda”

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      “Pop” is so much more fun! Nobody says “soda” here, unless they’re ‘mercan!

      • Sabina says:

        It’s really a Western New York/Southern Ontario thing. Live in Buffalo, spent my summers in Crystal Beach. Anywhere else in the state, let alone the country, they say soda…unless they’re from Buffalo!

  11. Barb says:

    I love this idea. A lot. I love how your furniture turned out. I LOVE vinegar! Is there anything that vinegar can’t do? I recently stopped using commercial cleaning products. Depending on the area, I now use things like vinegar, baking soda and salt or a combination of these. And sometimes borax as well. It’s way cheaper and I figure less harsh chemicals are going into the environment. I also gave up fabric softeners and dryer sheets and am just using vinegar in the rinse. I never thought I could give up my perfumey add-ins but so far so good. I am going to try a few drops of essential oil in the vinegar next to see if that satisfies my nose! Gah! When did I turn into such a hippie dippy old lady? LOL!!

    • Sabina says:

      I read once that fabric sheets are the number 1 cause of dryer fires. They leave a gunky film on the the filter that can’t be seen but if you try to run water through it won’t drain. Instead of mixing the essential oils with vinegar try a set of woolzies dryer balls (you can buy or actually make them yourself). You can put some essential oil drops on them and they smell and work great. They also cut your drying time so you’re saving energy AND the environment.

      A tree-hugger, hippie :)

  12. SuzanneLH says:

    We’ve used this stuff for years, and call it devil’s nightmare. Have no idea why.

    • SuzanneLH says:

      Tung oil is my go to wood finish, no shine unless you buff, if it wears, just put on more. If it’s good enough for boat decks, any thing else, inside or out, is a go.

  13. Mark says:

    I saw something like this (on a British house makeover show) used to change an ugly yellow brick into a more attractive colour. So this might work on brick too.

  14. Mary W says:

    Love the color you achieved – perfect aging!

  15. Marilyn meagher says:

    Looks great! And frugal too. Win win

  16. maggie van sickle says:

    u need to go into business of everything. Good job!

  17. Katie says:

    I thinking of doing this method on my son’s old pine flooring. Do you seal the wood afterwards?

    • Karen says:

      If you’re doing it indoors on a floor then yes, you’d need to seal it afterwards Katie. ~ karen!

    • LisaB says:

      I think that pine does not have enough natural tannins to react with the vinegar mixture. I did this to refinish an old pine table and used brewed black tea on the wood first. It worked so well! So easy..”..

  18. Cathy says:

    Did the drips stain your stone pavers?

  19. jainegayer says:

    It looks wonderful with the vinegar stain!

  20. Marie Anne says:

    I love that you used an eco-friendly option! Maybe next time it’s raining you can just put the pop can on the counter to take out the next day? Think of how happy that would make mother nature!

    My real question though is did you or should you use a sealer on your furniture after staining? Are there any eco-friendly or cheap options for that?

    • Karen says:

      This is really, really hard wood Marie Anne (Ash, like they use to make baseball bats) so I probably don’t really need to do anything with it. It would take many decades for it to ever rot away. But to be safe I could use Thompson’s Water Seal. It’s inexpensive and still allows the wood to age naturally underneath. ~ karen!

  21. Debbie D says:

    As always, looks fab!

  22. you always use the catchiest music in your vids. great work!

    btw…last week, I watched the latest season of Luther on Netflix and thought of you. oh Idris…

    • Karen says:

      Oh Idris, lol. :) Speaking of music, that song is actually the theme song for the show Please Like Me, which I talked about in my last post about 3 shows you should be watching. ~ karen!

  23. you always use the catchiest music in your vids. great work!

  24. Lynn says:

    Have to say I love your DIY stain it makes your furniture look so inviting. I had to check to see if there was a DIY finish to protect your beautiful set an I found this . http://www.remediesandherbs.com/top-4-homemade-wood-polish-and-sealant-recipes/ Let me know what you think, we all have found out you have great instincts .

    • Cheryl Smith-Bell says:

      Love this and your links are spot on! Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lynn! Yup, some of those are good choices. I make a Beeswax/Mineral oil wood conditioner that works great on any raw wood. Just plain mineral oil is great too and I’d choose it before canola oil I think and it’s the best choice for butcher blocks. But for protecting anything that will be be left outside you want to stay nice I’d use Thompson’s Wood Seal. It’s protects from weather but lets the wood age naturally plus it soaks in so it doesn’t have a shiny finish. :) ~ karen!

  25. Catt in Kentucky says:

    Love the results!

  26. Kathleen says:

    I just love the furniture. With or without the stain.

  27. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I love the color you ended up with…really does look naturally aged…it’s worth the wait to save on the cost and labor (labour)…Un-huh…didn’t know I could speak Canadian did ya?

  28. MrsChris SA says:

    That is awesome!! Definately going to try this!!
    Thank you!

  29. GC Lehman says:

    It looks fantastic! I offered to do all this with the trim in out new bathroom. Everyone else opted to go buy some. I like economic and wallet friendly better but, it wasn’t my wallet, just my labour. So….aside from the smell and dark black fingers and nails for days who am I to complain….?

  30. Bobbles says:

    So how do you treat the wood after it’s been vinegared? The wood must need some oil, doesn’t it? I would think all the vinegar would be drying. I have outdoor pieces right now that could use some oil bathing.

    • Karen says:

      You can just leave it Bobbles. Or if it’s for use outside and you feel the need to protect it you could put on Thompsons Water seal which still lets the wood continue to age but protects it from water damage. ~ karen!

      • Amy says:

        Hi Karen,

        Thanks for the stain recipe. I loved the look of the wood when I tried this. I also loved the ease of application (I used a rag). But! I tried sealing with Thompsons Water Seal, and it changed the look of the wood, all blotchy and wet and ugly. So Thompsons Water Seal does not work, unfortunately. I just ordered a gallon of Modern Masters Exterior Dead Flat Varnish in hopes that this will work. Fingers crossed!

        • Karen says:

          Good to know Amy! I’ve used the waterseal on plain wood, not the stained stuff. I wonder if it would work fine after the “stain” has sat for a year or so? I could give it a shot on my own year old furniture. ~ karen!

  31. TucsonPatty says:

    That is amazing. I keep seeing that on Pinterest, but I’ve not yet had anything on which to try it. (Ooo, grammar) Thank you for the experimenting that you do, so we don’t have to try it all ourselves! There is a stump-side table in my life that I will be giving this a shot! I like the warmer three-weeks-full-pad color and wonder why the mixture didn’t show more warmth? Weathered furniture is more grey-ish, so there is that.

    • TucsonPatty says:

      P.S. Left-over stain? What do you do with it? Leaving the steel wool in it forever might get a little too dark…might it make a carefully applied weed killer?

      • Karen says:

        I don’t know, lol. Maybe? I’m just keeping my leftover stain in a mason jar in case I need it for touch ups. I imagine there’s a point where the stain stops ageing. ~ karen!

  32. Cynna says:

    So, basically, you’re creating rust juice to use as stain?

  33. Sande says:

    And it had to be way cheaper too!
    doesn’t seem worthy of being one of first comments although when quality and thriftiness mesh it’s pretty sweet!
    As always, thanks for all the tips & pics.

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