After some solid discussion post whitewashing my honeycomb storage bins, I decided it might be useful for others to hear about my process and my whole experience with trying to get that highly lusted after, Scandinavian Whitewashed Wood look in my own home. There are so many tutorials available online, I am not going to bother going into my step-by-step directions but rather focus on the pros/cons and what helped to achieve that clean Nordic, Scandi look in the end.
Usually the ‘look’ is in the context of flooring, but I think that my experience with using this technique with my storage bins (and two other woodworking projects since that time – I will be sharing those shortly), is applicable to other woodworking projects. I am sure everyone’s experiences are different – mine included. But I have to say, most people seem to talk about how easy and seamless the process is. I wouldn’t say that at all. Now there are so many different ways to get similar looking results (with variances of course). I used Minwax water based wood stain in white wash pickling. I did this after some research on Pinterest of course. It seemed like the best way forward based on what I could get my hands on at my local Home Depot.
Materials: Wood ready to be pickled, three Purdy’s paint brushes (I love these brushes. I say invest and keep them a long time instead of buying cheap ones), Minwax white wash pickling wood stain, painters pyramids (these are like the BEST things EVER!) and drop clothes galore.
Where do I start? You know when you get stuck on an idea and can’t seem to get over it? Well I felt like that about wanting everything I built for the new apartment to look like whitewashed oak. Think – it was going to look SO amazing in my white walled home. Except, oak wasn’t in the budget. So I took the leap, bought pine and tried to make it look like whitewashed oak. Did I get exactly what I wanted? Sort of.
I think I need to take this whole discussion a step back. While I was whitewashing the third woodworking project, I kept thinking about how to possibly relate the experience in a truthful manner. Although I have not given birth to a baby, I kept thinking about this weird conversation I had with my mom a few years ago about natural childbirth. She told me, it is absolutely one of the most painful experiences you can go through (as a woman), but somehow, biology allows us to forget how hideous it is and actually let’s ourselves be convinced to do it again maybe once more, twice more… You get the idea. Women are hard wired to forget the trauma of childbirth. Now, in no way am I saying that painting wood to look whitewashed is the same as giving childbirth, but I definitely had a similar experience. After the first attempt, I never wanted to do it again.
I distinctly remember telling family and friends after the honeycomb bins were completed that I would never whitewash something again. But here we are, two months later and I have just wrapped up another whitewashing project (numero tres). My type A personality (again I think I am still in complete denial that I am type A although every time I exclaim this to someone I know they roll their eyes) could not handle the process. So here’s the goods, or in this case, the bads (that is the stupidest joke I have ever made):
- Whitewashing with pickle stain is incredibly UNFORGIVING. Every drip stained the pine to be noticed by me forever. It dries incredibly quick and it is hard to catch mistakes quick enough before the damage is done (drips, uneven brush strokes etc.).
- Every fleck of dust or pet hair that made its way into the stain or polycrylic protective finish, is immortalized forever in those bins. Does anyone else notice? Probably not. Except for maybe my dad. But unless you live in a sterile, air tight home, prepare yourself for flecks and ‘bits’ to get lovingly sucked into the liquids. Again unforgiving.
- Wood variances. Wood varies. It varies a lot. In my most recent stack of wood, I got a little bit of everything. One side of a piece would stain BEAUTIFULLY, I would flip it over, and the other side was completely different. The sides were different from the ends (ENDS were always a nightmare). You cannot predict how the wood is going to absorb the stain as it changes from piece to piece (truly). This could drive any sane person mad.
- Sanding and wet clothes don’t help much. I tried. I worked quickly. I attempted to learn from project to project, and to some degree, experience does helps. I got a certain technique down that seemed to make the process less painful but 3x longer (read below for that).
- Because of all of the above realities, it is difficult to make several different pieces look exactly the same for a big project (when assembled).
Ok so those are all the bad things. That bothered me a lot. But the reality is that I love the way the wood looks. Especially this third project, it is turning beautifully. And I am learning to embrace the variances and truly, you stop seeing the ‘little’ mistakes once the project is done. You really do. After a few weeks of living with our storage bins, I didn’t even notice the small flecks or major mistakes (drips of stain I couldn’t get out). During the process though, you might want to stab your eyes out. It was not nearly as easy as everyone said it would be. I developed some OCD habits that helped third time around. Here’s how to make the process less painful:
- Work in the natural light of the day – it allows you to see the small differences in stain distribution that are crucial to catch (places where paint has pooled or a brush stroke that wasn’t as even as you had thought). Always check the edges and ends first!
- Keep several ‘tools‘ handy including: a wet cloth, a large, medium and small sized brush, work in an area where you can lean the boards safely and bandanna to cover your airways. Pickling wood stain was a very big irritant to my airways. I found that after working with the stain, my nose and throat would be sore. That doesn’t even happen when I paint my walls, so I was surprised. I was much happier when I looked like a hippy ready to rob someone (my bandana was tie dyed).
- Work quickly – in spurts. Once you start staining a piece of wood, work quickly in even brush strokes, to stain the whole piece of wood. As suggested by others, work brushing in the direction of the wood grain. Once I got the initial coat on, I would go back over it and run my brush over it a second and sometimes a third time, to even out the stain all over the board.
- After each coat was applied and ‘evened’, I would take a smooth, clean wet cloth and run it along the sides to catch drips or pools of paint. It takes forever but is well worth it.
- Once you have stained all your pieces and they have dried overnight, sand all your wood (mine had been sanded beforehand as well). I went over all the wood, tried my best to sand out mistakes that still happened somehow and identified areas that needed some extra love. After sanding, I would clean with a cloth (to remove debris) and let dry. This round was the ‘fix the imperfections’ round. I went over mistakes, tried my best to blend them in using the stain and attacked areas that absorbed the stain oddly.
- And by now I was crying and cursing myself, but I actually went over the wood a third time and further corrected small imperfections.
- Timing for the stain absorption varies from piece to piece so the length of time that I left the pickling stain on varied incredibly. Truly, some wood I left it on for 5 minutes while others, I didn’t take it off at all! Truly! From what I read, you should take it off immediately. But when I did this with the bins, I found that you could hardly see it. So I kept pushing the time out. And realized that the look I was going for, was likely a lot less ‘white washed’ and more ‘Scandinavian white’. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a worn look either.
You can imagine, this took days. But I have to say, it looks stunning. The pay off is going to be huge. Or my favourite saying right now that James hates THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING.
This is obviously my experience using water based, white wash pickle. I am sure the other methods have their own unique qualities. I found that the products were more difficult to find and truly, I am lazy at times. I don’t want to order something expensive off the internet unless I know it is amazing. So I went with readily available products from your local hardware store. Also – I used pine as it is affordable and is my dad’s preferred wood to work with.
So a few things, different wood varieties may result in a different experience… I also skipped the highly recommended wood conditioner step. Why? I felt like this was already a very involved process. Am I sure that it would have changed anything? I have no idea. Also, depending on the intended use of the wood (for example, flooring versus shelf etc.), the type of protective finish will vary. In my case, I used the clear satin polycrylic protective finish by Minwax. I am obsessed with how my wood turned out using my DIY Scandinavian Whitewashed Wood method.
I found a few other tutorials with different products and wood, including:
- Using lye and white wood soap, John and Juli of Mjolk on Remodelista (although this is the traditional method used in Scandinavia, it wasn’t as quite as I desired).
- Using latex paint, Down Home Inspiration
- Using oil paint, stain and mineral spirits, Remodelista
- Using floor oil, That Nordic Feeling (I have a feeling finding floor oil in extra white in Canada would be very difficult)
- An overview by This Old House
- Getting that age wood look, AKADesign