I have always loved the look of ebonized cerused, or limed, oak. The overall finish is a deep black, while the wood grain is filled with white pigment. The sharp contrast accentuates oak’s beautiful grain patterns and creates a high-end, glamorous look. This finish can be achieved in any color combination, but the classic black and white is my personal favorite.
This technique was originally developed in the 16th century as a way to protect wood from insects. Its popularity has ebbed and flowed over time, peaking in art deco and midcentury interiors.
I followed Lynne Rutter’s wonderful tutorial over at The Ornamentalist. My table had a cerused finish originally, so I had to take a few extra steps to prep the surface.
Two pieces of advice on this technique: Firstly, it is essential to create an absolutely clean surface to work with because aniline dye will not absorb through old varnish or residue. Starting with an unfinished piece would be ideal. Secondly, apply your shellac carefully. A light coat of shellac will allow the wax to fill more nooks and crannies, creating a lower contrast finish. More shellac will keep the wax strictly in the large veins of grain. But be careful not to apply too much or your surface will not accept any wax.
Here are the steps
1) Stripped the old varnish with Soy-Gel.
2) Sanded with an electric orbital sander.
3) The original piece had a cerused treatment, so I used mineral spirits to remove old wax in the grain.
4) The Soy-Gel stripper left a sticky residue, which I removed with paint thinner.
5) Sanded with finer grit sandpaper to get a smooth working surface.
6) Used a brass brush to remove debris from the grain.
7) Used a tack cloth to remove sawdust and other debris.
8) Mixed an ebony aniline dye with water. Aniline dye comes in both powder and liquid forms, and it can be mixed with either water or denatured alcohol. My first coat was a bit too watered down, so I added more dye for the second coat in order to get the deep ebony finish.
9) Then I painted on two coats of shellac. Shellac will make it much easier to remove excess wax in the next step.
10) Used a rag to rub liming wax into the grain and then immediately removed any excess wax with a second, clean rag.
11) Finally I sealed the piece with clear microcrystalline wax.