Pickling, bleaching, whitewash—they're all variations on the theme of treating light-colored woods, usually pine, oak, or ash, to make them appear even lighter, almost ethereal. This "limed" look stems from the 16th-century European practice of infusing wood with a paste of caustic lime to ward off insect infestation. Even then, it was appreciated for its decorative value.
Overview for Pickling an Oak Bench
Pickling, bleaching, whitewash—they're all variations on the theme of treating light-colored woods, usually pine, oak, or ash, to make them appear even lighter, almost ethereal. This "limed" look stems from the 16th-century European practice of infusing wood with a paste of caustic lime to ward off insect infestation. Even then, a pickled wood finish was appreciated for its decorative value.
Today you can just use leftover primer to create a simple pickling solution, or try one of the commercial pickling formulas out there. In either case, the process couldn't be simpler: Sand the wood, brush on the solution, wipe it off with a rag. The whitewash collects in the darker grain, creating a sort of sun-bleached negative of the natural wood for a weathered, driftwood look. Along with furniture like the red oak bench shown here, pickling is a great choice for pine floors, beadboard wainscot, and paneled shutters. Follow the steps below to see how to pickle wood furniture.
No primer on your shelf of leftover paints? Try a premixed pickling solution such as Minwax White Wash Pickling Stain, about $12 per quart at paint stores.
Prep the Bench
Using a medium-grit sanding sponge, scuff up all the surfaces to open the pores of the wood. Be sure to work with the grain.
When you're finished, vacuum up any sawdust and wipe the surface with a reusable microfiber cloth.
Brush on Pickling
Mix 1 part white latex primer-sealer with 3 parts water. Using a 4-inch brush, paint on a patch of the pickling solution.
Tip: When pickling soft woods like pine, apply a water-based wood conditioner first, then sand lightly to allow the pickling to take evenly.
Rub it in, Wipe it off
Using a clean, dry rag, work the pickling solution into the wood by rubbing against the grain. Then, using a fresh rag, wipe with the grain to remove the excess and expose the grain.
Repeat this sequence, working in patches to cover the entire bench evenly. Let your pickled wood finish dry overnight.
Apply Clear Coat
Stir—but don't shake—a can of polyurethane clear coat. Pour some into a lined paint cup. Using a 2½-inch paintbrush, evenly coat the entire surface of the bench. Let dry for 24 hours.
Sand lightly with a fine-grit sanding sponge. Wipe down the surface thoroughly with a dry rag and apply a second coat. If you plan to leave it on a covered porch, like we did, it will need a third coat, too.