The procedure of pickling oak cabinets has changed over the years. Years ago, if you wanted to pickle oak cabinets, you would need to wipe the cabinets down with a special solution of bleach, soap and paint. This is where the name "pickled" came from; the mixture of ingredients gave the wood a pickled look. Nowadays, you can purchase special products that will create the pickled look, and in most cases, is unrivaled by the older technique.
Apply stripper to the cabinets in order to remove the old finish. Make sure that the stripper remains damp for the first 15 minutes of application. Apply the stripper with a two-inch paint brush. Use a putty knife to remove the old finish, followed by 80-grit wool to remove the minute bits of finish. Use 60-grit sandpaper to remove any remaining old finish and 120-grit sandpaper to smooth out the wood surface. Do not fill any holes or cracks with wood filler; these imperfections will add to the aged, pickled look.
Apply wood stain to the cabinets as a base color, preferably light in color. Wipe on the stain with a cotton cloth and remove any excess with a dry cloth. After you apply the final pickling mixture---to be explained-- the light stain will appear to be an older finish that was painted over. If you would rather have a colored base, paint on a light coat of any color paint you choose and wipe away with a cotton cloth. The purpose is to stain the wood and not paint it. You can use either oil- or water-based paint, but don't mix oil-based products with water-based products, as this will prevent the paint or stain from adhering to the wood surface. Oil-based products dry quicker but have a strong smell, and water-based products clean up easier but take longer to dry.
Once the base color has dried, apply a coat of white paint--without thinning--over the top of it and allow it to sit for 30 minutes. Wipe away the white paint with a damp cotton cloth. The white paint will stain the cabinets, giving them a pickled look. Apply polyurethane finish after the pickling dries.
If you choose a white-flake pickled look that will appear thicker, mix wood filler with the white paint until it reaches a pancake-batter consistency that will fill the wood grain.