DIY Cerused Oak Secretary - Juniper Home

DIY Cerused Oak Secretary

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The fall issue of Domino is on news stands now and my latest story is right after cover girl Mindy Kaling’s (adorable!) office feature.
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I was SO excited to get to share my transformation of this old tiger oak secretary. Remember this old thing?
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I had been debating whether or not to change the finish for a while, but after seeing this beautiful cerused side table on 1st Dibs, I knew I could achieve a similar finish with a little research and some elbow grease.
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I read about a million different articles about cerusing and liming oak furniture. It turns out that people have been doing basically the same steps for hundreds and hundreds of years! It’s not too hard to do and requires absolutely zero artistic ability. You’ll just need a piece of oak furniture – it has to be oak. And the more prominent the grain, the better.
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The first step is to strip the wood of any stains or varnish. I used a gel stripper and a brass-bristled brush to gently scrub the wood in the direction of the grain. See how the soft brass bristles pull out the little bits of old dark stain from the grain?
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If you’ve done it right, the grain marks will be open and clean and ready to fill with wax.

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If you want the wood to be a natural finish, you can go ahead and skip this next step, but if you want the wood stained at all, you’ll need to use an aniline dye in lieu of a traditional stain that you can get at the hardware store. Dye will beautifully stain the wood without filling any of the grain. You can buy almost any color of dye online. I used the indigo shade for this project.

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I just followed the instructions on the dye container and mixed a few teaspoons of the powder with some denatured alcohol before brushing it on the secretary.

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It only takes a coat or two of the dye mixture to get a nice, deep color.

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As the stain starts to dry on the wood, it gets lighter and sort of chalky. But the color deepens again when you seal it. I don’t have a photo of this step but it’s important to seal it with shellac before adding the liming wax. I like Zinsser’s shellac because it dries quickly and isn’t too thick.

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After the shellac dries, the dyed wood will be a dark navy indigo color, and you’ll be ready for liming wax. This wax is my favorite.

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The actual liming step is super easy – you just wipe the wax on with a soft cloth and then buff off the extra that’s sitting on top. You only want the white liming wax to be in the grain and none on top.

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This is why it’s important to shellac the wood before using the cerusing wax. The wax won’t want to stay on the surface of the sealed wood as much, but it will be happy to hang out in the grain. Check out that beautiful pattern!

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I really love how this project turned out. I think cerusing is such a fun way to show off the natural wood grain of vintage/antique oak pieces!

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And the indigo stain is such a unique look too. I think color stains are perfect for this type of application. The secretary is such a fun statement piece now, sitting up in our landing by the girls rooms.

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Don’t forget to check out the spread in the new Domino! xo
What did you think?
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44 thoughts on “DIY Cerused Oak Secretary

  1. My jaw is on the floor. This is a work of art! Wow! How can those of us with less experience with this stuff determine which pieces are oak? This is just incredible. I love it.

  2. Can you share where you founds the knobs or do you have any suggestions for good hardware websites? I am struggling!!!

    Thanks in advance!

  3. Jenny, I love it! What a beautiful job. I tried to ceruse my oak counter stools (inspired by the bungalow 5 pieces) and it was a complete disaster. They were made from 2 different kinds of wood and some of the parts were not oak. Like you said, it has to be oak! They didn't take the aniline dye. After an outrageous amount of effort, I gave up & painted them a matte gray. I'm still looking for the right piece to ceruse, though, since I love the look.

  4. seriously awesome makeover! New to me information, and I am eyeing that oak furniture from the thrift store in a whole different way! You rock!

  5. I have to admit that I initially thought, "Oh no, she painted that beautiful tiger oak!" after you first threw out ideas of what to do with that piece, but it really did turn out beautiful without covering up that gorgeous wood grain.

    Kudos!

  6. Beautiful! I have a desk that I've been creatively stuck on and this is the perfect idea for it. Thanks for wonderful inspiration!

  7. Beautiful! I have a desk that I've been creatively stuck on and this is the perfect idea for it. Thanks for wonderful inspiration!

  8. This is so cool. I love how the indigo took on a black tone. What kind of stripper did you use? I tried some kind of citrus stripper and it did not work well. I ended up sanding the old finish off.

  9. Would it be possible to do this to a kitchen table / make this food safe (I have toddlers who sometimes eat directly off our table). Any thoughts are appreciated! Thank you!

  10. That looks fabulous! Thanks for sharing all the steps. I think I could actually do this!

    Your posts are always so fun and inspirational!

    xo,
    Ivy

  11. I had never heard of cerusing before, but it looks awesome. You are so talented! Someone mentioned doing it to kitchen cabinets, and I think that would be really cool, too.

  12. OH MY G*D. I want to do this!
    I've been trying to figure out how to lime my hideous oak bathroom cabs…. but I never thought of adding an awesome color to actual oak furniture!
    The hunt is on… and thank you for starting a new trend! lol.
    You are so creatively awesome, Jenny!

  13. Looks great! I just picked up a vintage oak warehouse desk but it is very yellowed and has a layer of thick varnish. I have been thinking of stripping down. Could you tell me what gel stripper you used please? TIA!

  14. Looks great! I just picked up a vintage oak warehouse desk but it is very yellowed and has a layer of thick varnish. I have been thinking of stripping down. Could you tell me what gel stripper you used please? TIA!

  15. Looks great! I just picked up a vintage oak warehouse desk but it is very yellowed and has a layer of thick varnish. I have been thinking of stripping down. Could you tell me what gel stripper you used please? TIA!

  16. This is SO BEAUTIFUL but NO ONE should be using aniline dye anymore!!!! It's so bad for you!!! I hope you were wearing a respirator. I work painting theatrical drops, which used to be done exclusively in aniline dye (though I've luckily never had to work with it). They make alternatives now that while you still have to be VERY careful to not to have skin contact, and wear a respirator with appropriate cartridges (and goggles to protect your eyes) while mixing, but once the powder is mixed with water you don't need to be wearing a mask. With aniline you should be wearing a mask throughout…it's considered more dangerous than stain and oil-based products.

  17. Did you thin the shellac? Thanks for these directions, anither blog inferred it wasn’t a diy project, but i dint know why not! Your project is beautiful! Thanjs!

  18. Where did you find a brass bristle brush that is that large? I have only been able to find small bristled brushes like for cleaning a grill and want one like you used.
    Please post or let me know where I might get one of those brushes.

    Thank you

  19. Fantabulous. Inspiring. I’m going to ask our cabinet maker on our new home to do this for our kitchen cabinets. To help him can you tell us where you found the stain and liming wax.
    Thanks a million

  20. I am going to do this without the liming wax. The grains are not as apparent in the veneer on my 80yr old dresser, but love the color. The fact that you can actually color wood and have the natural grains show through like will be an exciting experiment.

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