DIY Cerused Oak Chest


If you are a DIY’er, learning a new technique is always an exciting and sometimes daunting experience. I have seen some beautiful images floating around the web lately of furniture pieces where the wood grain just goes KAPOW! A little research told me this is achieved by a centuries old technique called cerusing. It was originally created to fill oak beams with a liming wax to prevent insects and rot from ruining the wood. Later, it became a popular fashion trend in art deco and mid century furniture. If you ask me, it is time for this age old finish to make a HUGE come back!


The process is actually pretty simple. It is a little time consuming and requires a lot of elbow grease. Totally worth the effort in my opinion. If you are not into the whole DIY thing yourself, you can always hire a professional to do it for you! We are always taking custom jobs so feel free to contact us!


It is best to use this technique on Oak. It requires wood with a deep grain to acheive the look. I came across a good deal on an old oak chest recently and set it aside for when I was ready to give this technique a try.

The oak drawer fronts were still in pretty good shape with the exception of the bottom drawer which is missing a chunk of the wood. The sides of the chest were toast! The veneer was literally falling off and allll the drawer bottoms were broken.


When I am trying something new I will choose the worst piece in the storage building, then at least if I totally fail it won’t be a huge loss. This chest was the perfect piece to “practice” on.


The first thing I did was strip the rest of the veneer off the sides and replace it with beadboard. Then the hubby helped me replace all the drawer bottoms.


(Y’all just excuse all the mess in the background of my photo’s, you know we are renovating….lol)


After removing veneer
After adding bead board

Cerusing the bead board was not going to be an option because……WOOD GRAIN umkay?

These particular beadboad planks were left over from our ceiling makeover project in the kids rooms. They are made from pine so…

A. It didn’t match the same grain as the oak.

B. The grain is not deep enough for this technique.

I decided to ceruse the drawer fronts and the top of the chest and paint the rest.


Unfortunately I do not have photo’s of everything I did as I went because I was not planning to write a blog post on the subject. After answering a million questions at Green Living Market on how I achieved the look, it was apparent a blog post was needed. So here goes!


Instructions for Cerused Oak Finish:

I have tried tons of strippers over the years and In my opinion citrus strip is one of the best strippers on the market. For large progects where alot of stripper it needed, SOY Gel Professional Paint Stripper Gallon is also a great option for non toxic stripping. Either of these will get the job done.

  • Step 2- Sand! I sanded each drawer with my hand sander and 220 Grit sand paper, then smoothed them out with a fine sanding block and wiped them clean.
  • Step 3- Very Important! Scrub the surface with a soft wire brush. This will open up all that wood grain. The wood grain must be free of old varnish and dust for this to work. Note how you can SEEE the open grain? You need that!
Soft wire brush


Stain does not work well for this technique because it closes up the wood grain and does not allow the liming wax to seep into the grain. Dye will soak into the wood leaving your grain open.

To mix the dye, just follow the directions that come with it. There is an assortment of options to choose from when mixing your dye. I used Denatured Alcohol. You can also use water to mix your dye.

Brush the dye on the wood with a paint brush or foam brush.

Brush dye on wood

Wipe the dye back off with a clean cloth.

Wipe back

The dye will dry very quickly. Once dry, continue to apply coats until desired color is achieved. I applied 4 coats of dye..

  • Step 5- Apply schelac to the surface of the wood to seal in your dye. I used a spray schelac and sprayed 1 coat on each drawer.
  • Step 6- Apply a liberal amount of liming wax to the wood using a soft lint free cloth. Old T-shirts work well. I used Briwax Liming Wax, 8 ounce, you can find it by clicking on the link.

This is where your prep work on that wood grain will pay off! Wipe off the liming wax as you go. If you need to remove more liming wax, use a clean cloth and clear wax immediately after applying the liming wax to remove the excess.


I applied the liming wax to the entire drawer front, wiped off as much as I could, then applied a liberal amount of annie sloan clear wax to a clean cloth and wiped the entire drawer off again.

Liming wax/clear wax



Before and after liming wax


  • Step 7- After the wax has dried, buff it with a clean lint free cloth and your done!

I was so excited to learn this technique. I love a good wood grain and am thrilled to now have to knowledge to be able to add some color to a piece of furniture by using dye instead of paint to keep that good ol wood grain right were it belongs! Front and center.


Here is the finished piece. The sides were painted with Fusion Mineral Paint in the color Champness and sealed with Fusion Beeswax.

Cerused Oak Finish



Cerused Oak Finish

What do you think? Should Cerused Oak make a come back?? Give us your thoughts in the comments! See you next time.


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