Dining Room

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.  It’s the kitchen that has inspired the direction for my own kitchen and my plan for green cabinets.

cameron diaz kitchen from elle decorCameron Diaz’s Manhattan apartment kitchen as featured in Elle Decor

Of course, the cabinets were the first thing I noticed, 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.

Turns out 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.

Obviously the darker the stain used as a base color, the more that the white grain will stand out.  The lighter the stain used as a base color, the more subtle the cerused grain will be.

The floors in Diaz’s apartment were stained ebony.  That’s about as high of a contrast as you can get — ebony stain with white cerused grain.

Here’s an example of a light blue cerused wood wall from the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach.

cerused wood wall from shorebreak hotelBlue cerused wood wall in Shorebreak Hotel, a Joie de Vivre Boutique Hotel – Huntington Beach, via Hotels.com

And here’s a coffee table from Era Interiors with very light stain (or perhaps that’s just the natural wood color).  Obviously the contrast is more subtle, but the effect still turns the grain into artwork.

cerused oak coffee table from era interiorsCerused wood coffee table from Era Interiors

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 bought on Craigslist I’ve been wanting to refinish.

cerused oak dining table 1

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), 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.

cerused oak dining table 2

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.

cerused oak dining table 3

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.

cerused oak dining table 4

And by the way, almost immediately on one tiny section I did, in fact, 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.

cerused oak dining table 5

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

cerused oak dining table 6

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 Rust-Oleum 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.  (I wish Home Depot would just start carrying Rust-Oleum wood stain!!!)

cerused oak dining table 7

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

cerused oak dining table 8

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!  🙂

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

cerused oak dining table 9

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.



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45 Comments

  • Reply
    Beverly
    April 11, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Well, I am a wood grain person, so I’m interested in how this turns out.

  • Reply
    Lisa Dane
    April 11, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I’d love to see the base in a bright color that isn’t anywhere else in your home. Bright yellow?

  • Reply
    Kath
    April 11, 2014 at 9:52 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Zeita
    April 11, 2014 at 9:52 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Shelly
    April 11, 2014 at 9:53 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Cheryl
    April 11, 2014 at 9:54 am

    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!

  • Reply
    PJ
    April 11, 2014 at 10:12 am

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

  • Reply
    Melissa
    April 11, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Thanks for the lesson on cerused wood. I may have to try this myself!

  • Reply
    Helene
    April 11, 2014 at 10:17 am

    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 🙂

  • Reply
    Tracy
    April 11, 2014 at 10:25 am

    I had my doubts but now I think it’s really cool! Can’t wait to see finished product.

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    April 11, 2014 at 10:38 am

    I’m a wood grain person also but I do love a good painted piece of furniture. I’m excited to see this new technique. I have no doubt it’s gonna be fabulous!!

  • Reply
    Krikit
    April 11, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I just luv learning so many new things through your endeavors. 🙂

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    April 11, 2014 at 11:01 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Sue
    April 11, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I love the grain in this table and the stain is gorgeous. I’m anxious to see how the next step turns out.

  • Reply
    Melanie Freeman
    April 11, 2014 at 11:21 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Andrea
    April 11, 2014 at 11:21 am

    So basically it’s a resist or a sort of “Batik” for wood… That.is.awesome!

  • Reply
    Karen
    April 11, 2014 at 11:23 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Hallie
    April 11, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    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,
    Hallie.

  • Reply
    Martha
    April 11, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    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. 🙂

  • Reply
    Genelle McDaniel
    April 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Barb
    April 11, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Susan
    April 11, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Maggie Obst
    April 11, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    EDIE
    April 11, 2014 at 8:08 pm

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

  • Reply
    SheilaG @ Plum Doodles
    April 11, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Wow, I’m amazed at how much more detail comes out with cerusing (is that a valid form of the word?). The table top is gorgeous- I see designs in it I couldn’t see with the original stain.

  • Reply
    Becky
    April 11, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    April
    April 11, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Wow, just saw your update with the cerused section, it really does look like a piece of art!

  • Reply
    Lu
    April 11, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Kimberly
    April 11, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Sheila F.
    April 11, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Just saw the update. I love it. Great job!

  • Reply
    Emily
    April 11, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Sharon
    April 11, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Wow! It looks great! I can’t wait to see it finished

  • Reply
    Kristi
    April 12, 2014 at 9:19 am

    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.

  • Reply
    Janis
    April 12, 2014 at 11:20 am

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

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    April 12, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Ruth
    April 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm

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

  • Reply
    lisa
    April 12, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    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 🙂

  • Reply
    Jane Drew
    April 12, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    I adore painted furniture but I’m so glad that you are preserving the craftsmanship in this piece! Can’t wait to see the finished product!

  • Reply
    Sheila E
    April 13, 2014 at 8:15 am

    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).

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Sagarminaga
    April 13, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Maggie
    April 14, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Katie
    November 5, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Marissa
    March 8, 2017 at 11:59 am

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

  • Reply
    Mary
    July 9, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    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.

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