When we went to Florida early this summer, we first stopped to spend a few days with our good friends that moved there. They had the most beautiful wood console sitting in their living room, which Justus and I both admired and I told Justus I would love something similar for a coffee table. My friend told me that somebody had made theirs out of pine and it was an Ana White plan. When I commented on the gorgeous stain, she said it was steel wool and vinegar. Wow! You know I could hardly wait to come home and research that. It didn't take me long to find the plans and wouldn't you know it, there was a plan for a coffee table and an end table!
Recently I went to visit my sister-in-law for the weekend, and when I came home Sunday night, I found the coffee table sitting in the guest room. Justus had made it for me while I was away and surprised me. (I know, it made my heart melt too.) Since the coffee table was made and ready to go, all I had to do was research the steel wool and vinegar method. I don't typically share project tutorials here, but this was the most fun I've ever had working on furniture and thought you might enjoy trying it too.
You'll find a lot online about using this method, but mostly I wanted to share photos during each phase, because it takes a lot of "ugly" steps before it reaches the "pretty"! When I first stained the coffee table, I thought for sure I had ruined it, but I loved the end result. Needless to say, I didn't take any photos at that time, so these are photos from the matching end table that Justus built.
Step 1: At least a few days prior to working on your wood project, you'll want to create your steel wool and vinegar solution. This consists of purchasing distilled white vinegar and grade #0000 steel wool (I used Rhodes American Steel Wool #0000 found at Wal-Mart in the hardware section). Tear one chunk of the steel wool into pieces and then place in a glass jar. Fill the jar with white vinegar, screw on a jar lid and let the solution sit. When I worked on the coffee table, the solution sat for three days. When I worked on the end table, the solution sat for three weeks. Both match perfectly. You just want to allow enough time for the solution to oxidize.
In addition to the steel wool and vinegar solution, you will also need sandpaper for the initial sanding (I used 120 grit), black tea bags, a cheap paintbrush, 220 grit sandpaper (I used a block) for the finish, and wax.
Step 2: Brew some strong black tea and let steep for at least an hour. I filled our tea kettle and used 5 tea bags.
Step 3: Sand your furniture. I used 120 grit sandpaper for this and my trusty old mouse sander I've had for years.
I really like to take my time sanding, paying attention to all areas. These pieces were for our living room, and I wanted them very smooth and polished looking. Once you're finished, wipe down the piece good. I actually used my blow dryer first to blow all the wood shavings off and then followed with a lint free rag.
Step 4: Using the cheap paintbrush, paint tea all over the piece. This sounds like such a funny step, but it's really essential. Pine wood lacks tannin content, but tannin occurs in tea, and the steel wool and vinegar will react with the tea stain and darken the wood. I made sure I did one very thorough coat, getting in every nook and cranny. On the table tops and legs, I actually did two coats. Use your judgement - on the wood that looks very light in color, you may want to use a little extra tea. Let the wood sit until completely dry.
Step 5: Strain the steel wool and vinegar solution into a bowl. There may be little steel wool particles left (as pictured above) that you will need to throw away. I found there to be a lot less in this solution, which sat for 3 weeks. (A note of caution: use a bowl you don't care about.)
Step 6: Begin painting your steel wool and vinegar solution onto the wood. Both times I used the same cheap paintbrush I had just used for the tea. The first time I did this step, my heart started pounding and I was sure I had made a dreadful error in trying this experiment on my beautiful new coffee table. I frantically started sanding as the wood got darker and darker, to no avail. I decided to let it sit and started working on the bottom of the piece. After a while, I saw it might have promise.
Some of the wood you will paint will be light gray in color. Then other areas will appear black (see picture above). Do not worry about it - I promise it will look right in the end.
As the solution sits, it will get darker. This is a great example of the "ugly" stage. On areas you've already painted and it has begun to dry, the color will have turned a dark gray (see outer edge). When you first paint, the color will be a light gray-tan.
But as the solution begins to dry over the entire piece, you'll begin to have hope.
(If you happen to build a table using this same plan, Justus didn't attach the table top until I was finished with the stain as it made it much easier to work with.)
Step 7: Even though your piece is looking so much better, you'll have a few places where you can clearly see drips (see photo above on right hand edge) and even areas where the wood is darker. This is where the fine grit sandpaper comes in and this step makes all the difference. I used a 220 grit sandpaper block.
Just lightly sanding over the area removes the drip stain and helps the color blend (see above). I used the sandpaper over the entire piece, focusing on areas that needed extra blending. Be sure to wipe down the wood after you've finished sanding.
Above is what the table looked like after doing the finish sanding. Don't you love the weathered wood look? I've never been fond of using stain on pine, but this method is so different and really eliminates the yellow color of pine showing through. Looks like fun, doesn't it? It really is!
Step 8: The final step is a wax finish. By the way, at this point I've only worked on this for a few hours or so, even waiting for everything to dry, so it's a fast project. Annie Sloan wax is the only wax I've ever used and I love it, so that's what I decided to use. I can't say whether or not wax you can purchase at the hardware store is any different, but I've found this wax is easy to apply and I love the finish after it cures.
Using a disposable knife, I placed the wax on a paper plate and used a lint free cloth to apply the wax. (I've found that old fashioned Gerber cloth diapers work great!)
I've used a wax brush before, but the cloth seems to work perfect, especially on intricate areas. You can see the wood is starting to look more brown and polished as the wax is applied. I applied a couple light coats of wax over the entire piece.
Step 9: Finished! The wax will take a little while to fully cure, but you can use it gently pretty much right away. I'm so happy with the way these tables turned out, and especially love them in our living room.
I'm not sure if the wood really looks like barn wood, but it definitely has a weathered rustic look, yet is still very polished and clean (hopefully kind of Pottery-Barnish). I'll show photos of them in the living room soon!