I am working on a project where I need to stain a birch dowel to a dark brown natural wood color. I tried my normal Varathane Dark Walnut stain (an oil-based stain which has worked really well for me in the past on both poplar hardwood and Baltic birch plywood), and for some reason it turned out horribly, much lighter than in past iterations and really blotchy / streaky. Looking into ways I can fix this.

A friend recommended trying a tea staining method like the one described here, which uses a chemical reaction between black tea, vinegar, and steel wool: https://www.js2partners.com/amp/how-to-distress-wood-diy

My question is whether the fact that the wood has already accepted an oil stain will prevent this from working. Please advise.

  • Hi Emmett, before going into the chemistry of it all, would it be possible to try this succession of stains out on another piece of birch?
    – Joachim
    May 27, 2023 at 23:55
  • Hi, yes obviously I can try this out on my own instead of asking for help, but I think that applies to almost any fabrication question. May 28, 2023 at 1:58
  • I’m working on a tight deadline while traveling, I don’t have another one of the birch rod components to use as a scrap piece, which is why I’m asking for other peoples help to see if anyone has encountered something similar. The tea method also involves waiting a couple days for chemical reactions to take place so knowing in advance whether it can work is helpful. There also might be certain modifications and or additional steps necessary, so looking for the community’s experience on that. May 28, 2023 at 2:00
  • Any thoughts on what I mentioned above? May 28, 2023 at 2:02
  • 1
    Blotchy oil-based stain probably makes this a bad idea - the water-based materials are likely to be unevenly absorbed. But I've never tried it myself.
    – Chris H
    May 28, 2023 at 12:41

1 Answer 1


I wouldn't do it.

The oil from the first stain will have penetrated the wood grains to a varying degree, and will prevent the tea and vinegar stain from distributing evenly.

Now, this may not result in an obvious blotchiness, but it very well could. Moreover, the reason the first stain turned out "blotchy/streaky" can have several causes, and these could all influence this subsequent layer.

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