I figured, as you probably did, too, that after the homemade wood dye disaster, I’d be out of the DIY wood dye business for good. And that really was a safe bet. Honestly.
But then, in the grocery store, I came upon this:
You’ll notice that it says “steel.” As in, not stainless steel.
Sucked in by the prospect of getting DIY wood dye right this time (and the fabulously low price), I bought the three-pack and tried again!
That’s right. The DIY wood dye adventure continues!
A Refresher Course
Steel wool plus white vinegar equals rust, AKA DIY wood dye. The first time I did this, I accidentally picked up stainless steel, which generally doesn’t rust in vinegar. I found steel wool, but it had soap in it, which resulted in something resembling witch’s brew. Smelled like it, too. However, it worked, and I got DIY wood dye. The results weren’t what I wanted, but the point is, you can DIY wood dye.
Picking Up Where I Left Off
Repeating the same steps, I cut off a piece of the steel scrubber, popped it in a jar, covered it with white vinegar (since you’ll get a different result with balsamic vinegar), then let chemistry do its thing. Side note: no weird foaming this time around!
For fun, I did the same with part of the copper scrubber, just to see what would happen. I did not do anything with the plastic scrubber because I already knew nothing would happen.
Per the instructions, I checked up on these in 24 hours. And, well, nothing was happening. But, as it turns out, there’s a good reason for this.
First of all, I forgot to leave the lids slightly ajar. This is important because while there is air in the jar, it’s not enough to create the oxygen exchange that creates the oxidation that causes
rust DIY wood dye.
Another newbie mistake? Sure, why not!
Mistake number two was, well, twofold. As it turns out, I didn’t wait long enough for the steel concoction to oxidize. It should have been enough, but the lack of an open lid probably didn’t help things.
Copper doesn’t rust. It does, however, corrode, only that takes years, so that’s why I didn’t get any DIY wood dye from the copper concoction. I knew that going in. I just thought it would be fun to try!
Since I messed up the steel jar, I cracked the lid a little and stuck it back in my pantry. It’s not like I was in a rush or anything. This was just an experiment. Turns out, this was a great idea on my part.
After giving the steel and vinegar mix more time to hang out, I did end up with DIY wood dye.
Unfortunately, I totally forgot about this little experiment for, oh, say, two weeks.
I’d chalk it up to another newbie mistake, but, this time I’ll blame the holidays. It happens.
Anyway, after two or so weeks, I remembered I had this experiment sitting in my pantry and checked on it (hoping that it hadn’t exploded or anything). This is what I saw:
That’s um, brown.
It’s hard to tell in the picture, but there were almost two layers to the liquid — a really dark brown on the top and a less intense brown on the bottom. I had to shake the dye up to blend it, even though saying “blend” is a bit of a stretch. More like I shook it up, and the color became a little more uniform, but there were solid particles that floated around like glitter in a snowglobe. Yes, think of that, instead. It’s prettier.
Here’s what everything looks like from the top:
Reminds me of vending machine hot chocolate.
And the side:
But, on the plus side, I did get exactly what I was looking for, DIY wood dye, so I can confidently say that you can make wood dye out of steel wool and white vinegar.
Well, not confidently, but it does work.
How Well Does DIY Wood Dye Work?
A little too well, let me tell you.
First, here’s what was kind of left of the steel scrubber when I fished it out:
That’s no longer silver, and I feel like it’s reduced in mass by about half.
I tossed that, then grabbed a paper towel for a test run. Here’s the paper towel after I dipped it in the jar:
There’s only one word for this: gross.
That’s a lot of “stuff” on my paper towel. If I were really using this as a wood dye, I’d have to strain it out first because who wants “stuff” on their project? That said, I’d have to strain it through something metal, not cheesecloth (like I do with soup).
It’s hard to tell in this picture, but the dye traveled up the paper towel (to the right of the “stuff”) rather quickly. I dipped the towel in the jar, then tried to get a picture, but couldn’t focus, hold the camera steady, etc., etc., so I put the towel down to get the tripod.
By the time I got the tripod, walked back to the kitchen, set the tripod and camera up, then took the picture, the dye soaked the towel. It was only a few minutes, but that surprised me. If you go this route, I strongly suggest having a dedicated wood dye strainer to get the “stuff” out and avoid cheesecloth. You’ll likely lose a ton of dye to the cheesecloth.
Then, I put the dye on the test wood. As it turns out, I’ve got a spot right next to my other wood dye experiments.
making it easy to compare wood dyes.
Here’s what the DIY wood dye looked like right after application.
Very wet and with some “stuff” on there. It’s not easy to tell, but that mostly looks like wet wood in real life. Also, it smells like vinegar and wet wood.
I knew it would take a little bit of time for the dye to soak into the wood and actually dye it, so I turned my attention to other tasks.
While I waited, I tried to clean out the jar. Here’s what I was left with after dumping the remaining dye:
That’s a lovely rust ring, but it wiped up pretty easily with a paper towel. except for the parts that didn’t. I don’t have a picture, but there are a few stubborn spots on the side of the jar. Ironically, I scrubbed them with a plastic scrubber to no avail, so I soaked the jar instead.
There’s nothing that water and time can’t clean up!
All told, clean up time took maybe five minutes. Then I checked on the wood dye and saw this:
It’s getting darker, which I expected. While not a color I would necessarily pick, I kind of like the fact that it’s dark. I guess the longer you soak your steel, the deeper the dye tone.
The dye was still drying, and I had other work to do, so I put the wood aside. I’d estimate I ignored it for about an hour. Then I came back and saw this:
That’s dark, all right!
I feel like the pictures are overexposed, but it looks like I used brown paint, not dye. Sure, deep dyes, solid dyes, dyes that cover wood grain exist, but this is not what I had in mind!
Sigh, but I’m not surprised. I think. I don’t know.
I guess my advice would be to stay away from DIY wood dye. While it’s a cool project and a fun science experiment, you’re leaving too much to chance. As much as I love creating and trying new things out (and being cheap), some things are for the pros!
What do you think of the DIY wood dye? Would you use it? Let me know in the comments!