A Faded Gray Finish for Exterior Wood

Finishers suggest ways to reproduce an example of a weathered, gray, natural-looking finish. February 8, 2008

There's a popular Tuscan style finish I see commonly in my area, and I am wondering how this finish is accomplished. It's a weathered gray finish, most commonly applied to exterior French doors and exposed wood beam ceilings. A friend of mine once mentioned something about a cement wash. Any ideas?

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Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
Perhaps a steel wool/vinegar acid stain?

From contributor B:
A rusty steel wool and vinegar gives more of a brownish stain instead of gray... at least in my experience with it. There's a Sikkens stain that could be used, perhaps, called Cape Cod Gray, I believe.

From contributor P:
Muriatic acid, used to clean masonry and lower the pH in swimming pools, turns pine and other woods that are low in tannins a nice weathered grey color. You can apply it on large surfaces using a garden sprayer.

A weak solution of iron sulfate (aka, ferrous sulfate) will produce the grey/silver color on woods that contain tannins. A stronger solution will produce a deep black color. On woods that don't contain tannins, you can pre-treat them with tannic acid for the same coloring effect. It's more reliable/repeatable to mix your own solution using ferrous sulfate from a chemical supplier than it is to make it with steel wools (or other iron objects like nails).

From contributor R:
How about thinning out an oil based paint? Starts out as a paint, but you turn it into a stain by thinning it with either paint thinner or Naphtha? I've run into colors that can't really be made into a stain (per se) but do start off as a paint, and then fooled around with to make a "stain." It's worth a try.

From contributor Y:
I've used contributor R's method with great results. Thinning oil based paint and making a stain out of it insures that it will soak in and really stick to the wood.

From contributor I:
Thanks for the replies. This has given me some great ideas to try. The muriatic acid will be very interesting to see the result. As far as thinning an oil based paint, do you have any ideas as to what color I might consider based on the photo? It appears to have a bluish gray hue. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

From contributor R:
If I was you, I would drop by a paint store and browse the bazillion color chips they have on hand.

From contributor T:
Just another opinion: For a rustic natural look, contributor P has it. Muriatic works on woods with low tannin content. Otherwise iron/acid - I must confess I still make mine from steel wool and vinegar. This will not fade, but it will get darker over time around any steel fasteners.

If you want a more sophisticated look, Sikkens Cetol1/Cetol 23 has a blue gray stain called Blue Spruce. It is a semi-transparent stain designed for exterior applications and contains UV and mildew inhibiters. It is also comparatively long lasting and easy to maintain. If you have a mix of wood species this is the best choice.

I would not mess with paint. I just don't think you get the same level of performance you can get from a product specifically designed for exterior application.

From contributor B:
Blue Spruce has been discontinued... but they still have Cape Cod Gray.