How do you whitewash or pickle wood paneling?

Pickling Wood

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.

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. One such little known formula was to take a handful of galvanized nails and soak them in white vinegar for about 2-3 days, the vinegar would dissolve the galvanizing and when applied to oak would produce a beautiful gray "dusty" look to the oak, hence the term "pickling"

Today when most people refer to a pickled finish, they automatically think of a white or off-white pastel semi-transparent stain 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 know as "glazing stains".
They can be purchased in oil or water-based formulations.

The Materials

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, this will vary depending on how much of the original wood you want to show. It is best to use primers when making your own as they dry flat and accept top coats much easier than a reduced semi-gloss or gloss enamel. Always reduce your paint with the appropiate thinner. 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 using Universal tinting colors which are commonly sold in paint stores or you can have your local paint store tint the paint for you.

Preparation:New Work:
Before staining any new wood I like to take a moderately wet sponge and wipe down the entire surface, allow to dry and then sand using 120-150 grit sandpaper. This helps to raise the soft wood fibers and remove them prior to applying the stain. Wipe the sanded wood using a tack rag so as to remove all sanding dust. When sanding be on the lookout for splintering wood and sharp outside corners which you want to sand smooth before staining.

Previously Finished Wood: Kitchen cabinets, wood paneling etc.
CLEAN! I know, the most boring part of any refinishing job but the most important. Skimp on this and I guarantee you will regret it. You must remove any traces of grime, grease and dirt before trying to refinish any previously finished surface. I recommend TSP, Tri-Sodium-Phosphate. This is a strong powdered cleaner available at most home building centers, paint and hardware stores. TSP makes quick work of cleaning a painted surface, rinse well and dry.

Applying The Stain

Applying the stain is easy. Use a brush size that fits the job and apply a nice even coat to one area at a time, don't be concerned with brush marks at this point. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes or so, this will vary some depending on the temperature, humidity etc. Fold a wiping cloth into a nice pad and using long strokes from top to bottom, wipe off as much of the excess as necessary until you achieve the look you want.
TIP: All master wood finishers have a dry bristle brush handy when applying stain, after wiping with a rag you notice areas where the wood is lighter or darker or "ropey" looking, take the dry brush and stroke over the area with long soft strokes and you will even out the finish. Use a clean rag to keep wiping off the bristles as you work.

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.

A few notes on color control. Applying a pickling stain over the top of the existing wood color, will give you a lighter finish but the resulting color will be a mixture of the existing color plus the addition of your white pickling stain. For example if you start with a cherry stained finish and apply a white pickling stain the end product will be a light "pinkish" color stained wood. I refer to it as a stained glass effect, the base color is showing thru a transparent colored overglaze.
The amount of the existing color that shows thru will depend on how much you reduce your pickling stain, naturally the more you reduce it, the more of the original color will show. I have had some jobs where we used straight white primer, no reduction to hide as much of the original color as possible.
Brush on a small area and lighty wipe off the excess until you get the color you like.

Go ahead and try a small area to see if you can come up with a color you can live with. A drawer front is a good place to experiment with, remove the handle, play around with the color and when finished remove your trial stain with the proper thinner for the paint you used. If after experimenting you cannot comeup with a satisfactory color using the existing finish as a base you will have to strip the existing surface and start with the original wood color.
Stripping wood is a whole new project so if you decide that is what needs to be done, go here to "Stripping wood finishes".