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Aging New Wood

posted Jul 8, 2017, 1:45 PM by Freydis Egilsdottir
To make our new brazier and tourney table (here in A.S. LII, as opposed to the ones we made back in the day, around A.S. XXX), we used bits of our first wooden beams from our big Norse A-frame, first shaped and carved lo these many years ago, but since the victim of rot. They weren't strong enough to reliably hold such a large and heavy piece of canvas in place any more; but there was still good wood in there, and of course a lot of personal history. It was under the watchful gaze of those ravens that we took the Warlord of the West hostage, raided the dining hall at the Midsummer Festival, got married...

But of course, while the outside of the beams was beautifully greyed and weathered, anywhere we cut was exposing fresh wood, and any other wood we incorporated wouldn't be grey, either. I vaguely remembered seeing something online years ago about spraying fresh wood with bleach to make it age faster, but I believe that was on a time scale of months, and we needed to make the fresh wood match now.

So I did some research, and the Internet pretty much agreed: The best and fastest way was something called ironed vinegar; and it was going to take a full twenty-four hours to make the mix, and that could not be sped up.

And it worked beautifully, so I want to thank everyone who has already shared the recipe online, and to share it here as well, to be able to find it again easily, and to share what we used and our experience with it.

Basically, take a couple steel wool scrubbies, tear them apart, stuff them in a nicely-sealing jar, and dump a bunch of white vinegar over it. Give it a shake, and leave it for twenty-four hours for the acid of the vinegar to break down the fine iron of the steel wool. --Yeah, we gave it closer to eighteen hours; but the longer the better and I consider myself lucky it still worked.

Now, that recipe will darken and age the wood, make it more brown apparently; but what we wanted was to make it more weathered and grey. The process is the same, except instead of using plain steel wool scrubbies, take a couple with the blue soap impregnated into them; the blue dye helps get the right tone. And instead of white vinegar, use apple cider vinegar. Shred, soak, wait.

That's Step One, and the lengthy part of the process. The good news is that it doesn't go off, so once you've mixed it up you can hang onto it for the next time. Step Two is to make some very strong black tea.

Now, it doesn't matter if the tea is warm or cold or what when you use it, but it does need to be black tea; it's the tannins that are needed, eh, so green or herbal teas won't work. Also, apparently, while coffee will work in a pinch, tea has more tannins and works better. We've only used the tea so I can't compare, but the tea (Tazo's Spiced Chai) did work really well. --Incidentally, the tea will not keep, so don't bother hanging onto any leftovers; but it's only a matter of like ten minutes or so to boil a pot of water and give a bunch of tea bags a good steeping, so hanging onto it wouldn't save much time anyways; it's the vinegar that takes the prep time.

Okay, so now, paint the tea onto the wood you want to age. Just slop it on there. Once the tea is on, paint the ironed vinegar on over top. You do not need to wait for the tea to dry (apparently it doesn't make any difference). Now, most of the websites I read said you could see the wood changing immediately, so when next to nothing happened, we were extremely doubtful. Don't panic! The chemical reaction between the tannins in the tea and the ironed vinegar occur as the liquid dries, so after half an hour, forty minutes or so, there was a noticeable difference. Here, check it out:

The two vertical boards forming the ends of the A are the original beams, weathered grey over a couple of decades. The two short horizontal beams are beater wooden pallet wood, not aged at all; and the ends of that pallet wood are freshly cut. Incidentally, both those horizontal pieces are cut consecutively from the same long board. It was kind of hard to tell if it was having any effect on the fresh cuts on the table legs, so, since these two pieces weren't attached to anything yet, I painted the tea and ironed vinegar on one piece (the one on the right, above) and left the other piece alone. This picture was taken maybe an hour or two after being treated.

Here, have a closer look. The untreated piece, that horizontal, fresh board at the end of the black metal box, that stands out like a sore thumb against the weathered upright:

--and the matching piece on the other side, cut at the same time from the exact same piece of wood, treated an hour or so earlier with the tea and vinegar:

Looks great, doesn't it! You'd never guess that it had been cut the day before, nor that it wasn't the same age as the older beams. It blends beautifully!

A couple of final thoughts:

First, these are both softwoods, most likely spruce. I don't know how it would work on hardwoods, but I imagine it would still improve things, if not necessarily as drastically. But that is not experience speaking; we've only used it on spruce.

Second, it worked fastest and most noticeably on the cut ends. It did work on the rest of the board, as you can see; but it turned the cut ends first; I suspect because the severed fibres wick up more tea and therefore contain more tannins. Make the tea good and strong, like, five tea bags in half a litre strong, and make sure you're pouring boiling water over them, not just hot water, to get the most out of them. Best way to make tea, anyways, using actively-boiling water.

And third, don't bother standing and watching it; it doesn't work that fast. Don't be disappointed when you apply it and nothing happens immediately! But it did work really, really well, and we're really pleased with the ease and inexpense of the technique, and with the results.