this tutorial covers how to make your own stain from household goods, and a cool way to stencil using negative space.
the stain relies on some basic chemistry, that you don't need to, but might be interested to know: steel is a compound of iron (Fe) and other stuff. vinegar is acetic acid. many types of wood (and tea) contain tannins. the process works because vinegar frees up the iron, so the iron and tannins can interact. the final stain color depends in part on the tannin content of the wood (adding tea can tweak this).
if you are going for a certain color, test on a hidden spot, or a scrap piece of wood. the results will vary WIDELY depending on type of wood amongst other things (like # of coats). walnut will get BLACK, oak very dark, my table is pine. the image with the plants is the final finished table, with a clear coat of satin polyurethane. i added another coat of stain after the 1st pic, and you can see the table got darker/ redder (?).
also, this is a water based stain, it will likely raise the grain on your wood, which will affect the staining process. you might want to raise the grain and sand smooth a few times before adding the stain. i'm no wood working expert, so i can't really explain this process. google it.
this is my stencil- i tweaked the image in Adobe illustrator, then printed it out, covered the pages with clear tape, and cut out the black bits.
there are lots of ways to make stencils (contact paper, plastic sheets, etc), use your favorite. hand drawn images work just as well as printed ones.
Combine white vinegar with steel wool and rusty nails in a glass/ plastic jar. i left the top loose because it seemed to bubble a bit, and i didn't want it to explode.
Let sit for 5 or more days. i didn't test how long it takes to get enough iron dissolved, but if you need it in a hurry, you can heat it up, or shake it often (tighten the top before shaking, but not before heating!).
attach stencil carefully to wood surface- i used spray 'easy tack' glue. you need to remove the stencil without it becoming permanently attached to the table.
spray several layers of clear coat. i used home depot's satin clear coat, but i think any clear coat will do. the idea is just to seal up that wood, so it won't absorb stain in the next step.
this image is after i removed the stencil. coated wood vs bare wood.
get out the vinegar solution, give it a good shake.
if using pine, or a softer/ low tannin wood, brew some very strong tea (black or pekoe is best). walnut and oak have high tannins naturally- skip the tea (unless you are going for BLACK).
using a foam brush, coat the wood surface in tea. let it sit for a minute, but not dry.
optional: strain the vinegar mixture to remove the loose bits of steel wool.
now use a new/ clean foam brush to brush on the vinegar mix. the wood will darken very quickly as the chemical process happens. you can watch it change over ~5 min.
re-apply as many times as you like, letting the wood dry and sanding lightly with 220 grit between coats. more coats = darker finished product.
if you add the tea to the vinegar, it will turn BLACK. i didn't try staining with this directly, but it might work. i wanted the reaction to happen in the wood, seemed like the color would penetrate better.
the area with the clear coat didn't absorb the stain, so there's a nice contrast. with the multiple sandings between stain coats, some of the clear has worn away, giving it a nice weathered look.
the table does smell vaguely like vinegar initially, but the smell fades (especially if you seal it).
my table turned out a smoky reddish brown. i used the stain on scraps of different woods, with widely varying results. have fun with it!
here's the legs of the table, other examples of how the stain can turn out...
they started out a very light/ blond wood, and all 4 got the vinegar sludge stain, but each had a different 'process'- the darkest one (#3 from L) was stained gray first, the tiger stripes (#1) are the result of a light burning with a propane torch. the other two had much lighter torch treatment, so the color is mostly just from the vinegar/ iron stain (#2 & 4).