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weathered gray ash- killing me.

Y. Heller Member

Hey guys,

I'm working on a TV console and 2 tables that are to be finished in a weathered gray. So I worked up some samples using steel wool and vinegar. I bought some tannic acid powder and mixed that with denatured alcohol. I figured out my dilution level to achieve the shades that the customer liked and approved.

Ok so here is where I'm absolutely getting it handed to me... The ash veneered plywood vs the hardwood.

I am having a very hard time trying to get the ash ply to match, or even closely match, the color of the ash hardwood. The ash plywood is showing a lot of yellow and green where as the hardwood shows more browns.

I have tried different tannin concentrations on the HW vs PW as well as different dilution on the vinegar/steel wool mixture.

Is the 2 part bleach the only way to get a uniform look? I ask only because if it is, I need to pay for next day shipping. (Ouch)

Also, has anyone tried spraying the tannin and iron sulfate?

It seems like the slightest change in wipe on procedure (more strokes vs less) when applying, changes the outcome of the color.

And allowing to air dry slowly with a gentle breeze from a fan produced different shades (lighter grain lines, more uniform) than when I tried to speed it up with a heat gun (darker, darker grain lines). All with the same mix solution and application technique.

I'm thinking the only thing I have left to try is staining the plywood first with a brown tea, applying the tannin, then applying the iron sulfate??

If anyone has suggestions on how to get better color uniformity I am all ears.

3/15/16       #2: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
rich c.

Forget all the vinegar/iron oxide, tea solutions and go to dyes if you want uniform color. Even two boards will show differently with the acid/iron oxide. I only have experience with vessels that I turn on the lathe, and luckily I don't need the absolutely uniform color you want. No plywood either. Just curious, why did your sample on plywood not show the problem? Did you do something differently with it before?

3/15/16       #3: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Robert Chickey Member

Bleach will not solve your problem. The issue is the plywood will not accept the tannic acid as deeply as solid ash. Because of this you can't get the reaction that you need. Also your process is a little flawed. The iron acetate solution has a tendency to read dark gray green. It can be exceptionally blotchy as well. What did you do the sample on? How big of a piece was the sample? If you can answer that I will try to find an appropriate solution.

3/15/16       #4: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Y. Heller Member

Hey guys,

Thanks for the responses. Now that I'm getting a headache over this I'm seeing that this whole approach to the weathered gray is a waste of time. There are far too many variables with it. And I can absolutely see the green you're talking about. It's killing me right now. Good that I checked this before placing the order on the bleach. That stuff is expensive.

I screwed up with the sample. I put it on a piece of 8x8 hardwood because I had it on hand for another job that I was trying out this method for. I didn't have any ash plywood. And even worse, I cut it in half because the designer asked if she could take it to show her client. So all they ended up seeing was this tiny piece of 4x8 which doesn't represent the wood for anything.

I absolutely should have glued up two pieces and ran samples that way. And also worked up new samples specific to her job. Stupid move that is going in the memory bank of what not to do.

Do you guys have any recommendations on what pigments/ dyes to use? Whatever it is I need to order it ASAP and rush it out here. I wanted to be staining today and seal coating by tomorrow on this job, but this is going to be down to the minute by the looks of it.

In the mean time I'll keep hunting around to see what other methods are out there.

For certain, I'll never be using this approach to weathered gray ever again. What a damn nightmare.

3/15/16       #5: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Robert Chickey Member

What are you going to use for a top coat? Are you after a more realistic look? The lower the sheen, the more natural it will look.

3/15/16       #6: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Robert Chickey Member

Do you have access to apple cider vinegar?
I would stay away from the tannic acid for the moment. If you mix steel wool and apple cider vinegar for no more than 45 minutes you should get a fairly even grey/brown hue.
You might have to use the tannic acid on the plywood only.

3/15/16       #7: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Y. Heller Member

I can check around and see. I should be able to find it because we are actually surrounded by apple orchards. There has to be a store that carries it.

I was planning to TC this with Seagrave CV 15 sheen. It's flat, but has a very slight sheen. Having some sheen gives it more of that silvery look as it reflects light. Matte sheen is very bland and doesn't do much for the gray.

3/15/16       #8: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
rich c.

You have to give us information. Like where are you located if you need dye tomorrow. Where do you get the clear? Ask them about universal colorant in a clear stain base. That will get you color quickly. You can go with a darker undercoat, a seal coat, then a lighter glaze. It will be a quick experiment. If we even had an idea of what colors you are targeting, it sure would be a lot easier. You've got some effort ahead. Call the customer and honestly describe the situation. It's better to deliver a good final product compared to slapping some crap on it and ship it.

3/15/16       #9: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Robert Chickey Member

Apple Cider vinegar should be available at a grocery store. The stronger the vinegar, the easier this will be. If you can't find it then look for balsamic vinegar. It is more expensive but it will work better. Remember don't let it steep for more than 45 minutes. Make a sample first. Put Tannic acid on the plywood only.

3/16/16       #10: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Paul Snyder  Member


I really like the unique way that chemical stains color wood. One of the appealing factors is the way the final color varies based on the natural properties of the wood itself – that’s not a look we can reproduce using dyes and pigmented stains. When your goal is to achieve a uniform color on a variety of wood substrates, the best approach is to use dyes, stains, glazes, and/or toners.

There are a few ways to get uniform color on different pieces of wood. Here's one that you can use quickly....

Go to the paint store and get a quart (more if you need it) of oil-based paint mixed to the color grey that matches the weathered color you want. On the other hand, if you have pigments that you can mix to make this color yourself, that's even better.

The oil-base grey paint is going to be your stain and toner. Thin it with mineral spirits until it gives you the color you want when applied and wiped (mix a small portion at the ratio of 2 parts thinner to 1-part paint and adjust in measured amounts to determine the best mix). The color the stain provides should be about 2/3 of the final intensity you want when you’re done.

Here’s the steps;

  1. Prep the wood for staining
  2. Apply the stain – let it dry
  3. Spray a coat of sealer/finish. Let it dry and sand smooth.
  4. Mix 1-2 ounces of the paint with 20 ounces of the same thinner you use with your finish (e.g., lacquer thinner). Add 10 ounces of the finish (ready to spray). Spray this very thin mixture evenly over the entire surface to produce the final weathered grey color. Be careful, you have to avoid runs and sags.
  5. Let the toner coat flash off and spray a coat of clear finish over it. Scuff and spray a final coat of finish if required.

If you have a black dye that you know is truly black, not green or purple when you thin it down, you can use that for the first coloring step instead of the stain you made. The potential drawback is that the dye will allow the color of the substrate to show through more than the pigmented stain. The wood that looks off-color with the chemical stain will also be off-color with the dye. That can result in the same variation you’re trying to avoid.

The best and only approach is to produce large samples of the finish on both types of wood you plan to use to make sure you’re going to get the results you want. It’s a LOT more work to go back and fix it if doesn’t come out right.

The picture below shows a sample using this approach. I used dye for the first coloring step and grey stain for the toner. Here’s the steps;

  1. The first section on the far left is bare wood.
  2. I dyed the remainder of the sample using 1 part black dye and 50 parts thinner – sprayed evenly.
  3. Section 2 shows the dye only and section 3 shows the color change when the clear finish/sealer is applied over the dye.
  4. Section 4 shows the color after spraying a grey pigmented toner. Be careful with pigmented toner, too much and it masks the grain of the wood. The final color is very close to a piece of weathered pine I used for the match.

View higher quality, full size image (600 X 376)

View higher quality, full size image (600 X 450)

3/16/16       #11: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Y. Heller Member

Hey Rich,

The clear finish I use comes out of NJ. I am located not far over the boarder in NY. Seagrave does not do colors I don't believe. I have only ever bought clear finishes from them. Typically I only use Mohawk stains. I'll give them a try (distributor in NJ, 1hr away) and see if the guys there have a solution.

The color I am trying to achieve is very similar to what Paul Snyder just posted up. Which by the way, @Paul Snyder, thank you so much for that post, with how to. I'm going to give it a multitude of sample attempts and see if I can get something that will work.

Last night I was up late trying different things. Being that we are a metal and wood shop I did samples on only the plywood with a LIGHT torch burn to brown the wood a bit, followed by a wipe down with burnt sienna liquid pigment, followed by the tannic acid/iron sulphate, then sealed and top coated with CV. The color is VERY close.

That being said... I still never want to have to take a torch to wood as a finishing process. I'm going to try what Paul suggested and if I can't get it with that then I'm just going to have to explain to the situation to the customer and work up samples with a process that I can reproduce evenly.

Really appreciate all the help guys. 1st year of business. Nothing like being your own boss; good with bad.

3/16/16       #12: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...

you could try WD lockwood for stains. they are in manhattan. they have a good silver grey color.

3/16/16       #13: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
rich c.

Did you try chicken poop only dropped under a full moon? It just made me chuckle that you are now looking at torched wood for color, and coffee, and iron, and vinegar, and something else from the pantry I may have forgotten. No offense, just touched my funny bone. My friend chars the hell out of his ash tables. But, since he shows at ACC art shows, he calls it shou sugi ban, and can charge thousands more!

3/22/16       #14: weathered gray ash- killing me. ...
Y. Heller

lol... that's about how I felt with this whole SNAFU. I tried some paints thinned out, but I still wasn't getting the color result that that damn sample was showing. Someone a few posts up (I forgot to check before posting this, but thank you for mentioning it) said to check out WD Lockwood. They are right in NYC and were able to get me pigments the next day. I played around with some colors and it ended up being their Weathered Oak pigment. Go figure. It was a real no SH!T moment. I figured out the thin ratio and it was spot on to our sample and even gave off that silver shimmer when you see it at different angles. Very pleased with their pigments and glad to have a sigh of relief.

Thank you all for posting your expertise here. All of it helped me out even if it wasn't what I ended up doing for this project. It forced me to work a ton of samples and helped me learn. I really appreciate your help guys.

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