One of the goals of our project in India is to have as little environmental impact as possible in all our operations. When setting up our office we looked for locally made furniture with the smallest carbon footprint possible, which can be a challenging task in India! Our handmade pine tables were not stained or treated when we purchased them so we were left with the decision of what to do with them to ensure that they lasted. We decided to do some experimenting with natural staining techniques and, after a number of internet searches, we found that tea and coffee grounds mixed with vinegar is a natural alternative to the commercial made stains, which contain toxic chemicals.
A mixture with a ratio of approximately one cup coffee of grounds to two cups of vinegar left to soak overnight allowed us to make our first experimental coat on one of the tables. After leaving it to dry for 20 minutes we brushed off the excess coffee grounds and looked at the results. There was a small difference between the stained and unstained tables which showed that with multiple coats we might see a real difference (Picture 1). Seven coats later and we saw real results, the table looks beautifully finished with a colour equal to that from a chemically based stainer (Picture 2).
Inspired by the results of our first test we decided to further experiment with the remaining two tables. We used beetroot for one table (Picture 3) to give it a nice rich red finish and for the second table we used turmeric, which is widely available here and inexpensive. It produced a soft yellow finish that nicely complements the natural colour of the pine. Three tables of three different colours have given a nice diversity to the office. We still have our cupboard to finish and we have begun to get a little more creative. We have started mixing turmeric with chilli powder to get different shades of colours (picture 4).
The next step is to find a way to protect the table wood from termites which are prevalent here. A quick search online has not given us many clues, borax with water in one, but a better solution could be to use some local knowledge. Some houses here are completely surrounded by a water barrier with no part of the house touching the ground outside the barrier. Termites cannot cross open water so it acts as a natural barrier against them. If we put each leg of a table in a clay bowl filled with water then termites should not be able to get to the wood. Of course water and untreated wood do not go very well together, the legs would soon be rotten in the hot Keralan climate. However, if we waterproof the legs by applying a mixture of beeswax and olive oil then the table should be safe. It will be good to test these simple and sustainable methods for making wooden furniture beautiful and safe from from insects. More updates will come.