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A Pickled Finish
by Sal Marino

What is a pickling finish?

Pickled OakAlthough certain stains are sold under the name pickling stain, technically, pickling is a method not a finish. Originally, pickling was preformed on new wood to make it look old. Sometimes even strong chemicals were used to kill the natural color of the wood to turn it dull and give it a gray or weathered look. Today when most people refer to a pickled finish, they automatically think of a white or off-white pastel semi-transparent finish applied to an open pored wood such as oak or ash. This finish is quite fashionable today. The stains that are now labeled and sold as pickling stains are usually heavily pigmented white or off-white stains. They can be purchased in oil or water-based formulations.

You can use either a specially formulated stain labeled and sold as pickling stain or you can make your own by taking either oil based paint or latex (water based) paint and reducing it about 25 percent. If you use an oil based paint, reduce it with mineral spirits (paint thinner). If use a latex paint, use water. Oil based does not raise the grain and dries slower so you have more time to apply it and remove just as much as you want. If you are sensitive to chemicals or fumes use latex paint. The disadvantage to using latex paint is it raises the grain of the wood and it dries much quicker, therefore you do not have much control over how much you can wipe off once it sets up.

Use a white or off-white paint, depending on what color you prefer. You can also tint the paint or stain to make various shades of pastels. Sometimes reds are used, sometimes blues or greens. If you are working with a water based stain or latex paint, you can add universal tinting colors. Universal tinting colors are commonly sold in paint stores. If you are working with an oil based stain or paint, you can add Japan Colors. Japan Colors can be purchased from woodworking mail order catalogs or art supply stores and paint stores.

Materials and Formulas

Water Based Formula:

1 quart of white latex primer paint
Universal tinting color (optional)
8 ounces of  water
Mixing container
Paint brush
Wiping Cloths
Sandpaper
Tack cloth

Prepare the surface of your project by sanding using 100, 180 and finishing with 220 grit sandpaper.  After sanding wipe off the sawdust with a tack cloth.

In a container, mix the latex paint, water and (if desired) universal tinting colors. Once the stain has been mixed, simply brush it over the wood  in the direction of the grain. Wait a few moments then use a cloth to wipe off as much of the excess as necessary until you achieve the look you want. Remember, you're not completely covering the surface like when you are painting.  The goal here is to just highlight the areas of the grain, not completely cover the grain. The result is very effective because most of the pigment (color) remains in the large pores and accents the overall appearance of the grain. However, closed pored woods such as pine are also pickled and can produce a beautiful look. 

After the stain has dried, inspect the wood to see if the grain has been raised by the water in the stain.  If the grain has raised too much and appears very fuzzy, use 600 grit sandpaper to lightly cut back the fibers until the surface feels smooth, then remove the dust with a tack cloth. Once you are satisfied with the texture and color, apply at least two coats of a water-based finish to seal in the color and protect it. Water based topcoat finishes are best to use because they have no amber tint to them like oil based finishes, therefore the finish will not yellow or change the color of the stain. Make sure the finish is either satin or flat, don't use a gloss finish because it will reflect too much light and you will not be able to see the accents in the grain very well.


Oil Based Formula:

1 quart of white white oil based paint
Japan colors (optional)
8 ounces of  mineral spirits
Mixing container
Paint brush
Wiping Cloths
Sandpaper
Tack cloth

Prepare the surface of your project by sanding using 100, 150 and finishing with 220 grit sandpaper.  After sanding wipe off the sawdust with a tack cloth.

In a container, mix the oil based paint, paint thinner and (if desired) japan colors. Once the stain has been mixed, simply brush it over the wood  in the direction of the grain. Wait a few moments then use a cloth to wipe off as much of the excess as necessary until you achieve the look you want. Remember, you're not completely covering the surface like when you are painting. The goal here is to just highlight the areas of the grain, not completely cover the grain. The result is very effective because most of the pigment (color) remains in the large pores and accents the overall appearance of the grain. However, closed pored woods such as pine are also pickled and can produce a beautiful look. 

Once you are satisfied with the texture and color, apply at least two coats of a water-based finish to seal in the color and protect it. Water based topcoat finishes are best to use because they have no amber tint to them like oil based finishes, therefore the finish will not yellow or change the color of the stain. Make sure the finish is either satin or flat, don't use a gloss finish because it will reflect too much light and you will not be able to see the accents in the grain very well.

 
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