Pickling Wood to Reproduce the Old World Charm

Pickling is a term that comes from a particular finish used on wood furniture by our ancestors. In days gone by, people would take a handful of galvanized nails and soak them in white vinegar for 2 to 3 days. The vinegar would eat the galvanizing away from the nails. When the nails were removed, the vinegar was left a cloudy color. The vinegar solution would be applied to new wood to provide it with an aged look.

Since everything that is old is new again, it only seems fair that pickling is once again a highly desirable look. With modern advances to finishing techniques, pickling is an easier than ever finish that will give your furniture a beautiful look---without the 2 to 3 day wait!

It is important to realize that open-pored wood such as ash or oak work best for this type of finish, although pine works well for pickling also. The wood needs to be able to absorb the finish into its grains for the best result.

If you head to the hardware store, you may notice special paint that is actually labeled for pickling. These paints are usually white or off-white stains. They can be found in both water and oil-based formulas. You can use these for your pickling needs or you can make your own stain.

You can make your own pickling stain by taking paint and reducing it by 25%. If you choose latex paint, the ratio would be 1 part paint to 3 parts water. When using latex paint, it’s best to use a primer, or a flat paint. Oil based paint will use the same ratio, but would have to be cut with paint thinner or turpentine.

Traditionally, the pickling process would turn the color of the wood to a grayish, off-white color with the grain of the wood displaying lighter and darker shades. With today’s flexibilities, you can add color to your stain to provide your wood a pastel hue.

As far as using oil or latex paint, there are certain pros and cons for each. Using oil offers you more control over your pickling look. Oil dries much slower than water-based paints and you can apply and remove your stain as often as you need to get the desired look. Latex paint has lesser fumes than oil-based paints, but it dries quicker and you have to work quickly to get the look you want.

Here’s the process to get the pickling look on your wood furniture.

Step 1: Make your stain by combining your paint and your thinning medium (depending on the type of paint you choose).

Step 2: Apply the stain using a rag. It’s important to wear rubber gloves when applying the stain.

Step 3: Use a different rag to remove the desired amount of stain to achieve the look you want.
Step 4: Allow the furniture to dry thoroughly. This could take a while if you used oil-based paint!

Step 5: Apply at least 2 layers of clear coat finish. Tip—Use clear, water-based finish. Oil finish has a golden tint to it and it will change the final look of your wood. Also, use satin or flat finish as the shine of gloss will not allow you to see the striations of the wood’s grain as well.

The finished wood will have a beautiful dusty white color that really shows off the grains in the wood. The final result will have your friends and family wondering where you bought your antique furniture and it’ll be up to you if you wish to give up your money-saving secret or to just sit back, smile and keep them guessing.

Dave Donovan is a freelance copywriter living in Atco, N.J. An electrician for 15 years, an injury forced him to pursue his true passion - writing.