Gray Wash Tutorial
(with a lesson on Vinegar Staining)
Gray wash. I don't know if that's a real word or not but at my house it is! I fell hard for the gray trend a few years ago, but also grew tired of painting things gray. I love wood--the grain, the natural warmth it brings to a space, and I had tried countless times to achieve that perfect light gray stain/wash effect. Gray store-bought stain was too dark and honestly doesn't provide the same richness that the brown-toned stains do, so it's not my favorite. I've tried mixing all the things but could never get the finish quite right.
So, after much heartache and many a botched project, I bring you my tutorial on how to make the perfect gray wash wood finish. It is relatively easy, inexpensive and not a lot of hands on time—checking off all the go-tos for a great DIY project!
ITEMS YOU’LL NEED:
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- White paint (mixed with water approximately 3/4:1 to create a medium coverage white wash)
- Old cloth for applying white wash
- Rubber/latex gloves (optional)
- Pull off a piece of your steel wool and place in an old plastic container (glass bottles with metal tops will rust). Cover with white distilled vinegar. Use the guide below to leave your steel/vinegar stain to sit the desired amount of time. Every type of wood takes to this finish differently and each time I do it the color is slightly different so I would suggest testing your desired finish on your wood before diving in to the whole project.
A NOTE ON VINEGAR STAINING All of these photos are done with BIRCH PLYWOOD since it takes particularly well to the vinegar coloring. Test your wood to ensure your desired results, for instance pine reacts much less during the first 4 days of soaking and then ends more reddish whereas oak after a short soaking time turns dark blue (which makes a beautiful gray wash). Vinegar/Steel Wool mixture can be applied within 1 hour of combining or up to 12 hours to reach a similar finish to the first swatch.
2. Sand your wood down to raw wood for the most even finish and full display of the wood grain.
3. Stain your wood with your homemade vinegar stain USING THE STEEL WOOL AS THE APPLICATION TOOL. Because it is not oil based like a regular gray stain, it soaks directly into the wood and then allows the following steps to do so as well, leaving you with a more natural finished look. I suggest using plastic or latex gloves unless you love the smell of vinegar on your hands for daaaayyyyys.
For many projects I like to use this stain method as-is for a natural, weathered look (shown below). To achieve the gray wash finish, complete step 4.
4. Once the vinegar has soaked into the wood and is mostly or completely dry (it will appear darker as it dries as shown below), you will add a whitewashed layer overtop. I mix bright white paint with water, about 3/4=1 (with a little more water than paint). Mix well. Then take a good microfiber or cotton type cloth (not a paper towel or paint brush but something that will soak up just a little bit of the paint and deposit the rest on your project), dip it in the whitewash mixture and apply to your stained wood quickly. To get an even finish over a large area, you need to do the whole surface in a relatively short amount of time because the paint layer will dry very quickly and leave paint marks if it's not blended with the section next to it. Rub along with the grain, getting a thin layer of the paint over a section, rub most of the paint off with a dry part of the cloth and then move on to the next section, blending as you go.
*Above photo, corners of each vinegar shade with added white wash.
*Below photo, clockwise from left: natural birch, vinegar stain after approx. 24 hrs, and then after applying white wash.
Once it’s dried and the color is to your liking, you’re done! Get ready to gray wash all. the. things. because here’s a secret—it works wonders on laminate (whaaaaattt??? I know). This table below was an ugly laminate that I found at Goodwill and it turned into one of my favorite pieces!
If you use this method feel free to send me photos at firstname.lastname@example.org or tag me (@avaberrylane) in your Instagram photos!