Staining with tea.

So the practice box that has been sitting neglected on the bench for…I don’t know how many weeks…finally saw a little love a few days ago.

I got really sick the day after Christmas and haven’t fully kicked whatever it was that knocked me out, but enough is enough.  I had to DO something other than lay around the house coughing and sneezing.

So, since standing out in the freezing garage (the garage, always a little warmer than outside, has been averaging about 25-30° for the past 3 weeks) was out of the question, I decided to bring the work inside.

I have been kicking around an idea I noticed on Dan’s blog (if you haven’t seen his blog, I highly recommend it, he’s got some genius ideas) where he played around with staining wood with tea.  This has become more interesting to me as the temperature continues to get lower and lower.  See, I don’t want to stain something out in the garage because (1) it takes FOREVER and a day to dry in cold weather and (2) it needs ventilation to get rid of the nasty fumes…which means opening the garage door.  I could bring things in the house to dry, but then I’d have to have a window open and the heat on…and my better half would NOT go for that.  I don’t think I would either, it’s just plain wasteful.

However, I’ve used tea in the past to stain paper and make it look like parchment for school projects, etc.  So after reading Dan’s blog and a few others espousing the benefits of staining with tea, I figured, why not?

I started with a 2 qt saucepan full of water.  I got it going at a rolling boil and put in 6 Tetley bags of tea (just your plain, generic iced tea) I happened to have laying around.  I let this steep for about 10 minutes, then removed the bags, cranked up the heat again and let the tea boil for 20 minutes.  What I had left was this:IMAG2456

You can see the line in the pan where the tea was originally at and where it reduced to.  I gave it another 30 minutes to cool off and poured it into an empty tomato sauce jar. IMAG2457 It certainly looks concentrated enough.

I spread out some newspaper on the table and used a sponge brush to apply the tea.  After one coat the brush had snapped so I just used the sponge.  It wasn’t hard at all, took maybe 5 minutes to coat.  I noticed immediately that the darkness of the concentrated tea did not get transferred to the wood.IMAG2458  When the first coat was on, it literally looked like the wood was merely wet.  That piece of basswood in the foreground is my practice board for chip carving.  The box looked pretty similar in color to that piece of basswood before I started staining it.  Here’s the lid after one application:IMAG2459

So when that first coat was dry (maybe an hour or so) I put another one on:IMAG2460IMAG2461You can see the Q-Tips there in the picture, I dipped them in the stain to get inside the little parts of the scrollwork badge on the lid.  It took me a while but I got all the little bare parts of aspen stained…

Then I added another coat…IMAG2465IMAG2466

And another.IMAG2467IMAG2468

The photos don’t look too different, but I can tell you when it’s right in front of you, there is a dramatic difference.  It almost looks like I took a cherry stain pen to it!

Finally, I added one last coat to bring the total to 5:IMAG2469

Again, looking from one picture to the next, it’s kind of hard to see a difference, but when you’re holding it in your hands there’s a big difference.  Take a look at the first and last coats…I decided to go light on the inner panels and it worked great—the oak and the poplar are now pretty similar in color (the oak trim is still darker) and the pine inner panel is lighter than both so it makes a nice 3-tone contrast.  I really am happy with how this is turning out.

I learned a bit about how different woods react to the tea too—the main shell of the box is just plain pine…that took the stain okay, I guess, but seemed to resist pretty well.  The parts that were poplar took the stain much better than the pine, especially the end grain.  The oak trim already had some stain on it (I recycled quarter-round trim) so it got hardly any benefit from the tea at all.  The aspen lid, however, soaked up the stain like nobody’s business.  It went from bone white to the color you see above, which practically matches the poplar (that went from a light green to the cherry-esque color).  The grain raised more on the aspen than on the other wood types, but man did it soak up the color.

As far as how long the stain stretched—the 2 quarts of water I started with boiled down to about 1/3 a jar of pasta sauce.  That 1/3 jar gave me 5 good coats.   Obviously, the more I stain, the darker it gets, but for this project, I think the 5 coats I’ve given it are plenty.  I’ll have to sand it gently before I finish with poly to make things nice and smooth again…


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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2 Responses to Staining with tea.

  1. AZAngie says:

    I just found your blog documenting the building of your sky fort. Nice work by the way. We are thinking of buying one but are trying to fit it in our yard. It will work perfectly if we could switch the rock wall with the slide. In your woodworking opinion and how both those items are attached, is that something that is possible?

    • S. M. Vaught says:

      First off thanks for checking out the blog and stopping by! I went back and looked at the manual (you can download it from the internet…I found it at Sam’s Club website on the product page for the skyfort) to refresh my memory. The rockwall is only held in place by 2 lag screws that you install underneath the fort through a side piece. The slide is held in place with 3 bolts that go down through the floor and are attached under the fort. Switching the two is easy, just move them and attach in the spot you want—you have to drill your own pilot holes to put them where the manufacturer wants them so just drill in your spot of choice.

      That said, the design of the fort is such that the main opening has the little decorative arch above the slide and just an open space in the “wall” for the rock wall. If you switch them I can’t see how it would look right without some more modification, but it would certainly be functional!

      Granted, I’m no engineer so I can’t say it’ll be safe (or even safe enough) if you switch those major pieces on the fort. I *think* it would be okay because this thing feels REALLY solid to begin with. However, since this thing is made of wood, in theory you can do whatever you want to it and still make it solid. If something doesn’t fit, just get some lumber from Home Depot and longer bolts/screws and you’re in business! The options are literally limitless provided you have the skills and the tools and the $$$…

      Good luck and let me know if you decide to buy and do the switch! Love to see what it looks like!

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