Written by Delaney Hill
I recently picked up this second hand round oak pedestal table on Marketplace as it was a much better fit for the space than the one we had. I planned on refinishing it, and once I got it home and realized it had some water damage, there was no time to lose. After some research, I was inspired to try cerusing the oak with wax to make the grain stand out. To the garage for it’s makeover it went!
I started by using EZ Strip Paint and Varnish Stripper on the top to try to strip off some of the old finish. It definitely worked, but I left it on for way longer than the recommended time, and it was still a struggle to scrape the gummy old finish off with a plastic scraper. In hindsight, I would either get outside in the fresh air and use a stronger stripper, or just sand the old finish off and not worry about stripping first.
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- EZ Strip Paint and Varnish Stripper
- Varathane Ultimate Oil-Based Interior Wood Stain in Weathered Grey
- Sanding paper and palm sander
- Wire brush
- Steel Wool
- Zinsser Clear Shellac spray
- Behr Decorative Finish Wax in white
- Minwax Paste Finishing Wax
After using the stripper, I sanded the top down with my palm sander and a medium grit paper. I just LOVE seeing the natural tone of the wood coming through when old finishes are taken off, don’t you? Especially when it’s orange oak giving way to beautiful natural tones! I also sanded down the rounded edge of the table top by hand. Once I was satisfied with the sanding job, I went over the whole table with a wire brush and medium-hard pressure in the direction of the grain. This is supposed to open up the grain so that the wax can settle into those places later. After a wipe down with a damp then a dry cloth and some time to dry, it was time to stain. Brace yourselves, this is where things got a bit wonky.
I used Varathane Ultimate Oil-Based Interior Wood Stain in Weathered Grey. I excitedly started brushing it onto one half of the table. I thought, hmm, I guess it goes from white to grey as it sets. I thought, uh oh. I looked at the little can. The wrong little can! Oh no, this was not stain, this was varathane clear sealant, noooooo! It was still wet, so I quickly wiped it off with a cloth as well as I could. That would need some time to dry before I dealt with it, so I moved on to the leaf and the other side. With the right can this time. (Major facepalm!)
After staining the other side and the leaf, I was very happy with the look so far! It had a beautiful grey tone with a bit of natural wood showing through. But there was that other side to deal with. (Sigh). After sanding it, I stained it (for real this time), and after a few minutes wiped it away to reveal that the wood didn’t absorb the stain very well at all. Oh man. Back to the palm sander, and the wire brush. After it was all sanded down it looked the same as it did before, but there was only one way to find out if I did a good enough job sanding it this time, and I was starting to get nervous I’d go right through the veneer. More stain went on, and after a few tense minutes I wiped off a small corner to reveal, it matched the other side, finally! Major relief! This oops side actually turned out a fraction darker than the other side and the leaf, and I considered trying to add more stain to the other side to try to match them, but I wasn’t sure if it would go too dark, and I’d be stuck in a never-ending loop of trying to match the sides until it just looked bad, so I decided to live with it. Every piece needs a story, right? That’s what I’ll keep telling myself when all I can see is that one side of my table is slightly darker than the other, every time I look at it, forever. I’m fine, totally fine!
Next, it was time to ceruse! I was really excited about this step. I wire brushed one more time, then went over the top with some Zinsser Clear Shellac spray. You do need to Shellac your surface before you wax. Once the Shellac was dry I sanded it with some 220 grit sandpaper, then got my wax out. I used Behr Wax Decorative Finish in white, which I think may be somewhat smoother than other types. I applied it with a small scraper and in the direction of the grain, and worked it down into the grooves as much as I could. So as not to waste the wax, I gently scraped away the excess to work into new areas as I went. After that, I went in the direction of the grain with some 0000 grade steel wool to remove the wax from where I didn’t want it. Oh boy, this was probably the most grueling task of the whole project. It took some elbow grease and a lot of steel wool, as you have to keep getting new pieces as they get saturated with wax. But finally, there was wax in the grain but not anywhere else, and I got a nice shiny finish! Like I said, I think going with a different wax might make the grain stand out even more. If I ever do this again, I will definitely try to get my hands on some Brimax Liming Wax.
After scraping off as much as I could.
One section with steel wool done.
After the top was done (except for sealing it), I lightly sanded the skirt and base (I have a multitool that made a lot of this sanding much easier: RIDGID JobMax 4 Amp Multi-Tool with Tool-Free Head), and painted it with 2 coats of Behr Chalk Decorative Paint (White Base), tinted in Whisper White. The white was a bit blinding to me, so I carefully applied some of the same wax I used for the cerusing, but in black, with a dry brush and wiped in the direction of the grain with a clean cloth to give it a bit of a distressed look. There were some parts of this I wasn’t happy with (like, it’s easy to forget which direction the grain should be going when the pedestal is rounded and painted over), so I ended up with a bit of cross hatching, and a bit of a scuffed-up look in places. But hey, who needs perfection, right?
Finally, I had planned on using that clear varathane to finish the top because I have kids and they’re pretty hard on furniture. But after reading the can and realizing you can’t use it on surfaces you have A. used steel wool on, and B. used wax on, both of which I did, I sealed it with some Minwax Paste Finishing Wax that I had on hand instead. I’ll have to keep an eye on this and make sure I re-wax it every once in a while as needed. I didn’t bother waxing the skirt and base as I did work that black wax over the paint, and figured that would probably be fine for the bottom.
Here’s the finished table in it’s new place! Now I REALLY have to get those orange oak chairs to the garage and deal with them! I’m going to stain the seats to match the top (I don’t plan on cerusing the seats though, that way I can seal them better), and paint the rest of the chairs to match the base of the table. Wish me luck!
Step by Step
- Find a thrifted oak table to makeover.
- Sand the table top to remove old finish – always sand in the direction of the grain.
- Wipe with a damp cloth to remove dust, let dry.
- Scrub the table top with a wire brush to open the grain even more – always brush in the direction of the grain and remove dust.
- Apply stain to the wood where you would like the cerused finish to be featured (on the table top here as we painted the base, or all over if you want a uniform stained finish on your piece.)
- Scrub once again with the wire brush and remove dust.
- Spray table top with shellac spray finish – apply a light, even coat.
- Sand lightly again with a fine grit paper and again, remove dust.
- Apply Cerusing wax with a small scraper and according to directions on the can.
- Burnish the wax into the grain further with steel wool. The wool will push wax into the grain, and remove it from smooth areas creating that two toned cerused look.
- Finish with a paste finishing wax.
Can you ceruse over other stain colours? YES!
Is limed or cerused oak on trend for 2021?
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