Learn how to make your own natural wood stain with this easy tutorial! Making your own wood stain is easy and only takes two ingredients.
Somewhere in our apartment we have two sets of washable fabric coasters but, as the Aussies would say, most of them have gone on walkabout. Something we definitely do not have a shortage of is wood scraps, so I decided to make us some new coasters.
I also wanted to protect our new baby from potentially harmful chemicals, so I decided to make my own natural wood stain. It’s so easy to make and completely nontoxic to use around your children and pets.
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As regular readers know, finding nontoxic alternatives to ‘conventional’ products is important to me; it’s why I love chalk paint and make my own air fresheners.
Most wood stains have some really nasty stuff in them. They emit toxic fumes while you’re staining, and they can off-gas for years. I used to buy commercial non-toxic stains, but my favorite supplier isn’t in business anymore. With new baby in the house, I knew I had to find an alternative.
Luckily, it’s very easy to make your own natural wood stain!
Natural wood stain ingredients and materials
- Extra fine steel wool (I used 0000)
- Vinegar (ACV works well, but plain distilled white vinegar is fine, too)
- A glass bowl or jar with a lid
The amount of vinegar and wool you need depend on how much stain you want to make. A cup of vinegar with one steel wool pad makes about a cup of stain. Scale up if you need more!
I made one cup of stain for my wood coaster project.
The longer you allow your stain to age, the darker it will become.
If you don’t feel like making your own vinegar stain, check out my all-natural wood polish tutorial right here!
How to make your own non-toxic wood stain:
To make your stain, combine vinegar and steel wool in a glass jar I like to lightly pull the steel wool apart to encourage it to dissolve more quickly.
For a light grey, ‘weathered barn wood’ look, let the stain sit for a few hours or just a day or so (test a little periodically to see if you like the results)
To achieve a darker, brownish/red stain for future use, place the stain in a jar and let it age for about a week. The stain may not look very “stain-y” and that’s okay. This is what my stain looked like right before I used it:
Shake up the homemade stain and paint some on a piece of scrap wood to test it. Let it dry fully to see the true color – it may darken as it dries.
Once you like how your stain looks when applied, strain it through a cloth to remove the remaining bits of steel wool and transfer the wood stain to a clean jar for storage.
That’s it – your natural wood stain is ready to use on whatever you’d like!
If you want to use it on your own wood coasters, like I did, read on.
Materials for DIY wood coasters
- Wood! I used a 1/4″ which scrap of aspen that’s been sitting around for 2+ years. 1/4″ birch plywood would also be a good choice, as would 1/2″x4″ ‘common board’ pine.
- If you don’t have a table saw, circular saw, or band saw and you’re buying a new board, a thinner, 4″ board easy to work with because you can simply make cross cuts with a hand saw.
- If you’d prefer to use plywood, ask the store to make a cut at 3.5″ for you so you can then cut the narrow strip by hand.
- If you have no desire to use any saws, consider purchasing precut wood slices or something like these 3.5″ precut plywood squares.
- A saw. I used our tabletop 9″ band saw. If you’re using a hand saw, I recommend getting a miter box & saw. A miter box makes straight cuts way easier and helps protect your fingers!
- Sandpaper, if your board is rough.
- A ruler
- A pencil
- Felt – optional but it’s nice to cushion the coaster’s bases!
- Glue, if you’re using felt. I used Original Tacky Glue.
- Your nontoxic wood stain
DIY Non-toxic stained wood coasters tutorial
Measure and mark your wood where it needs to be cut.
- If you purchased a 4″ board, see how wide it really is and make your marks so you’ll end up with square coasters.
- If you’re cutting a thin board or piece of plywood, mark off 3.5″ squares.
- If you’re using a power saw with a fence or built in ruler, this may not be necessary, but I like to go ahead and mark the board, anyway. My husband is a big fan of the saying “Think three times, measure twice, cut once” and I’ve definitely messed up a few things by not measuring twice!
Carefully cut your wood, then sand, if necessary. You may want to only sand the cut edges and leave rough spots on the faces for a more rustic look – it’s up to you!
When your stain is ready, apply a fairly thin, even coat to one face and the edges. Allow the stain to dry, then stain the opposite face. If you’re using an aged, natural stain with vinegar the color may deepen and develop as it dries.
Once the stain is completely dry and you’re done staining, measure and cut squares of felt so they’re slightly smaller than your coasters.
Glue one pice of felt to each coaster, then press under books to make sure the felt lies flat. Make sure not to use too much glue or it will leak out and/or you’ll end up with funny lumps under the felt!
Enjoy your awesome new wood coasters!
You can also decorate them with paint, wood burning, or vinyl if you want to add a little ‘something more’ to your project. And wouldn’t they make a cute homemade gift for the naturally-minded person on your gift list?
My husband was very excited when I told him I was done photographing these wood coasters and that he could use them! He has a bit of a coaster obsession and I’m pretty sure the reason so many of our other coasters are missing is because he’s left them in various places around our apartment…
More non-toxic products to make at home
Have you ever made your own wood stain? What did you use? Vinegar, coffee, tea, something else?
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Natasha Núńez is a former classroom teacher with a Masters of the Arts in Teaching. She also is a registered yoga teacher & holds a certificate in natural skincare formulation from the School of Natural Skincare. She shares her passion for education, positive parenting, free printables, and recipes for DIY bath & home products. Learn more about Natasha and where she’s been featured.