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Commercial stains have been around for about 100 years, but woodworkers have stained wood for centuries using pigments and dyes made from plants and minerals. You can make fairly simple stains at home and use them to give wood a distinctive look.
When experimenting with homemade stains, measure and carefully record all of the ingredients used. This will allow you to duplicate the same color of stain later. Without a record of how you prepared the stain, it would be nearly impossible to create the same stain twice.
For a dark gray or ebony stain, soak iron nails in a jar of vinegar for several days (Image 1). Once the vinegar has darkened, pour off some of the liquid, and brush it onto a test piece of wood (Image 2). The results will not initially be dramatic, but as it dries, the wood will turn silvery gray or, with additional stain, almost black.
You can make a brown stain by soaking chewing tobacco in equal amounts of ammonia and water (Image 3). As described above, strain off some of the liquid, brush the stain onto the wood and allow it to dry.
A popular old-fashioned stain may be made by soaking walnut husks in a jar of water for several days. Once the water turns dark, strain off the liquid (Image 4), and brush it onto the wood for a dark-walnut stain.
A variety of materials may be added to turpentine or mineral spirits. Oil-based artist paints, roofing tar and even asphalt may be used to create stains. For example, mix a small amount of roofing tar into a cup of turpentine (Image 1) and stir. Pour the mixture through a cloth or strainer into a clean container (Image 2) and label it.
Using a rag, test the stain on a piece of scrap wood (Image 3). After the stain has been on the wood for a few seconds, wipe off the excess to get an idea of what the final stain will look like.
If you like the results, use the stain on a project. Rub the stain into the wood with a rag or applicator (Image 4), making sure to wipe off any excess afterward.
Homemade stains don't contain a binding agent--the ingredient in commercial stains that seals the stain to the wood. For that reason, it's best to wait several days for homemade stain to dry before applying a finish. Apply the finish lightly to avoid drawing the stain out of the wood.
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