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How To Age or Weather New Wood With Simple Materials


Raw balsa wood, silver grey  and deep brown basswood  created with vinegar/steel wool solutions

Balsa wood showing raw wood on the left, a dilute solution of vinegar and steel wool in the centre and an undiluted vinegar/steel wool solution on the left.

Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd
wood aged and greyed with weathering solution

Raw basswood aged with a solution of vinegar and steel wool.

Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd

Age or Weather New Wood With Simple Materials

If you want to age or "weather" new wood to create a quick "shabby chic" finish or to match older finished and weathered projects, including furniture, decks, and fences, this easy technique with vinegar and iron oxide is easy and effective. Although you can create these with paints and stains, new wood can be aged much more quickly with a simple easy to use solution that can be painted on. This information was designed for modellers and miniaturists, but the technique works just as well on full size fences, furniture, or shabby chic building projects.

Nothing is worse than the mismatch of old against new wood on building projects where you want an aged patina to blend into the scenery.  With a simple vinegar / iron oxide (rust) solution you can color wood to a weathered silver color or darker. This isn't a finish to use on the next generation's heirloom models as it is too acidic. The acidity isn't a problem for the wood items, but it will affect other items in contact with the wood, or enclosed in the same space (a model building?) so take care to seal the finish if you are using it around heritage pieces in a container.

How to Make a Simple Wood Ageing Solution

To age new wood to a natural silvery grey, to grey brown or black patina (depending on the wood), let a small piece of steel wool (or a few non galvanized nails)  sit overnight in ordinary white vinegar, then dilute the vinegar solution 1 to 1 with water. (If you used 1/4 cup of vinegar, add 1/4 cup of water.) Test the result on a piece of scrap wood the same as you will be using to determine if the aged finish is the correct color, if not, for darker solutions, leave the solution to sit longer, or add a bit more vinegar, and test it again. Solutions which are too strong produce very dark coloration. They will need more water added to dilute them before you test again. When the solution produces the desired effect, brush it over fresh wood to create an instant greyed patina. This is a great way to create barn boards, or you can use this technique on balsa wood roughened with a  wire brush to create a thatched effect, or to create weathered shingles or fence posts.

Tips On Aging Wood With a Vinegar - Iron Oxide Solution

  • This finish varies with the type of raw wood it is applied to, the roughness of the wood, (rough wood absorbs the solution more readily) and the strength of the solution. Balsa and basswood will turn grey or dark brown (depending on the solution strength). Oak will blacken.
  • The high acid level of the finish means this is not a recommended finish for high quality pieces, but the acid effect can be sealed beneath a coat of matte acrylic varnish which will help keep it from affecting fabric and other items close to the acidic finish.
  • Depending on your application you could also try buffering sprays to neutralize the pH of the vinegar wood stain if you do not want to seal the finish.
  • The finish will not penetrate glue, so ensure that pieces to be aged have been carefully wiped after gluing to keep glue from the surface, or age sections of your project before you glue them. If areas will not stain, use washes of acrylic paints (Paynes grey and burnt umber are most useful) to age the area with acrylic paint instead of the vinegar/steel wool solution.

This is just one of the many ways to create custom wood finishes in full scale or miniature listed on the About.com miniatures site. Other wood finishes include:


All these finishes can be applied to full size or miniature projects and use water based paints. They are not difficult for a beginner to create.


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