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How to Make Homemade Stains

Learn how to create eco-friendly, no-VOC water-based stains for your next woodworking project. You'll save money with these simple concoctions and you can give wood a very distinctive look.

More in Painting

  • Time

    30 Minutes

  • Price Range

    $1 - $50

  • Difficulty


Three Methods:

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.

Nails and Vinegar

For a dark gray or ebony stain, soak iron nails in a jar of vinegar for several days. Once the vinegar has darkened, pour off some of the liquid, and brush it onto a test piece of wood. The results will not initially be dramatic, but as it dries, the wood will turn silvery gray or with additional stain, almost black.

A Safe Way to Use Tobacco

You can make a brown stain by soaking chewing tobacco in equal amounts of ammonia and water. As described above, strain off some of the liquid, brush the stain onto the wood and allow it to dry.

soak tobacco in ammonia and water for brown

Walnut Husks

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 and brush it onto the wood for a dark-walnut stain.

soak walnut husks in water for drk walnut stain