By Jenny Komenda

Published on September 7, 2015

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Photography by Sarah Webb

The founder of 
Little Green Notebook
 gives us a lesson in lightening up.

About 500 years ago, European aristocrats used a white, lead-based compound called ceruse to lighten their skin. This was, they discovered, a very bad idea. However, what proved highly toxic for humans was ideal for furniture! Ceruse beautifully fills the open grain of oak, highlighting its organic grain patterns. Using simple steps developed in the 16th century, you can make a lackluster piece into a cerused stunner.

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Photography by Sarah Webb

HERE’S HOW IT’S DONE

1. Remove any paint, varnish, or stain on your oak furniture with a stripping product. Use a brass-bristled brush (scrubbing in the direction of the grain) to safely remove any stain without damage. 

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Photography by Sarah Webb
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Photography by Sarah Webb

2. Aniline dye powders, which are used to tint stripped oak, are available online in practically any color (I chose indigo). Water down the dye powder as directed and, using a paintbrush, apply three coats to the raw wood, allowing each coat to dry in between applications. 

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Photography by Sarah Webb

3. A few hours after the final coat of dye has dried, seal the dyed oak with two coats of clear shellac. (Shellac protects the dyed surface of wood without filling the grain.) 

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Photography by Sarah Webb

4. An hour or two after the shellac has dried, apply a generous amount of liming wax—which is similar to ceruse but lead free—with a soft white cloth. Buff the surface until no white wax remains on the surface, only in the grain of the oak.