In the last few months, I have developed a deep love of turning mundane things into art, especially wooden mundane objects. Several months ago, I made a piece of artwork out of wood shims for the waiting room at work, and ever since then I have been planning to make a project with wooden coffee stir sticks. On the shim piece, I painted all sides of every piece of wood, but that wasn’t gonna cut it with tiny little stir sticks. I have been wanting to try dyeing wood for years, so I thought this was the perfect chance!
The week after Easter, I bought a bunch of egg dyeing kits, on sale, with the intent of using them on this project. I wanted to make sure that the art didn’t look like an Easter egg, so I also bought three colors of Rit fabric dye in darker colors. Finally, I pulled out my fave wood stain, Minwax Kona. I also bought wooden stir sticks with square ends from Amazon, and I pulled out a leftover scrap of wood from the shim project. Once I did this, it was time to get to work.
I wanted the main colors of the piece to be natural wood, stained wood, and red. I had 2 boxes of stir sticks, so I divided one box fairly evenly between the three main colors. I divided the second box fairly evenly between the other 9 colors.
The Minwax Kona staining process was super easy. I used a disposable container and tossed the sticks in a bit of stain to coat. With the Rit dye, I simply added about a half teaspoon of each color of powdered dye to water and poured it over the stir sticks.
For the egg dye, I dissolved 2 of each color tablet in 3 tablespoons of vinegar and let them dissolve. It’s REALLY tough to tell what color the tablets are when they’re dry, so I dabbed them with water to ensure that I was putting 2 tablets of the same color together. Once the tablets dissolved, I added a half cup of water and poured the dye over the stir sticks in a disposable container. I added a little violet gel food coloring to the purple batch because the color was a bit gray without it.
Eventually, I ran out of disposable containers, and I started using gallon zipper bags. If I had to do it over again, I would have used all bags for the sake of easy cleanup and minimal use of counter space.
I ended up leaving the sticks in the dye for about a day and a half, and the time made a lot of difference in the depth of color. I recommend leaving the sticks in the dye for at least a day. Once the sticks were ready to come out of the dye, I drained them and placed them on paper towels to dry, which took about a day. I could have sped up the drying process by putting the stir sticks on a drying rack or even using a hair dryer or heat gun, but I was in no hurry.
Once the sticks dried, I divided them into groups that would eventually become the rows of the piece. I planned to have a 1’x4′ finished product, which translated to 70 rows of 8 1/2 stir sticks. I wanted each row to have at least 1 red, natural, and Kona stained stick, so I divvied those up first. I then divided the other colors amongst the groups. I did this on a big carpet, and it was like an extreme sport with the dogs walking around!
Finally, it was time to start gluing. I initially tried using wood glue. Of course, wood glue takes while to dry, so I was having to hold the tiny and sometimes not flat sticks in place for awhile before moving on. That wasn’t going to work with 630 sticks, so I switched to high-temp hot glue, being careful not to slop it all over the other rows. Once I was finished covering the whole board, cutting a few pieces per row into smaller pieces to add texture and variety, I glued some extra pieces over the top of some of the seams of the lower pieces for even more texture and depth. It pretty much took me all day to glue on all of the sticks, and I am glad I didn’t decide to do a bigger piece because I might still be sitting at the table with a glue gun claw hand!
When I was FINALLY done gluing, it was time to polyurethane the piece, but it was full of those annoying hot glue strings. To quickly fix this, I went over the piece lightly with my heat gun. Of course, you want to be careful doing this on a hot glued piece, but it quickly took care of the strings. Once that was done, I mixed 4 or 5 drops of a stain/poly mix into a good bit of hand-rubbed poly (about a cup), and I applied it to the whole piece. Then it was time to let the piece dry and hang it up over the bed!
I am pretty pleased with the results, and I am happy to have the extra splash of color on the bedroom wall. If you decide to attempt this project or something like it, I would love to hear about it! As usual, thanks for reading and for sharing my passion for creativity. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find something to do with the leftover, dyed stir sticks!