Rusty Nail Muti – The Best DIY Aging Wood Stain
There are so many gorgeous projects on Pinterest that use old weathered wood, but not everyone is lucky enough to have a massive pile of wood in their backyard, quietly rotting away. And even if you do, the pieces don’t always match up, or the wood is so rotten it’s unusable. Well, have no fear, my fellow DIYers. We make our own homemade aging wood stain, and it works like a charm. But that’s not all. Not only is it easy to make, but it also’s cheap, eco-friendly, and literally takes seconds to give new wood that old, grey, weathered patina.
So no more waiting to start building the aged creation you’ve been dreaming about. Now you can make your own aging wood stain just like we do. We call it Rusty Nail Muti.
The word “muti” is derived from the Zulu word umuthi, meaning “tree”. We use it all the time here in South Africa to refer to any medicine that has a miraculous effect. And that’s exactly what this aging wood stain is – a homemade miracle cure for transforming wood from new to aged and well-worn.
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What you need
This recipe couldn’t be easier. All you need is the following:
- Rusty Nails or any other rusty bits
- Coarse salt
- A clean glass jar with a lid. I used 500 ml sauce bottles, but any glass bottle or jar with a wide mouth will work.
- Rusty Nail Muti Labels – free to download here
- White Vinegar (Grape, Apple) or Balsamic Vinegar
We normally make two batches of the Rusty Nail Muti. One uses white vinegar, like grape or apple, and another uses balsamic vinegar. The white vinegar produces a grey stain, while the balsamic stain is richer, with russet undertones. We mix both batches up in the same way.
How to make Rusty Nail Muti, aka Aging Wood Stain
Put two tablespoons of coarse salt into the glass jar and add a handful of rusty nails.
Pour enough vinegar into the jar to cover the nails. Don’t fill the jar completely. There needs to be some “air-filled” space to allow the expanding gas and chemical reaction to occur.
Salt and vinegar create sodium acetate and hydrogen chloride. When you add rusty nails, the acetic acid pulls the iron particles out of the rust, forming Ferric acid, a yellow, brown liquid. It’s that yellow, brown liquid that stains the wood so beautifully. Give the mixture a good stir.
And put the lid on. Don’t tighten the lid all the way; just one small twist to stop the vinegar from evaporating, but not tight enough to seal the jar. It gives that chemical reaction some room to work its magic 😉 If you look closely at the photo below, you can see bubbles coming off the rusty nails. That’s the hydrogen gas escaping. So cool, right!!?
I labelled a few stirrer sticks as testers to make it easier to see how the stain develops over time. That way, you can get an idea of how the color of the stain changes.
How to Use the Rusty Nail Muti as an aging wood stain
The stain can be used almost immediately. The stirrers marked day one went into the mix about an hour after it was made. On day 1, the balsamic version shows the biggest change. The white vinegar version is very subtle, but once it dries, it turns a light grey, which is really pretty.
Here’s a close-up of the balsamic tester sticks. The stick on the left is the stirrer with days 1 to 3 next to it. The stirrer indicates how the stain would look if you use multiple coats on a piece of wood.
And here’s the white vinegar sticks—stirrer on the left with days 1 to 3 on the right.
The longer you leave the Rusty Nail Muti, the deeper and richer the color gets. I find that the color doesn’t change much after a week, and if it does, it’s really subtle. So I’m guessing all the chemicals have done what they need to do 😀
It looks like something is growing on top!!
After a week or two, you will probably start seeing a dark scummy growth forming on the top.
It looks like some kind of black pimple monster 😀 but don’t worry about it. You can break it up and stir it back into the mixture. If it gets really bad, use a kitchen towel and lightly dip it into the mixture to pick up the worst of the scum. The Rusty Nail Muti can be applied to wood like any other stain and sealed or left as is. Always stir the mixture before applying.
Just a heads up, the Rusty Nail Muti aging wood stain doesn’t produce the same results on different woods. I would first test it on a small spot to check if you’re happy with the color. The stirrers I used to show how the color intensifies over time are all pine.
Rusty Nail Muti Labels
Labelling the bottles if you’re making both versions is good since the white vinegar goes dark and murky after a few days. You can download the ones we used for free here. Just print them out and stick them on with sticky tape.
Store the Rusty Nail Muti in a cool, dry spot until you run out. Remember to check for the black pimple monster. You don’t want that thing escaping and taking over your craft cupboard 😉 Seriously though, I have no idea how big that thing can get since we use our stain all the time.
If you like the idea of making your own aging wood stain or muti from rusty nails, don’t forget to pin it for later.
Now, if only I could find a miracle muti for reversing the signs of aging, I’d be content 😉 Does anyone have any secret recipes they’d be willing to share?
Oh, and if you’re looking for some of the things we used, we’ve got you covered. Disclosure: Clicking on the links below means we may receive a commission from Amazon. But don’t worry, it won’t come out of your pocket, and it helps us come up with more amazing craft ideas to share with you 😉
Or if you prefer to buy rather than DIY
And as always, wishing you a wonderful, crafty week filled with lots of love. Thank you for popping in for a visit.
31 thoughts on “Rusty Nail Muti – The Best DIY Aging Wood Stain”
This is the funniest thing I’ve read in along time. But how does the Spit work on top of that? I’m searching my apt complex now for rusty nails. No luck so far. As for the aging process I don’t think there’s a recipe for that. But I keep looking for that too. The more I look tho the faster the years fly by. So I guess it’s better to stop looking and just have fun with what we have left. Now back to searching for rusty nails.
😀 Any rusty bits should work, so if you luck out on the nails, maybe you can use something else, and since the muti is made with vinegar which mixes well with water, Unicorn SPiT can be applied on top of the stain without a problem. Have fun looking for those nails.
If you coat the wood in a mixture of black tea/coffee fist, it opens up the pores and sucks the colour deeper in to the tannins. Gives a much fuller colour change.
Oh wow, Dave. Thanks for the tip. I’m definitely going to experiment with that.
I think this is a great way to make your own stain. I will make some as soon as it warms up enough to go outside.
This aging wood stain is so easy Jamie, and it always works for us. Have fun experimenting and playing around.
I’m excited to ditch the toxic stains, thank you. Do you coat the wood with anything after the stain dries, possibly a natural conditioner or wax? Also, I see that you are in SA. That is where my family is from 🙂
Oh wow, Asha, well as a fellow South African I’m happy to meet you and yes we normally use wax to seal and protect the wood after applying the stain. You can also use linseed oil or Danish oil to deep treat the wood.
this is similar technique used in GB in medieval times. A more modern technique is to use wire wool and vinegar. I dont know how consistency in tone but generally old furniture, staircases are black
Oh wow, I didn’t know that but it makes so much sense. Thank you for that Edward.
Yes! I have a jar of the vinegar + steel wool that stains my new wood and cuts just fine! I’ve used it for years. I make picture frames to look like bard=n wood and this colors the end cuts perfectly to match the weathered wood I work with! The steel wool eventually just dissolves in the vinegar.
What kind of balsamic vinegar did you use? The real, traditional and pricey Italian kind or the cheaper version? I’ve known this recipe for years but never used it much because I don’t really care for the greyish tones white vinegar produces, but that rich tone you got with the balsamic vinegar is beautiful, that I’d love to use!
Hey there Luna, we use the cheap Balsamic vinegar to make ours. It’s a local South African house brand from one of the larger retailers.
Oh and I voted!! Best of luck…you totally deserve it!
? Thank you Kim, that means so much to us ?
You’re kidding me!? I’ve never seen this before but it looks amazing. And I bet it smells much better than those toxic commercial stains. I’m pinning this for my next project. Love it!!
It sure does smell better, almost like fish and chips if you use your imagination ?
It is amazing what vinegar and rusty nails can make. I have been making my wood aging solution for a while now with steel wool. No patience in waiting for it naturally. LOL . I usually have some waiting for the next project so it does get pretty dark, so I just add a little vinegar to lighten it up if needing lighter.
Isn’t it just the best recipe. My Ouma told us that back in the day the men would use the tobacco spit in the spittoons and mix that into the vinegar and rust mixture for a very deep stain. I’m all out of tobacco spit thank goodness ? but I would love to see how it works.
I did pop on by and voted for your website, Good luck.
Thank you soooo much for the vote, Anita ?
Great idea using the rusty nails. I use fine steel wool in the vinegar. After a few days, it is rusty as all hell. Looks great on pine to make it look old.
It works every time ?
This is such a handy post! I can’t wait to try my hand at some of your stain recipes! Thanks.
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Lynn. The stain recipe is a great, budget-friendly alternative and we use ours all the time
Thanks for sharing I am always looking for stain colors.
You’re welcome Maria
What a great idea. I have a lot of rusty nail and now I’m going to collect them for a project like this.
Those rusty nails come in so handy for so many different things ?
I have never seen this technique but I am so interested in trying it. I have some pieces that need staining. Thank you for sharing.
You’re welcome Sherry ? It really is the easiest aging stain recipe ever