How do I make finished white oak look like unfinished?

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Forum topic by mrdupfx posted 10-17-2015 08:37 PM 3421 views 1 time favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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10 posts in 1025 days

10-17-2015 08:37 PM

I have a white oak table, and my wife really likes the whiteish-grey that white oak looks like its unfinished. But she hates the golden brown color when you even just apply a simple poly. Does anyone have a receipe with dye/stain that can make finished white oak appear the same color as unfinished?

17 replies so far

View Luthierman's profile


208 posts in 1049 days

#1 posted 10-17-2015 08:42 PM

In our shop, we use vinegar and steel wool to make most any wood grey. You have to let it do its thing for a while and white oak being so dense even more so. Try it on some pieces and then put finish on it later, see if you like the results. The basic recipe is steel wool and vinegar in a jar. Leave it in there for a while. Brush it on and watch. Rinse with water when you achieve your desired patina. Hope this helps.

-- Jesse, West Lafayette, Indiana

View bondogaposis's profile


4680 posts in 2313 days

#2 posted 10-17-2015 09:39 PM

In our shop, we use vinegar and steel wool to make most any wood grey.

I have to disagree, if you use that mixture on oak it will turn it black.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View AandCstyle's profile


3023 posts in 2219 days

#3 posted 10-17-2015 11:20 PM

I have two suggestions: 1. Try ultra pale shellac on a test board to see if that fills the bill. The miniature pic probably isn’t adequate to make a decision even if you enlarge it. 2. Similarly, consider Target’s Super Clear Poly. HTH

-- Art

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2647 posts in 2884 days

#4 posted 10-17-2015 11:24 PM

sand the finish off. This will give you an unfinished look. I would try satin finish lacquer. I use gloss but it does not color the white oak. This star is made with white oak and walnut with lacquer finish.

-- Website is

View AandCstyle's profile


3023 posts in 2219 days

#5 posted 10-17-2015 11:48 PM

Jim, you are right. I had forgotten about lacquer and it is much more available than either of my suggestions.

-- Art

View mahdee's profile


3868 posts in 1730 days

#6 posted 10-18-2015 01:02 PM

You can white wash it with grey paint.


View distrbd's profile


2252 posts in 2409 days

#7 posted 10-18-2015 01:20 PM

I give milk paint a try, Butter milk or slate or maybe Oyster white:,190,42942

-- Ken from Ontario, Canada

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1244 posts in 1675 days

#8 posted 10-18-2015 01:25 PM

The only finish that I know of that actualy looks like raw wood os soap finsh. Quite easy to do, requires no special equipment, is non-toxic and is easy to repair. Used it on this project:
Click for details
Did a writeup on the process:

Also have a look at what Schwarz writes:

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View a1Jim's profile


117060 posts in 3539 days

#9 posted 10-18-2015 02:42 PM

Try experimenting with some ferrous Sulfate(an iron supplement sold in drug stores) use about 15 tablets in a quart of water and adjust from there.
Another technique is fuming with Ammonia(rather involved and time-consuming,it involves making a plastic tent (make sure it does not touch you project) putting small containers of ammonia in the tent and-and let set up to 12 hours
This is best done outdoors or not in an enclosed area.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View patcollins's profile


1683 posts in 2827 days

#10 posted 10-18-2015 03:07 PM

Water based poly doesn’t add color to wood. There is also polycrylic that should not add to the color of the wood.

View Luthierman's profile


208 posts in 1049 days

#11 posted 10-18-2015 06:13 PM

The effects of steel wool and vinegar. The color depends entirely on how much you use and how long you leave it on there.

-- Jesse, West Lafayette, Indiana

View wonderand's profile


9 posts in 1318 days

#12 posted 10-18-2015 06:35 PM

Luthierman, love that look. What kind of vinegar did you use to get these results?

View Luthierman's profile


208 posts in 1049 days

#13 posted 10-18-2015 11:44 PM

This is not my work. I just googled an image to show what can be done. I don’t have any of my work currently available for show. Sometimes folks want something built to look really old, like it is an old barn piece. This method will get you the weathered gray look, no problem. At the shop it is just straight up white vinegar. I don’t see why any vinegar wouldn’t do the trick. Just try it out. We have to make brand new things look “rustic” constantly and this method has been our go to. Get a scrap piece and go to town, friend. We don’t really put much science to it. Get some vinegar put it in a jar. Put some steel wool in it. Let it sit. We leave the steel wool in and just add more of each when we need more. It ends up looking like gross rusty chunky water and smells like pickles.

-- Jesse, West Lafayette, Indiana

View firefighterontheside's profile (online now)


17925 posts in 1819 days

#14 posted 10-18-2015 11:55 PM

I prefer oil based products on tables, but that will darken and Amber the wood. When I don’t want to change the color, I use water based poly or polycrylic.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View mrdupfx's profile


10 posts in 1025 days

#15 posted 10-19-2015 01:45 AM

I agree and wanted to use an o8l.based poly. Could I seal with a water poly then cover with oil poly?

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