An Easy 8 Step Technique To Create Aged Wood

In the search for authentic model railways, having aged woodwork is vital. You could paint your wood but hand painting every plank and timber is hard work and expensive. Here’s an easier and cheaper, if not quicker, way.

In the past I hand painted the wood work and timber on my railways and models, painstaking brushing successive layers of paint to each plank, fence post and timber. Not my idea of fun I can tell you!

If only I’d thought about it. Ah well, the benefit of hindsight.

Here’s a better, easier (no brushwork), way and one that I now prefer not just because it’s easier but also creates a more authentic natural aged wood result.

Essentially, it uses the reaction between iron oxidisation and natural tannin in wood bring out genuine shades of colour in the wood with a slightly different application than covered in brush and wipe guides to achieve better depth of colour.

What you need

  • Two Glass bottles – Jam jars or Yankee Candle bottles are ideal
  • Vinegar – Any cheap household vinegar will work.
  • Tea bags – brand doesn’t matter unless you’re making yourself a cup at the same time!
  • Iron based metal – a kitchen wire wool cleaner for example. Old coins and nails can also be used. Different metals produce different colours of rust; I like steal wool as it has produces a reddish tint.
  • Water – good old fashioned tap water.
  • A kettle – hopefully you have a kettle…

And of course the wood – Balsa, match sticks, lollipop sticks are my favourites sources for model railway building wood work.

The Technique

  1. Place the metal in the vinegar, boil and leave to soak in one of the jars for a day until the metal has dissolved (in the case of steel wool) and you’re left with a a rust solution. The boiling process isn’t necessary but speeds up the process of dissolving the metal. The rusting process will give off fumes, if you put a lid on the jar make sure there are holes for the fumes to escape and it’s done in a well ventilated location. Now strain this to remove large rust particles.
  2. Boil the water and add in the tea bags. As a guide I use about half a cup of water with two tea bags. Normal tea is fine, other types – Green / Black etc – produce subtly different colouring.
  3. Place the wood into the tea solution. To keep the wood submerged, put the wood in and then cover with the tea bags.
  4. Leave to Soak between 2 and 4 hours. The wood already has Tannin in it, we’re just helping nature along by boosting the naturally occurring levels.
  5. Extract the wood and leave until completely dry.
  6. Soak the dried wood in the rust solution for half a day. The oxidised iron from the steal wool will react with the Tannin to give a natural faded and weathered look.
  7. Briefly rinse the wood under cold water to remove any residue and leave to dry.
  8. Stained effects can fade, which in itself creates a nice effect, but a permanent fix apply a layer of sealant over the wood to hold the colour.
Before and After, stained wood using this easy technique

Before and After, stained wood using this easy technique

You can experiment with different metals and different strengths of the tea solution, reducing the number of tea bags or ‘brewing’ time to lighten the colour –  the stronger the tea solution the darker the end shading

If you’re working in larger scales (HO and up) added texture can be created by dragging a scalpel horizontally down the length of each strip of wood or roughen the surface.  This should be done between steps 7 and 8 above.

Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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