Have you ever walked into your favorite furniture store like Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn and fallen in love with their natural, rustic looking dining tables only to look at the price tag and realize that it’s not in your budget? Me too! We’ve all been there but this week I’m going to show you how to get that high end look on your wooden furniture, even if you have a tiny budget. You’re going to be totally surprised just how easy this is to recreate! You may be asking what is a ceruse finish anyway? It’s a technique designed draw out the detail and character of the grain in a piece of wood and you may know it as a limed finish. It’s gorgeous and it’s really popular right now. So let me show you how you can recreate this very look for your home with my cerused finish tutorial.
Supply List: Cerused Finish Tutorial Items
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My Dining Table Before and After
This is my dining room table before. It had a black paint finish on the bottom and a white wash stain on the top. I thought this would be the perfect piece to show you a ceruse finish. Because this is solid oak and there is no veneer, it’s a really good piece to work with.
Step 1: Strip and Neutralize the Wood
The first thing that I did was strip everything off. You want to get down to the raw wood and the chemical stripper is going to do that for you.
I let it sit for about 15-20 minutes and then I started with a wire brush going around the table. I used the wire brush because I knew that the table was solid oak and there was no veneer so I’m not worried about scratching it. The brush helps to get into the wood grain and get the white stain out of there.
For this table, I used a metal scraper (not my usual plastic scraper with the scoop) because I really wanted to make sure that I got everything off and again, I know I’m not working with veneer here.
I put another layer of stripper off here because I am the one who originally painted this table and I know what products I used. It was an oil based stain and then Gator Hide overtop of it. I needed to really scrub to make sure that I was removing as much as I could before I started sanding.
After I was finished stripping, I neutralized the wood with mineral spirits to stop the stripper from continuing to work its magic on the wood. It also opens up the wood grain and gets off any residual bits of stain on there.
Sanding the Wood Before Creating the Cerused Finish
I used my 3×4 Electric Ray sander and an 80 grit paper to sand the wood. It is super important at this point to get the table down to its raw wood.
After the 80 grit, I used a 120 grit and then wiped it all off with my dusting brush.
Creating the Ceruse Finish with a Wire Brush
Here’s where it gets fun! This is really the first step in creating that beautiful ceruse finish. I used a stiff wire brush to deepen the wood grain by running the wire brush across the piece in the same direction as the wood grain. The bristles catch in the pre-existing grain and deepens it. When we get to the painting stage, the paint is going to get down into those deep grains instead of sitting on top of the wood. Use the brush to go over the same area a few times, wiping away the dust so you can see whether you need to continue with the wire brush, or move on to the next section.
In the image below, I’ve just started working on the left side of the table using the wire brush to deepen the wood grain.
This is a fantastic image below to show you exactly what the wire brush is doing. Do you see how the grains are wider and really open?
Repeat the Process Down the Table
Now that the top was done, I started working my way down the table repeating the exact same steps of stripping, neutralizing, sanding with an 80 and a 120 grit and then using the wire brush to deepen the wood grain.
Sealing the Wood Before Painting
The top of the table got sealed with a very light coat of Gator Hide. It’s not only sealing the wood, but will make wiping the paint off easier as soon as it is applied.
Once the sealer was dry I took my wire brush and went back over the woodgrain again very quickly and lightly just to make sure that any sealer that had seeped into those deep grains would come out.
Time to Mix the White Paint
Ready for the paint!
I used Cotton which is a true white and I added a little bit of water and mixed it very well. This created kind of a dupe of what you would see at Restoration Hardware or any other high end furniture store.
Using a cheap, chip brush I applied the paint going with the wood grain first and then started brushing horizontally so that I would know for sure that the paint was really in the wood grain.
Once the paint was applied, I went back and started wiping it away in the opposite direction with a microfiber cloth. This will work the paint into the wood even more and it had a white washed effect at that point.
Here is what it looks like once you start wiping the paint back.
Since I wanted a true cerused finish look and not white washed, I used my mister bottle and misted the surface to help wipe the paint away even more. Remember to go against the grain to keep trying to expose the natural wood.
Once you’ve gone against the grain and you feel like the paint is really into all of those grooves, you can now go with the grain to start to even it all out, misting the area and wiping to make it look even.
Instead of wiping, you could also use a high grit sandpaper (300 or above) to remove the excess paint. You don’t have to worry about taking too much off because the paint is already inside of the wood grain and the finish will be evened out even more.
A Different Technique on the Bottom of the Table
When I got down to the legs of the piece, I followed all the same steps, but I didn’t seal it first. I wanted there to be more white on the bottom with a stronger look of more white highlighting certain areas. I used the same white paint and I was still careful to make sure that I wasn’t painting to get full coverage because I still wanted to expose the woodgrain.
There are a couple of ways that you can get a cerused finish and I’m showing you two in this tutorial. You can see here that the paint is heavier than what I did on the top of the table, but that woodgrain is still visible.
And then I wiped it all down with my sander and a 120 grit. So I am showing you two different techniques in this video and you can figure out what works for you.
I exposed a little more of the wood grain with a 3M pad leaving more white around the edges since that is the look that I was going for.
Once you’ve removed all of the paint, as much or as little as you want, you need to seal it with the Gator Hide. You can see that the Gator Hide darkened the wood a little bit, which is what I wanted on the bottom half of the table.
And you can see the heavier which areas on the legs of the table. This is the second technique that I did on this piece, slightly different than the top of the table.
This piece is done! I really hope that you enjoyed this cerused finish tutorial. When I put the table back together I was blown away! This is really one of the coolest finishes I have ever done. The cerused finish is a beautiful rustic look that will look great on any kind of wood.
Want to see the Cerused Finish Tutorial You Tube Video?
Want some more furniture painting tutorials? Here’s a great one with a mid century modern flair: https://bellarenovare.com/2020/06/you-need-to-see-this-mid-century-modern-furniture-makeover/
See you next time and happy creating!