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Stains and Finishes for Baskets

Walnut Stain:

Place 20 to 25 green walnut hulls in a cloth or nylon bag. The bag needs to be absorbent to permit the hulls to soak. An old pillow case or old pair of stockings will do. Tie bag tightly shut with a piece of rope. Place the bag with hulls in two quarts of water. Let stand for one to two weeks. Or, you can simmer the hulls outdoors on a gas grill for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The stain can be stored in a tightly closed container or frozen. The hulls can be frozen and used again.  Walnut stain will produce a brown color. Try using pecan hulls for a red/orange color. Or, Sunflower hulls for gray. 
Another method to make walnut stain is to put walnut hulls in household ammonia for about an hour, strain and use.  This method should be done in a well ventilated room or outdoors.  When the baskets dry, they smell fresh and clean.  You can add more ammonia to the used hulls several times before all color is taken out of them.  (1/2 cup ammonia to 1 gallon of dye)  You can add water if too dark

Tea Stain:   

Dissolve 7 tablespoons of instant tea in 1 cup of boiling water. Pour, spray or spoon over basket.
Mix 1 jar instant tea and 1 quart of clear ammonia. Additional ammonia can be added to lighten the stain. This stain will not sour or go bad.   Note:  Because of the ammonia, work outside with this mixture.

Water Based Wood Stain:

For a custom color stain, mix Minwax® Water-Based Wood Stain with a small amount of craft acrylic paint.  The amount and proportions depend on the basket size and color depth desired.  Test color and absorbency on scrap materials.  Apply to your basket with a foam brush and wipe any excess off.   Let dry.  Your basket will have a rich even stain color and long lasting beauty.  Unused stain can be saved in a sealed jar.

Oil Wood Based Stain: 

Stain recipe:  ¼ cup Minwax® (fruitwood), ¾ cup Paint Thinner (Turpentine or Mineral Spirits), 2 T Linseed oil.
Stain Recipe:  ½ cup Cherry wood Stain, 1 cup Golden Oak Minwax® wood Stain, 1 ½ cup paint thinner (turpentine or mineral spirits) -- Mix all together in a glass jar.  Apply stain with a foam brush.  The golden oak tones down the red of the cherry stain.

Stain Recipe:  1 part wood stain to 2 parts mineral spirits.  Brush on stain and wipe off any excess.  Reapply if a darker color is desired.
A paint thinner is necessary when using chemical stains.  Used alone, oil based wood stains are too thick and will be too dark.  Dry reed is like a sponge and will absorb the color rapidly.  Dab up and down so that the color will run into the crevices and cracks.  Be sure to go over your basket visually so you won’t miss any spots.

Stain Ideas:

For an interesting look try staining the handle much darker than the basket.  Do this by staining the handle first before inserting it in the basket, then stain the basket and handle.

A gray over stain gives the basket a weathered look.  This looks especially nice if you have some dyed blue, green or mauve reed in it.

For a washed look, try using a small amount of acrylic water base paint and water for dipping or spraying on the basket.  When dry, the finished basket can be stained or sprayed with Scott's Liquid Gold® Wood Cleaner & Preservative.  Use a test piece of reed to see the color and stain effects.

Miscellaneous Stains and Finishes:

For a lighter stain that is more of an oak color, use one plug of any kind of chewing tobacco to one quart of household ammonia. Strain mixture to remove tobacco before use. This method should be done in a well ventilated room or outdoors.
Scott's Liquid Gold® Wood Cleaner & Preservative or Liquid Scott’s using a foam brush is especially good to condition the reed in your basket or when a lot of dyed reed is used.  Make sure the basket is thoroughly dry before applying 2 thin coats of Liquid Gold to your basket.
Weavers stain spray can clogged? Try soaking head in Peroxide to clear the stoppage. 

Basket Wash by Joanna Wood Peter
A wash is a diluted mixture of dye and water. This combination produces a pale tan color. Mix in a 64 ounce plastic container with lid: 1 pkg. dark brown Rit dye, a small amount of gold Rit dye and 64 ounces of boiling water. When ready to “wash” your basket, put 3 parts of the washmix and five parts of cold water into a spray bottle and spray your basket. Any dye can be mixed following this method to produce a “washed” look. The mixture can be stored in the 64 ounce container in a cool place. {Source: Winter, 1997 newsletter of Westchester Area and Basketmaker’s Guild and Twining Times, Winter 1998}
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Tips and Tricks listed on this page have been pasted from weaver to weaver over the past years.  MBG does NOT claim originality but provides a forum for sharing those deemed beneficial to new and experienced weavers.  MBG welcomes the submission of additional tips and tricks.  Please send your tips to

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