Whitewashing and Pickling Techniques

Try whitewashing your furniture or wood accessories to brighten the look of most any room in a house.
work stain into wood using rag

work stain into wood using rag

Regardless of what decorating experts have deemed as the "in color" for this year, a splash of white can help the look of most any room in the house. Here are two techniques for adding some white without using paint -- whitewashing and pickling. 

Whitewashing

Whitewashing is a technique that allows you to brighten your wood without hiding the grain pattern. Methods for staining woods white vary according to the type wood you're planning to finish. Whitewashing is best suited for pine. Pickling is a technique best used on oak.

  • Applying a white stain allows you to brighten a wood surface without hiding the grain pattern.
  • Painting wood furniture white is one way to brighten a room, but the disadvantage is that paint is opaque, so it covers and conceals the natural grain of the wood. There are techniques for applying white stains that don't necessitate losing the grain of your wood. Until recently this technique involved taking ordinary paint and thinning it down to create a white stain. Today there are white stains commercially available that take the guesswork out of staining wood white. White stains are widely available in water-based or oil-based forms.
  • Water-based stains dry quickly and produce less fumes or odors. Cleanup is also easier with water-based stains. Soap and water is all that's needed as long as the paint hasn't dried.
  • Oil-based stains offer longer working times since they dry more slowly but, since they do give off hazardous fumes, should only be used in well-ventilated areas.
  • Whenever applying stains of any type, it's always best to test the stain on a sample of scrap wood of the same wood-type as the piece you'll be working on. 
  • Though stains can typically be applied using either a brush or rag, but white stains can also be applied using a brush.
  • Whitewash stain is ideally suited to pine. Apply the white stain with a brush. Once the stain has set up for 2 to 3 minutes, work the stain into the wood using a rag and wipe away the excess stain -- wiping gently with the grain. Make sure to work white stain into any knots that may be in the wood to accentuate the knot. Once it's applied, the white stain allows the grain to show through, but it tones down the yellow look of the pine.

Important: Stir stains well. Pigments tend to settle to the bottom of the can.

Pickling

  • Whether you choose pickling or whitewashing, both of these techniques simply serve to lighten the color of the wood. Neither offers protection. Once the whitewash has dried, use a clear water-based finish to protect the wood. Gently brush on the clear finish to protect both the wood and the stain.
  • Pickling is the best choice for white-staining oak. When pickling oak wood, again apply the stain with a brush, but it's important to wipe the stain against the grain. Because of the large pores and the natural grain pattern of oak, this technique is essential for working the stain down into the pores of the wood. Once you've worked the white stain well into the pores of the wood, use a clean rag to wipe away any excess.

Important:  Avoid using oil-based protective finishes over whitewashing or pickling. Oil-based finishes have a yellowish look that will detract from the white coloring.

Tung oil is a versatile and easy-to-apply finish. It penetrates into the pores of wood and protects it from within.

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