How to dye wood with food colouring

Written by deborah stephenson
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How to dye wood with food colouring
Simple wooden toys are easy to dye with food colouring. (Getty Creative)

Many childrens' and pet toys on the market come in bright attractive colours, but you are not always sure how safe those brilliant paints and stains are. If you want to provide wooden toys for your kids, or playthings and chew toys for your gerbil or bird, but would like to know they are safe as well, make your own and stain them with food grade colourings. It is extremely easy to do.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Wood pieces
  • Sandpaper
  • Glass or disposable plastic containers
  • Food colourings
  • Vinegar
  • Disposable rubber gloves
  • Paint brush or soft cloth (optional)

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  1. 1

    Sand pieces of wood lightly so they will more readily accept stain.

  2. 2

    Find containers large enough to place pieces of wood in for soaking. Choose non-staining glass containers if possible, or use disposable plastic containers.

  3. 3

    Dilute food colour in boiling water, and add a few drops of vinegar to act as a mordant to "fix" the stain so it does not come off. Pour liquid into containers and add wood. (If wood is too large for containers, paint the food colour stain directly on the wood with a soft paint brush, or rub on with cloth---use disposable rubber gloves or you may stain more than the wood.)

  4. 4

    Let it set until colour develops---a few minutes to overnight depending upon how deep a colour you want. Repeat applications with a brush or cloth on large pieces--allowing it to soak in each time before adding more until you reach the desired colour.

  5. 5

    Dry pieces before using.

Tips and warnings

  • Jim McNamara of the "Woodworker's Gazette" offers some food colouring tips: "To get really bright colours, food colouring works very well as a wood dye. The best substrate is a wood that is close to white, like white pine. This allows the colour of the dye to show through more clearly without being altered by amber tones in the wood. This method produces non-toxic, painfully bright colours for children's toys."
  • "Strongly brewed coffee, applied cold to wood, imparts a solid brown cast to most species of wood. Let the coffee sit on the wood surface, with surface constantly wet, for about 10 to 15 minutes, then wipe thoroughly. Let the surface dry for several hours before applying any other finishes. Coffee that has sat at high (82 C (180 Fahrenheit) +) temperature for long periods of time or is several days old is oxidised and does not work well as a colourant. Freshly brewed, cold coffee works the best."

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