How to Get The Cerused, or Limed Wax Finish

In Art Appreciation, Surface Techniques, Tutorials by gene howard

From the home of Amy Howard

From the home of Amy Howard

Cerused furniture fits so many decorating styles! Here is my family room.

Cerused furniture fits so many decorating styles! Here is my family room.

Bridgett Cocktail Table by Amy Howard

Bridgett Cocktail Table by Amy Howard

Cerused and Limed Finish

I want to tell you about a furniture finish that I absolutely love. It’s been around for quite a long time, and, although it has fallen in and out of favor over the centuries, it is recently making a comeback! I’m talking about this fabulous cerused, or limed, finish. With a very understated and elegant look, the cerused finish delightfully agrees with so many different decorating styles. Whether your style is anything from modern to rustic, this finish will make any room dance. Rubbed into the open grooves and pores of wood, the whiting process brings out and highlights the woodgrain. Recently, I’m seeing this finish popularized on furniture (especially a lot of mid-century living room pieces), and on kitchen and bath cabinetry. It’s jaw-dropping gorgeous and you’d never believe it’s probably the easiest furniture finish for you to achieve! So today, I want to share some backstory, stunning examples, and how you can get this look so you can craft a beautiful life!

WHAT IS IT?

Ed O'Brien Chest by Amy Howard

Ed O'Brien Chest by Amy Howard

Raw oak has a compelling woodgrain that draws our eyes, and the most typical type of wood that is whitened. Oak has grooves open-enough to fill with wax, and furniture finishers use a liming wax to hand-whiten the grain. This white-against-caramel-wood births a gorgeous contrast. Because there are so many different ways to cut a piece of oak, the grain variation jumps out to us, as the wax in the oak groove highlights the natural lines and patterns of the wood. This brings up an essential decorating tip: the grooved patterns in the wood can actually play against the other shapes and patterns that decorate your room!

Check out an example of this that we did. Notice the woodgrain movement against the patterned backsplash and geometric floorcloth.

 
Beautiful interplaying patterns!

Beautiful interplaying patterns!

 

FROM MAKEUP TO MAKE-IT-YOURS

Vanderbilt Cocktail Table by Amy Howard

Vanderbilt Cocktail Table by Amy Howard

The "white wash" finish (yet another term for cerused/liming) had a very strange start. Fashionable people in the fancy Elizabethan era of the 16th century wore white face makeup on their--partly made up of white lead. In time, furniture finishers realized that the white lead used in the cosmetic could be used to whiten the grain of oak. The cerused look delighted trend-lists of the 17th century. Now, obviously harmful and illegal, white lead, the former key ingredient was replaced with wax, which has been used for hundreds of years since this time.

During the first half of the 20th century, many manufacturers envy the limed, Art Deco furniture designs of French heavyweight Jean Michel-Frank. His pieces really helped the cerused look evolve into the next era. 

 
Jean Michel-Frank-Style Cerused Oak Coffee Table via LiveAuctioneers.com

Jean Michel-Frank-Style Cerused Oak Coffee Table via LiveAuctioneers.com

 

PAINTED, THEN LIMED?

The limed finish isn’t just for unfinished wood. Painted furniture, especially darker colors like black and luxurious grey, enjoy a final sophisticated touch with the application of Liming Wax™ to a painted finish. The reason I developed the Amy Howard At Home® Liming Wax™ was to share this easy way to elegantly elevate your furniture! I want to show you how to get this look so that you can craft a beautiful life!

 
Liming Wax over Black One Step Paint™

Liming Wax over Black One Step Paint™

 

GET THIS LOOK!

As I mentioned above, if your piece already has a finish on it, that’s ok! You can paint over it with One Step Paint, and you will have a new, fresh surface, over which to apply the Liming Wax™. This is actually what we did with this cabinet set we picked up from Habitat from Humanity. If you have raw oak, you can apply the Liming Wax™ directly to your wood!

 
Apply One Step Paint™ and Liming Wax™ over your already-finished cabinetry!

Apply One Step Paint™ and Liming Wax™ over your already-finished cabinetry!

 

I want to walk you through how to get this easy, yet elegant look. Here is a tutorial video and accompanying how-to directions!

   

MATERIALS

  • Wood surface, either raw, or painted with Amy Howard At Home® One Step Paint™
  • Amy Howard At Home® Liming Wax™
  • Dry t-shirt rag
  • Cardboard palette
  • Amy Howard At Home® China Bristle Brush
  • Simple Green

DIRECTIONS

1. Thoroughly clean your surface with a diluted degreaser like Simple Green. Be sure to rinse the same surface down with water to completely remove any residue the Simple Green might have left behind.

2. I am working with an already painted surface here, I chose the dark grey, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in our One Step Paint™ line. (Make sure your painted surface has completely dried before you begin the waxing steps). Using an Amy Howard at Home® china bristle brush, dip your brush in the Liming Wax and then offload onto a cardboard palette. 

3. Apply a light, first coat, for 100% coverage to your untreated or chalk-based painted surface. Use a cross-hatching, feathering brush method, and then smooth it out. Allow to come to tack, about 10-15 minutes. *If you have any heavy spots, buff very lightly with a lint-free rag.

4. Offload your brush again onto the cardboard palette, and apply with a second, heavier, full-coat application of the Liming Wax. You want these strokes to look deep to maintain the linear "wood grain" line. Continue to feather out the wax with your brush until the Liming Wax is evenly distributed over your piece. 

5. Allow the wax to cure about 30 minutes.

6. Come back and buff with a clean, lint-free rag. The sheen will really start to come through and seal your piece. Be careful not to buff too much of the desirable graininess out of our finish. That is what gives the grainy wood look! Now your piece is actually sealed and all you need to clean this resilient finish is a simple buffing with a dry rag!

You can now add the warmth and depth of woodgrain to any wood surface! So, what pieces can you rescue from Craigslist, Habitat, or even a porch-pickup?

Share your victories in the comments below, so we can help you Enjoy the Bragging Rights!™

Amy Howard