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Pallet Wood & DIY Stain

| September 17, 2017 More

Pallet Wood & DIY StainUsing wood pallets in interior design has become very popular, and as I take lots of photos here at my place I thought having pallet wood would make for a great photo backdrop. On a recent trip to Harbor Freight I noticed a stack of pallets near their loading bay and after asking the manager if I could have a few, I was off with a stack of them in the Explorer.

I ended up going back to Harbor Freight to buy a reciprocating saw; this would allow me to cut the slats free from the pallets leaving the nail heads intact. It’s a small touch, but the nail heads add a nice rustic look. And also, it’s a reciprocating saw; you can take things apart with this, I needed one!

After getting all the slats cut (and avoiding cutting myself) I looked to some of the DIY / craft blogs and decided to take a crack at making my own weathering stain. I wanted to go for an aged gray / silver look. A fairly standard formula for an aging stain involves cutting up a plain steel wool pad and adding it to vinegar, letting it sit for at least a day and then applying it to the wood. An additional step is to brew up and brush on black tea, let that dry and then brush the steel wool / vinegar solution on top of the tea.

Late one night I began the steel wool / vinegar method and then got busy with another project over the next few days. As I checked in on these containers several days later, I saw the acid in the vinegar had dissolved the steel wool in two of the containers I had agitated with a stick during this time. The other container that had less vinegar in it initially was not agitated at all. The vinegar in the untouched container looked a shade of green, but once strained, the liquid in all three containers was very similar. Chemistry is funny like that.

Just prior to testing these stains on wood, I thought I’d also make a much weaker solution just for the heck of it. I again cut up a steel wool pad and put in into vinegar but took it out after just 9 hours. This weaker solution looked a little like lemonade and frankly I didn’t have high hopes for it.

For the staining test I took a single pallet board and marked off three sections. Section 1 would have the 9 hour solution, Section 2 would get the black tea plus the 9 hour solution and Section 3 would get the crusty, rusty brown solution. About an hour after application the colors were set, and I was a little surprised to see the weaker 9 hour solution was the one the delivered a gray look. The pre-brushed-with-tea section, Section 2, also looks gray but more pronounced. The crusty solution bypassed gray and went straight to brown.

I have to admit to being less than 100% satisfied with these pallet tests as my home brew stain appears pretty blotchy. Now each section is just 4” wide, so I might like it better on a full board, and then on several full boards. I think reason for the blotchiness of the stain is that these pallets were probably treated with chemicals to prevent rotting, mold, etc., and this would certainly inhibit an even staining.

An unexpected surprise here was the wooden stirrers I used to agitate the steel wool in the vinegar, it turns out these are heat treated, no chemicals, and they took the stain nice and evenly. I ended up with some very usable, rustic shades from gray to brown.

I’m not sure if I’ll use these DIY stains on my pallet wood, but I’ll definitely keep them for use on rustic wood kits in the future. All in all this was a worthwhile experiment, plus I got a pretty cool reciprocating saw out of the deal!

Article Links

The New Reciprocating Saw!
Harbor Freight Saw

Mason Jars
From Target, I Just Like The Way They Look

Wooden Coffee Stirrer Sticks
Purchased From Amazon

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Category: Useful Tools

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