A Pickled Finish
What is a pickling finish?
Although 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 semitransparent 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 either a paint thinner or gum turpentine. 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.
Applying The Stain
Applying the stain is easy. Simply wipe it over the wood and then wipe off as much of the excess as necessary until you achieve the look you want. Today, pickling is usually done on open pored woods like oak, and ash. 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, such woods like pine are also pickled and can produce a beautiful look.
Once you are satisfied with the color, apply at least two coats of 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.