Living landlocked in the Midwest, I can’t stroll on the beach collecting driftwood. I wanted driftwood for my beach themed summer mantel, but the cost of purchasing and shipping the real thing was just too much for me. What else could I do except find a way to make it myself? Using my chemistry background, I’ve developed a simple process for making faux driftwood from sticks and logs found in your yard. Let’s get started!
– eye protection and rubber gloves – sticks and small logs that are at least partially dry – hammer, other tools that could be used for distressing the wood
– Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (MSDS)
– hot water – container large enough to hold the wood – wire brush – (optional) oven for drying the wood – sandpaper or sander power tool 1. First collect dry sticks and small logs. Mine were small logs from a cedar tree we cut down last year. A lot of the outer bark had already peeled off which was a plus. 2. Now take your hammer and beat up your wood. Be sure you wear eye protection. I smashed the ends of the logs to make them look less perfectly cut. I also used a chisel to split off some of the wood.
3. Fill your container with hot water. I just used the hot water in our garden hose that was sitting out in the sun. Put on your rubber gloves. Start adding the washing soda while stirring with one of your logs. Keep adding and stirring until no more will dissolve. CAUTION: The resulting solution is caustic so you do not want to get it on your skin or in your eyes. 4. Place your wood in the solution and let it soak for 12-24 hours. I needed a large rock to hold the logs under because they wanted to float.
5. A few times during the soaking period, pull out the logs and use the wire brush to scrub off the layers of bark which have softened. Make sure you are wearing your gloves and eye protection. I did it twice, but it could take more or less depending how much bark is on your wood. 6. When all of the bark has been removed, rinse your logs very well with water. Now you can leave them in the sun to dry. As always, I am impatient so I put them in my oven at 250 F for about an hour. 7. Once dry, it’s time to make your wood look like it has been eroded by the ocean waves. Use sandpaper or a sander to round out all the sharp edges. Completely sand down any small branches that don’t look like they would survive a beating in the ocean.
Now go decorate with your faux driftwood!
Are you interested in how this works? The active ingredient in the washing soda is sodium carbonate. When dissolved in water, it makes a caustic solution (high pH) that breaks down the lignin in the wood.
Lignin is a component of plant cell walls which gives them strength and rigidity.
Breaking down the lignin softens the bark so it can be easily scraped off.
In addition, the components of the wood that give it color are released (you may notice that the water becomes reddish brown), which lightens the surface of the wood.