the idea of making my own stain was also very appealing to me... so i did just that with a few simple and cheap ingredients - vinegar and steel wool.
i took a glass mason jar and put one piece of steel wool in the bottom, then poured vinegar over it until it was covered. i sealed the jar up and let it sit for 2 days.
we had a scrap piece of lumber and cut it to the size we needed. here is what untreated lumber looks like... brand spankin' new wood. not pretty.
after 24 hours, here is what our brand new piece of lumber looked like...
we finished the wood with minwax finishing paste (use that stuff on everything!)and then pre-drilled holes for our elephant hooks and screwed them in.