When recently remodeling one of the rooms in my house, I was frustrated with the lack of finishing options I found at local hardware stores for my new pine wall paneling. The reason I went through the effort of using real wood as opposed to cheaper, easier-to-apply pre-finished laminate boards was to avoid the plastic look, and to avoid the tons of chemical elixirs.
I wanted an antique look to go with my partial hardwood/partial stone flooring and to match the paneling in other, older rooms of the house. However, every store-purchased sample I tried on hidden sections of my pine made the wood look newer and more plastic, not aged and worn as I desired.
Finally a helpful sales person at one of the larger stores gave me the “pssst” treatment, told me to stop looking at the standard stains and clear coats and showed me how to age the wood naturally by accelerating oxidization thus replicating the same look which walls subjected to years of fireplace smoke, skin contact, temperature changes and other age-inducing factors eventually settle into.
And it’s CHEAP and simple.
Here’s what you need:
- White vinegar from the supermarket. Any brand will do, but you may need at least a gallon for a decent sized room and more for a very large room such as a living room.
- Lots of steel wool. Preferably a fine, very fine, or ultra-fine grade with minimal impurities or additives (no SOS, stainless steel or anything of that nature, you’ll see why.)
- Lots of soft rags. Most hardware stores will have great prices on bags of T-shirt material rags, which are perfect, but even old bath towels will do.
- A couple hours of free time.
- Some bags of tea for extra color, even a bit of water-based stain for tinted colors if desired. I chose to go without including these.
1) Half-empty the bottle of white vinegar. You may set aside the vinegar you had to remove for anything else.
2) Insert several bunches of steel wool into the bottle of vinegar, making them as submerged as possible.
3) If desired, add several bags of tea, a bit of water-based stain for extra color.
4) Cover the bottle and allow to sit anywhere from 12 hours overnight to 2 days. The longer you allow it to sit, the more the steel wool will break down into the vinegar and even if you can’t see it, the mix will be more potent (darker when applied to wood).
5) Prepare the wooden object or surface you wish to apply the vinegar to. This works by far the best on fresh or sanded wood. Any residue from pre-stain, beeswax, and other substances can make application quite sloppy and time consuming.
6) Open the vinegar bottle. Some warm air will probably escape as you open it; this is normal although the immediate smell may not be cologne-quality. If you can access the steel wool through the opening, then go ahead and remove it. If not, you can just cut above the liquid until the vinegar bottle functions as a bowl.
7) Take a pad of steel wool and scrub it smoothly but firmly across the object as evenly as possible. Don’t be surprised if you see little or no color at first. The wood will react over the course of several minutes and perhaps not show the “permanent” outcome for a day.
8) Take a handful of damp rags and wipe the area down firmly, attempting to mix any streaks or blobs the steel wool left
9) Wipe thoroughly with dry rags.
By the time you’ve done all of this, you should notice that the wood you’ve applied the mix to has gradually darkened. The smell of the vinegar will eventually clear out, and on the upside, vinegar is actually a great cleaning product and extremely mold-resistant.
On light pine, this will result in a golden-red with a dull gray hue and flat texture. On oak, this will result in blackening. On red cedar, this will result in a black/gray/pink swirl. I’ve seen the mix applied to pine with a blue water-based stain with some interesting but very niche results.
I included a before/after photo with the article to illustrate my end-result when utilizing this aging technique on my pine walls. Conclusion: They nearly identically resemble the half-century old wood in the downstairs living room and create almost a medieval aesthetic when combined with stone or ceramic flooring. I simply couldn’t get the same subtle look with stain!