DIY Cerused Oak Dining Table (Table Makeover) – Part 1

I had never even heard of the term “cerused” until I saw the Cameron Diaz’s green kitchen designed by Kelly Wearstler.  You know the one, right? It has the beautiful green cabinets and the cerused oak floor. In fact, it’s the kitchen that has inspired the direction for my own kitchen and my plan for green cabinets. (You can click here to see it.)

Of course, the cabinets were the first thing I noticed in that kitchen, but those floors also caught my eye.  I thought it was some kind of faux bois technique, which is simply an artistic representation of wood and wood grain created with paint, stain, pen, pencil, etc.  But I wanted to be sure, so I went searching for info.  In the Elle Decor article, the description on this picture said that the wood floors had been stained with an ebony stain, and then they were cerused.

Cerused?  I had never heard of that, but I wanted….nay, needed…to know more.

What is cerused wood?

Cerusing is the process of opening up the grain of the wood and filling it with a color (most often white) in order to highlight the grain of the wood. Here’s an example of a credenza with cerused drawers.

See how that grain is highlighted with white to make it stand out more from the dark gray? That’s called cerusing.

And you can make this look as subtle or as dramatic as you want for your home. A white grain on a natural wood tone gives a beautiful and subtle look, while a white grain on an ebony stain gives a dramatic and more modern look.

Here’s a more subtle example on a coffee table from Era Interiors with very light stain (or perhaps that’s just the natural wood color) and the grain filled with white. Even with the subtle contrast, the effect still turns the grain into artwork.

My Project — Cerusing an oak dining table

So after learning all about cerused wood, I’ve been anxious to try out this technique on my own.  From what I’ve read, it works best on hard woods such as oak, and it just so happens that I have an oak dining table that I have a dining table that I purchased on Craigslist, and that needs to be refinished.

Old oak dining table in need of a makeover -- very pretty oak veneer design on the round top

And while I’m generally not a fan of oak with all of its heavy grain (especially oak like this table that has such a strong orange color to it, with dark, almost black grain), and while I’m generally one of those people who tries to minimize the look of grain in wood in any way I can, I do actually love the grain in this particular table.  Whoever crafted this table went to great lengths to turn the wood grain into a work of art.

Oak dining table top with a very pretty design in the veneer

So I thought this table would be the perfect candidate to try out this cerusing technique.

The table actually has a leaf also, so I put it in so that I could refinish the whole thing.

Round oak pedestal base dining table with large leaf to extend the table

I didn’t get to the actual cerusing yesterday, but at least I was able to remove the old, ugly orange finish and get some pretty stain on it.

I started out using a chemical stripper (the same one I used on my hallway door) because with old pieces of furniture like this one, you just never know how thick…or thin…the veneer is.  And almost always when you have a decorative pattern in the wood like this, it has been created with veneer.  So I used the chemical stripper in order to minimize the amount of sanding I would have to do on the table top.

After getting most of the finish off with a chemical stripper, I followed up with my orbital sander using 150-grit sandpaper.  You can see the difference the sanding made here. The half of the table on the left has been stripped and sanded, while the leaf and the right half of the table have only been stripped with the chemical stripper.

Oak table top stripped and sanded to prepare for refinishing

And almost immediately, I did actually sand completely through the veneer. So I was very glad that I had decided to use the chemical stripper first, and I used extra care in sanding to rest to be sure I didn’t sand through the veneer in any other areas.

After sanding the entire top, I used a brass wire brush to scrub the entire top with medium pressure going with the grain of the wood.  This is supposed to open up the grain so that it can be filled with the white wax or pigment later.

I couldn’t find a large brass wire brush.  All I could find were these brushes in the welding section at Home Depot.

To ceruse an oak table top, use a wire brush to open up the grain of the wood

So I bought three of them (they were just over $2 each) and used all three together to create a larger brush.

Use a wire brush on oak grain to open the grain before cerusing

After scrubbing the entire surface with the wire brushes, I was ready to stain using Minwax Jacobean.  Now I know that I’m a somewhat recent convert to Varathane stain, and I generally prefer it to Minwax.  But the reason I prefer it is because it does a much better job at minimizing the grain of the wood.  I didn’t think that was necessary for this project, so it didn’t really warrant a separate trip to Lowe’s for stain. 

Refinishing the top of an old oak dining table with very pretty veneer design -- staining before cerusing

So this is as far as I’ve gotten on this project.

Top of round oak dining table stripped and restained before cerusing the grain

Next I’ll be using white liming wax to fill the grain, and very fine steel wool to remove the excess wax so that it just settles into the grain of the wood.  I really hope this works!  🙂

As you can see, I haven’t done anything to the apron or the base yet.  Those are still the awful orange oak color.  I didn’t want to ceruse the entire table (I think that would be overkill, so I’m just keeping it to the top), so I’ll be painting the apron and the base a solid color.  But I want to get the top done before making that final decision.  I can almost guarantee that I’ll end up painting it white, but I’ll know for sure as soon as the top is done.

Hopefully I’ll have a finished cerused oak dining table to show y’all on Monday!  🙂

EDIT:  I worked all afternoon on the table, and wanted to show y’all an “in progress” shot of the cerused table top.

In progress picture of oak dining table top being cerused -- medium brown stain with white grain to accent the pattern.

I love it!!!  I had my doubts for a while that it was going to turn out, but I just kept at it, and this gorgeous grain finally appeared.  I’ll share all the details on Monday.

Helpful sources and products:

  • Briwax Liming Wax – This is the white wax used to achieve the look of the white cerused grain in the oak table top. This product worked beautifully!
  • Brass wire brush – This is needed to open up the grain of the wood before waxing the grain.
  • Minwax Jacobean stain – This is the color of stain that I used on my table top before cerusing, but of course, you can use any stain color to achieve the specific look you want.


The table is finished! Here’s a peek at how it turned out…

Want to see the rest of this project, and the details of how I achieved this cerused oak look? You can find those details here…



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  1. You can find larger brass wire brushes in the BBQ section of Home Depot, Lowes, or even Target. They are for cleaning your grill, but can be used for other projects too!

  2. Wow! What an amazing improvement over the orange! I too love to cherry pick clever ideas from many sources. Hey! Why reinvent the wheel? Someone went through a lot of training to develop these great ideas. Imitation is supposed to be the greatest form of flattery! You Go, Girl! I love your work, and look forward to your blog everyday. Wow!

  3. Oh I can’t wait to see the finished product! I actually used to have that exact table, complete with the leaf. And I sold it on Craigslist some years ago. Maybe I should have kept it!

  4. I, too, am a wood grain person. I think wood grain is nature’s art all by itself. I find it interesting when someone exhibits different tastes and viewpoints because it opens m eyes up to ideas I never thought of. That table is gorgeous! I cannot wait to see how it turns out. You always do a good job Kristi!

  5. OMG that is going to be gorgeous. Depending on how it looks on Monday, my search for a new table will begin immediately!

  6. omg I have this exact table and the top is just well a mess and I just put a tablecloth on it all the time …didn’t want to just paint it …so now I cant wait to see your for ideas and inspiration ….love it so far …beautiful 🙂 …cant wait till Monday 🙂

  7. I’m so impressed by how quickly you move from idea to underway to all finished! I have ideas but then my projects sit in my basement for months….

    I’ve usually been drawn to low-contrast cerusing, so I’m eager to see how this higher contrast version will work out!

  8. You just solved a major quandary I was having! I have an oak dining table that I hate but I absolutely loved the white finished coffee table you used in the example 🙂 Thanks Kristi for all the inspiration!

  9. and again you amaze me! I woudln’t have thought it possible that you can get rid of that horrible orange wood colour with so little steps and such great results! Let me make myself clear: little to you – massive to me 🙂 as it would have taken me ages to decide and get going and then get the table done!
    It’s very beautiful already and I’m looking forward to Monday! The idea of painting the rest of the table is great, too, because you’re right, it can do with some more quiet as the top is so vivid already. Fantastic job (as always!!), thanks for sharing!

  10. Hi Kristi,

    Thank you for all you teach us on your blog–love it!!

    Would you please consider including your thoughts on final finish for a dining table? I would like to help my sister refinish her wood kitchen table, but I don’t feel settled at all as to what the best topcoat is for a used and abused surface like that. I’m looking to wind up with a surface that can handle perspiring glasses and be cleaned of stray crayon marks and fruit roll-ups.

    If you can, great. If not, I do understand that you have tons going on.

    Best wishes,

  11. Of course your table will look great, can’t wait to see it finished, but you know what I’ve been thinking about lately from some of your outdoor photos? How much you must love having a big yard to work on projects outside and not have to worry about your old neighbour who used to complain about the noise of power tools. 🙂

  12. I thought it was so funny that someone remembered your neighbor from the condo who gave you such a hard time about your work noise! I’m laughing now as I remember it. So happy you can work in peace now. I like the idea of cerused wood. And I also liked someone’s suggestion that you pain the rest of the table yellow. I wouldn’t have thought of that. Or you could paint it to match your cabinets.

    I also have an oak table in my kitchen, but for the last 20 or 30 years I have kept it covered with a cloth tablecloth because I feel a kitchen has too many hard surfaces, and not enough fabric for softness. I love using a tablecloth as my mother always did. And surprisingly, my husband is very adapted to it. His mother always used oilcloth, but I won’t go there.

    Excited to see you finishing a smaller, pretty project for instant gratification.

  13. I can’t wait to see the finished results. I have two oak side tables that I have had for years. One is repurposed in my office and my printer is on it and a spot for the puppy to sleep underneath. Love to find ways to update and still continue to use them.

  14. How funny, Kristi! I asked you about refinishing a damaged table and you were sweet enough to respond to me on January 17, 2014. You recommended using Zinsser primer to fix a mishap of sanding through the damaged veneer top. The table I was working on to chalk paint a Tiffany Blue color is THIS exact same table. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your post and recognized the table. I can’t wait to see your end product. I’m still working on mine, but hope to be finished this weekend and to find someone’s beach home for my table. Thank you for your willingness to share your knowledge!

  15. Love the table. I like the idea of Cerused Finish. I have never heard of it before. In looking at Cameron’s beautiful kitchen . The light is fabulous in this room. The light that your Hubby bought you will look great over that finished table. Look forward to seeing the table finished.

  16. Count me too as someone who has this table too. Hanging my head in shame after seeing what you have done, it is gorgeous!

  17. I love it! My dad does beautiful wood working and so I think wood grain just makes a piece. Lol. And you’re right: The person who made the table made the grain into a work of art!

  18. Wood is art! My dad made furniture and I always watched so later I could sand and refinished pieces myself. You are super talented. Someday I would love for you to write about your time in Istanbul. I’ve only been to Mexico City.

  19. Kristi, the table top looks amazing already, and you’ve barely begun! The cerused wood grain looks like giant feathers laid out in a pattern to me, just gorgeous! I’m not that much of a wood grain person myself, I prefer more subtle woodgrains. This grain pattern in this oak table top is anything but subtle, especially with the cerusing, and I just LOVE it! I’m going to have to rethink my stance on woodgrains. Cannot wait to see the finished product!

    Also got a chuckle over someone mentioning that horrible old neighbor of yours who used to complain about the power tool noise, I’d almost forgotten about her! Thank goodness you don’t have to worry about snarky neighbors like her anymore!

  20. How COOL is that!!! I have a similar table whose finish us coming off. I have been hiding it with a table cloth. Can’t wait to hear more details and see the finished product because the update looks so neat!

  21. I can’t wait to see the entire thing finished. We have an orangey oak table that I absolutely can’t stand and my husband is in the “you don’t paint wood” camp. This is something I might be able to convince him to let me do. I really love the look.

  22. WOW!!! That looks beautiful. Just logged in this morning and saw your update, it is awesome. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!!

  23. Home Depot carries Varathane stain. Varathane is a Rust-Oleum product. I just wanted to mention that in case it helps for future projects. The table is looking fabulous. Look forward to the final reveal.

  24. You are unbelievable, that looks like one of those five thousand dollars pieces we see on line. Please go into the lime process. Thanks

  25. So happy you are doing this! It looks gorgeous! I have a bunch of funky oak stuff in the garage that I’ve been holding on to. Now I know why! Great job as usual 🙂

  26. Kristi! You have the table of my dreams- sort of, it’s the feet that I love. I’m not crazy about the sunburst grain newer reproductions have, it’s a little too country for me- but! you’re making it beautiful. I didn’t think that the look would be my style but, after looking at your preview, I think it might just look amazing in my black & white kitchen. I can’t wait to see the whole thing finished. Thank you for inspiring me and giving me another option (for a really good price).

  27. What an amazing improvement over the orange! I too love to cherry pick clever ideas from many sources. Love your work, and look forward to your blog every day. That table is gorgeous! Looks beautiful. I may have to try this myself! You always do a good job Kristi!

  28. Kristi the finished table is really beautiful. I have a old tea trolley and would like to Cerused it. Hope I can locate, similar product here in Australia. As I say you are truly an inspiring person to gain confidence to tackle projects.

  29. Wow! I love that look. Is there an update for this table? I have literally the same exact table I am refinishing and I really wish I had seen this BEFOREHAND staining it. I’ve never heard of cerused either so maybe next time.

  30. I have this exact table and the veneer is ruined (chipped off) in a spot in the edge, any way to fix this?

  31. This table is beautiful! I wonder how common a table with that wood grain is.? I would love love love to find one just like it and use your tutorial.

  32. I have the exact same table but mine has 6 chairs that I got from the roadside. Thank you so much for this tutorial. I wanted to just paint it but hubbie loves wood grain. This is the beat of both worlds to update the set. Can’t wait to get started!