Tips for an Effective Pickling Stain Job

When a pickling stain doesn't lighten oak as well as expected, a finisher seeks advice on improving his results. July 25, 2005

I'm treating an unfinished oak vanity with pickling stain (Minwax) to lighten its appearance before top coating. After two coats (all instructions followed), the color has scarcely changed at all. It is much darker than the wood sample (on oak) that my customer was going by based upon store display. The item looks good as the surface waits for its wipe-down, but once wiped, it seems to lose almost all of its effect. Does any have any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Here's one solution. Get some oil-base white paint (a quart) and thin half of it in a separate container with mineral spirits until it's the consistency of the stain you're using (somewhere in the 100%-200% thinning range). Then use it like a stain.

To wipe the homemade stain, get your wiping cloth soaking wet with the stain and squeeze all of the excess out. Don't wring it out completely dry, but don't leave it real wet either. Use the damp cloth to wipe the excess stain from the surface. Let the stain dry, and topcoat with a water-clear, non-yellowing finish to keep it as white as you can. Try a large sample first.

From contributor M:
It may look light, but have you coated over the stain to see the true color? If you have coated over the stain, and it’s still too light, then you can either use a white glaze, or add some white pigment into your coating and use it as a shading stain to achieve your white color.

From contributor W:
To the original questioner: What grit did you sand to?

From contributor L:
Try the water based white stain from Minwax. It is a lot darker, no whiter than the oil base product. I think the oil base stain was changed. It doesn’t stain as white as their previous product.

From the original questioner:
I took a door from this project back to the store where the stain was purchased, and the manager questions a bad can/batch. However, if they've changed their oil product as Contributor L said, they may just need to update their sample boards for people.

Meanwhile, they suggested Winter White from Minwax Pastels line, due to heavier pigmentation. I tried a sample on the side of the project which will adjoin a wall, and I got much better results. I used Paul's method of wiping down, which may have been partly to credit. As for sandpaper, I used 180. Would you have recommended 150 for this? Contributor M, I like your ideas - the glaze, and adding pigment to the topcoat. I may still consider that.

From contributor L:
I can't seem to locate the Winter White oil stain any longer. I thought it wasn't produced anymore. The water based white and the oil based Winter White are about the same intensity.

From the original questioner:
To contributor L: I purchased the Winter White at Menard's, but they only seem to stock a few shades of the Pastels line, so maybe it's on its way out. I have some Polycrylic in gloss I was going to finish this vanity off with, but these folks' walls are wainscoted in pine, and the pine has a gloss finish to it. I am thinking a satin might be better to prevent the two from competing.