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shelf

If you’ve read one of my previous  DIY blog entries, you may remember how much I love the woodworking plans on Ana White’s website.  During the last year, I’ve built several of Ana’s plans… this ‘barn-beam’ being one of them.  Since I live in a tiny house and am always in need of more storage space, I modified the plan slightly to include interior storage.  I typically finish my projects with a low or zero VOC stain or paint, but wanted a weathered wood finish and winter isn’t the best time to have special stain shipped.  So, I ignored my better judgement and opted for a locally available yet non-eco friendly finish which included pre-conditioner, and stacking two separate Minwax stain colors.  I love how it turned out, but the process left me with a headache and frustration over using something so toxic.  I later found how to achieve a nearly identical finish with a homemade non-toxic stain made of vinegar and steel wool – keep reading to find out how to make your own!

stain comparison

First, here is the link to the shelf plan: Barn Beam Ledges

It’s about as simple as they come – if you don’t have many tools, this is one you can make using only a hand saw, hammer, and nails.  If you choose to use my storage modification, you’ll need a screwdriver as well.

shelf storage

Next, my storage modification:  Rather than attach the front board with nails, attach a hinge near each end so that the front board acts as a drop-down panel.  Finally, attach a small screw-in eye and hook in the top center of your shelf to hold the front panel shut.  After seeing the photos (click to enlarge) it should make sense, but feel free to comment below if you have questions!

shelf hinge

shelf hook

Now, my favorite – THE STAIN!

This stain relies on oxidation and despite my biology background, chemistry was not my strong suit, so you won’t find me explaining how this all works.  I can tell you though, it works, and it works beautifully.  However, it’s also one of those things that relies on a number of factors, so you may get a slightly varied finish depending on how heavy you coat your wood, type of wood, age of your stain, etc.  Consider saving a piece of scrap wood from your project to test on that day that you will be staining.  Note that your stain will need to age for a few days prior to usage.

You will need: 

  • Green or black tea bags (depending on your wood, see notes below)
  • Very fine steel wool (I bought mine at Lowe’s and used #0000 grade)
  • White vinegar
  • An airtight glass jar
  • Brush
  • Cheescloth (optional)

How-to:

Fill an airtight jar with white vinegar (other vinegars should work, but I haven’t tried them).  Take one piece of your steel wool (it needs to be of a very fine grade so that it will break apart/dissolve properly) and stretch it out and pull it apart a bit.  Submerge this in your vinegar.  Seal your jar and leave it to sit.  You can gently shake it once a day to encourage it to break apart, though this is not necessary.  It should be ready to use in several days, but I left mine sit for about two weeks.  The photo below shows what it looks like at the beginning and at the two week mark, after shaking (prior to shaking you will have clear-ish liquid with a lot of steel wool sediment on the bottom).

vinegar stain before after

Depending on the type of wood you’re using – the day you will be staining, prepare your tea.  The tea will be brushed onto your bare wood prior to staining in order to impart tannins onto the surface, thus allowing the stain to react, and creating your simulated weathered finish.  If you are using standard lumber or pine, you will likely need to apply tea first.  Softwoods are typically low in tannins, whereas hardwoods are higher.  If your wood is naturally darker in color (more brown or red-toned like cedar), it probably won’t need tea first.  If in doubt, test an inconspicuous spot on your piece, or a scrap piece from  your build and use only the vinegar/steel wool stain on it.  Wait several minutes, and if the wood color does not change you will know you need to pre-brush with tea.

For the tea:  how much you need will depend on the size of your piece to be stained.  Mine was small, so I boiled one cup of water and let 3 green tea bags steep in it for about thirty minutes.  Then I brushed all surfaces of the wood with it, and let it soak in.  I sped up my dry-time by using a hair dryer on low for a short time.  Make sure everything was coated – anything that was left uncoated will not change color.

Staining:  I was a little worried about the smell of the stain, but it just smelled like potent vinegar.  In general, it’s not a bad idea to do things like this outdoors, but if you are staining something small and/or it’s winter, a big plus of this stain is its lack of chemicals; so, it’s not a big deal to work indoors with an open window.  You may wish to wear gloves, as it can stain your fingers a little.  Once your wood is dry (if you brushed with tea), slowly open your stain – there will be pressure that’s built-up (hydrogen gas?).  If you’re working on a project that you want to last a very long time, you might consider straining your stain into another jar by using cheesecloth.  I stumbled upon a comment by one person that said any little pieces of steel wool that unknowingly make it onto your wood may cause small dark spots to appear years later.  Whether or not this is true, I have no idea.  Evenly brush stain onto your wood (following the direction of the wood grain, as always).  It’s best to do only a single coat unless you want an almost black finish (which is what will happen if you double-coat).  I could see a change in color almost immediately and it continued to slightly darken over the next few minutes.  Keep in mind that the ends may be more porous and will turn darker.  You can sand any darker areas after your wood is dry.  You should now have a beautifully weathered-looking finish!  Stain can be kept for quite a long time from what I’ve read, but when it comes time to dispose – please do so responsibly (use it up by coating scrap wood perhaps?) since steel wool bits probably shouldn’t be going down your drain!

I skimmed several websites when learning about how to make this stain, but by far the most useful was the Friendly Home blog  If you want more detail than what I’ve offered (and sealer suggestions), her blog entry and many of the associated comments are really helpful!

Happy staining, and an early…

Happy Heart Day

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gooe raspberry brownie recipe (whole grain!)

I promised my raspberry brownie recipe ages ago but didn’t have photos to go with it until now.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day –  these are gooey, fudgy and decadent – best eaten with a fork (and a scoop of milk chocolate ice cream?)!  The best part (aside from eating them) is that they contain whole wheat flour and are easily made lactose-free.

(By the way, I think I’ve finally gotten this dual blog thing down – so no more random photos popping up to email subscribers!  Yay – and thanks for your patience!)

First, the printable version:  click on the image below to enlarge, then print.  

gooey raspberry brownie recipe (whole grain!)

Brownies: 

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C packed brown sugar (make sure there are no clumps)
  • 4 oz (8 Tbsp) unsalted melted margarine (as usual, I use Fleischmann’s unsalted because it’s lactose-free)
  • 2 tsp milk (I use oat milk, any type will suffice)
  • 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder (my favorite flavor-wise is Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1/3 C white whole wheat flour (I’ve not tried it, but you could likely use regular whole wheat as well in these)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C semi-sweet chocolate chips (if making lactose-free, double check ingredients on these!)

Raspberry Filling:

  • 1 1/2 C raspberries (if frozen, place in colander & run under lukewarm water until thawed a bit)
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 C sugar

Prepare raspberry filling:

  • In medium sized microwave-safe bowl, combine flour & 1 Tbsp water (taken from your 1/4 C water). Stir until smooth.
  • Pour in remaining water (discard an additional 1 Tbsp if you used frozen berries as they’ll have more moisture).
  • Add sugar, stir until combined.
  • Last, add raspberries and stir/mash them up into your mixture.
  • Heat in microwave until boiling (you’ll need to watch – it may take a few minutes depending on your microwave).  Allow to bubble/boil for ~30 seconds.
  • Stir/mash your berries again and then return to microwave and heat them until bubbling/boiling for an additional 15-20 seconds.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • (if you do not want seeds in your filling, allow to cool 20-25 min. before straining mixture through a sieve or cheesecloth.)

simple microwave raspberry sauce

Prepare brownie batter:

  • Preheat oven to 325•F.
  • Lightly spray/grease (bottom ONLY), a pie plate with 8 inch or less diameter across the bottom; then, lightly flour and shake off excess.
  • In large bowl, beat eggs until fluffy.
  • Add both sugars and mix on low or stir by hand until well combined.
  • Add melted margarine, milk, cocoa, flour, salt and vanilla.  Stir by hand until all dry ingredients are combined into mixture.
  • Stir in chocolate chips.
  • Pour half of batter into pie plate.
  • Pour/spread raspberry filling on top of batter.
  • Top with remaining brownie batter (it’s okay if the raspberry filling doesn’t stay underneath the batter – see photo below).
  • Bake for 55-60 minutes.  Start checking with toothpick at 50 minutes – remove from oven as soon as a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool about 30 minutes.  At this point, you may choose to serve them warm & gooey (YUM!), but they won’t have fully solidifed yet.
  • If you’ve waited to eat them until cool, cut with a butter/table knife (makes a cleaner line than a sharper knife).
  • Optional: garnish with chocolate syrup and fresh raspberries.

brownie layers

brownies cut

brownies 2

Have a dessert recipe you want see next?  Let’s hear it!

Happy Tuesday :)

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