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Natural Weathered Wood Stain + Whitewash
I’ve gotten lots of requests from y’all for instructions on how I finished my shiplap headboard so here is the quick & dirty step-by-step guide for my weathered wood stain & whitewashing finish.
A little science
I used a technique called ebonizing, a process of coloring wood quickly by applying an iron acetate solution that reacts to tannins. The shiplap I was able to get my hands on was pine, which only has tannins in the knots. Have you ever painted over a knot with latex primer and had them bleed through? That’s because tannins are water-soluble and it allows the color to come to the surface, no matter how many times you paint over it. In this case, tannins are our friend but we want them throughout the wood surface.
The easiest ways to get tannins in your wood is to apply either strong black tea or my favorite, red wine. I experimented with both & I got the most consistent results from red wine because I couldn’t keep the tea brew strength the same between batches. I get distracted easily, okay. Also, I could see the red wine better on the wood when I rolled it, letting me see if I missed spots.
– Make an iron acetate solution. You can buy iron acetate but it’s too cheap & easy to make yourself.
How to: Iron Acetate
- In a mason jar or glass container; pour 1 quart white vinegar over 2 used Brillo pads or fine steel wool. If using fine steel wool, wash the pad first to get the oil coating off that prevents rusting in the package.
- Set out in a sunny location outside with cap very lightly screwed on. I usually tighten then unscrew a half turn. If you don’t have a sunny location, no biggie. It will just take longer to make.
- Your steel wool pads should fully dissolve in 24 to 48 hours. Longer than 48 hours is not better. We’re not making wine here.
- Strain what is now Iron Acetate through doubled up coffee filters, twice. (4 filters in total)
- Use immediately or store for later use.
Quick tip: to really get your iron acetate a head start, heat your vinegar up. The heat will get the rusting reaction going sooner, rather than waiting on the sun to heat it up.
– “Pop the grain” of your wood boards. I like to take a spray bottle filled with water and get my wood damp which will raise the grain, allowing more stain to seep into the wood. DO NOT SAND the raised grain. Resist. I know, it’s hard.
– Apply 2 coats cheap red wine or strong black tea with a cheap roller or sprayer. I used 2 buck chuck from Trader Joe’s for my headboard. Let dry between coats. Still, no sanding.
– This is where the real magic is going to happen. Apply 2 coats of your homemade Iron Acetate with a roller and let dry between coats. You should see a reaction pretty quickly. The stain will get darker with time so if you would like it a little darker, just wait a few days. It’ll get there on its own. Put the sanding block down. Don’t make me say it again.
– Apply 1 coat clear shellac. This will deepen the stain and give it some depth.
– You can finally sand!!!! Sand lightly with fine grit sandpaper or sanding block. You are just knocking the tips off. Aggressive sanding will go through your finish and you will have to restain those areas.
– Apply 1 more coat of shellac and let dry.
Look at that beautiful stain. You can really see the difference between my unstained pine boards around the outside and the stained pine shiplap in the middle.
I was experimenting with gilding knots here (very frustrating experiment that I am still trying to perfect) but it’s a good closeup of how my stain came out using red wine.
You can stop here, lightly sand, then apply paste wax if you like a more raw wood look or follow along for my white washing technique.
Whitewash without the wash
– Apply a light colored chalk paint & let dry. The paint I used is a pretty light blue latex mixed with powdered chalk for my very own brand of chalk paint.
– Sand paint off using an orbital sander and 120-220 grit paper. Sand as much or as little as you want but keep your sander on a lower speed. You can get in trouble by sanding through to bare wood if you aren’t paying attention. It should look something like below.
This a picture taken after cursing the guy from the hardware store for recommending bar top epoxy for my gold inlays. I told him never to do it again. He avoids me 0r hangs his head when I come in now. I should probably bring him cookies.
– Apply paste wax to give your finish more depth. I’ve used both Trewax Carnauba Wax & Johnson’s Paste Wax with success.
– Let wax dry then buff. I buffed my headboard to a semi-gloss finish using a sidegrinder and a buffing wheel. It was a lot of fun to buff with and gave me an excuse to buy a sidegrinder.
To see more of our new fancy guestroom with this shiplap headboard go here.
Rustic Guest Bedroom
If you have questions about my naturally weathered wood stain + whitewash, comment below or shoot me an email.
All that finishing work have your hands dry as the Sahara? These are my go to products to keep my hands feeling good because good hands make good things.