DIY Wood Stain Sunflower Bulletin Board blog cover
Art Tip

DIY Wood Stain

I  came up with an idea to try out in my studio the other day, and since it ended up working much better than I expected, I thought I would share!

I have a couple of small bulletin boards that I’ve been upcycling by painting a picture on the face (they can still be used as bulletin boards, just prettier).  As I finished the one, I was debating on what to do with the raw wood frame.  I considered leaving it plain, painting it, or staining it.  I didn’t really want a painted look for it so I ruled that out.  I also wanted something more polished, so I decided against leaving it unfinished.  Which left me with deciding to stain it.

WIP Sunflower Bulletin Board by Laura Jaen Smith

My art budget is a little tight right now so the idea of buying a whole can of stain just for this tiny project didn’t feel cost effective, so I set off into brainstorming mode to figure out what I could create using things I already have on hand.  What I ultimately came up with is mixing food coloring into gloss varnish.  Both items I have readily available between my kitchen and art studio. 

Here are the materials I used below.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to work out nearly as well as it did so I didn’t pay too much attention with the amounts I added, but I will try to estimate to the best of my ability.  The amount I made seemed to be plenty for this project with enough left over to do another frame of this size.  Of course you can alter the colors or the amount of the varnish to make the color that you’re looking for.  

DIY Stain


2 oz of gloss varnish (I used Liquitex brand)
8 drops yellow food coloring
4 drops red food coloring
2 drops blue food coloring

Mix ingredients together (I used an applesauce cup from the recycling bin and a toothpick) to the color that you’re looking for.  Apply to the surface with a brush.  Be mindful of your brush lines and pooling of stain.  I used 2 coats (drying between each), but you can use as much or as little as you like depending on the look you want.  

Doesn’t it look beautiful??  I’m so pleased with how it turned out!

Sunflower Bulletin Board by Laura Jaen Smith. Bulletin board with hand-painted sunflowers on bright blue background.

Here’s a brainstorm of options if you’re looking for a slightly different look.  You could use a different finish of varnish, either semi-gloss or satin for less shine, or matte for a flat finish.  You could alter the color by using a different combination of colors to mimic different wood tones, or could do a completely different color entirely (I’m looking forward to playing around with this)!  You can alter the color strength by either using less food coloring or more varnish with the mix.  

This recipe worked great for this type of project and would probably work well for other small decorative items.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for furniture projects, outside items, or anything that gets a lot of wear and tear (it probably also wouldn’t be cost effective on a large scale). 

What DIY solutions have you found that worked better than expected? I'd love to know!

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