Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 7, Issue 4
   March 2013
 
   Pickling Wood
 

A treated door (left) and an untreated one (right)
A pickling solution has been applied to the door on the left.

The technique is called wood pickling and it's accomplished using distilled white vinegar (regular household vinegar) and steel wool. The science behind it is simple. When the vinegar, which is usually between 5% and 8% acetic acid, is left to react with iron, the result is iron acetate. If this solution is brushed on wood, the iron acetate reacts with the natural tannins in the wood, producing varying shades of gray to black. This technique can be applied to a range of projects, from fine furniture to a new garden gate.

Making the Pickling Solution
Place 1l (1.1 qt) of vinegar in a glass or plastic jar and fully submerge in it two to three pads or a 6" to 8" strip of fine, oil-free (so as not to contaminate the solution) steel wool. If the steel wool is not fully submerged, it will rust and turn your pickling solution a brown color. When applied to the wood, this will result in more of a brown stain. Do not use metal utensils in the mixture, which will introduce iron that will contaminate the solution. Seal the jar with a lid with holes punched in it to allow gases to escape.

Allow the pickling mixture to sit for about 24 hours. During that period, the steel wool will disintegrate and fall to the bottom. If you see any brown in the solution before 24 hours has passed, it means the steel-wool particles are beginning to rust and the pickling mixture should be decanted. To remove the fine grains of steel wool, pour the solution through a coffee filter. You may need to do this two to three times until the mixture is cloudy white. As time progresses, the solution will slowly turn brown. Keep it in a closed container (no holes in the lid) in a dark location and use within two weeks. If used after two weeks, the pickling mixture will still react with the tannins in the wood, but it will begin producing a brown rather than gray color.
 
 
           
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