Cerused Oak Finish Tips

Advice on how to apply and remove white grain filler so that just the pores and flecks are white when the job is done. February 12, 2010

We have been having a time getting a cerused oak finish on plywood products. We are using a wire brush as much as we can without burning through veneer, but cannot achieve the hang up we need. We cannot really tell it is not enough until after final coat. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
Say that you have stained the oak and then applied a coat of sealer to seal in the stain. Also say that you want a white color in the pores of the oak. You can either use a white paste wood filler (follow directions on can), or...

Get some white UTC - titanium dioxide works real well. Scoop a few tablespoons of the white into an empty can, then pour some naphtha into the can and stir it up real good. The consistency should be like a heavy cream, the kind used in baking cakes. Apply the white mixture to the wood using a brush, not sopping wet but enough to cover. Do a 2 square foot area.

Let it dry (it dries quickly) and when it does, take a piece of burlap or a Turkish towel and firmly rub the dried white mixture across the grain of the oak. This will leave the color in the pores but remove it from the flat area. You may wish to apply a little paint thinner or naphtha on the rag before you start wiping it cross grain, but if you do add some thinners to the rag, don't drench the rag or it will just draw the color out of the pores. Try this on a piece of scrap wood and see what you think.

From contributor I:
Most commercial shops doing the ceruse finish use a sanding machine with wire brush wheels. The Quickwood wheels are a little cheesy, especially with oak. The production shops also use a powder off glaze for this finish like ML Campbell Amazing Glaze. It takes some practice to get the finish consistent with this glaze, as it's hard to tell the final effect until after topcoating, which is too late to fix. For a quality ceruse finish, I like the paste wood filler method myself, but it is not so production friendly due to the 4 hour dry time. Most of these finishes are a dark stain with white grain but there are a ton of variations. I spray on an acetone based dye stain, wash coat of sealer, and then the white paste filler. The manufacturer of the powder off glaze will tell you which products to use for that method, usually a conversion varnish. By using a washcoat and paste filler, you can get a real nice clean wipe using a squeegee and it stays just in the pores.

From contributor C:

A less toxic alternative to contributor R's process would be to use Sherwin-Williams water based stain concentrate. It works the same except you're using water instead of thinners.

From contributor P:
Maybe the problem is the pores in the veneer are not very deep and are being filled with stain and sealer. I think that's what you're fighting. Try experimenting on smaller pieces varying the viscosity. I use my own glaze formulas, but the Breakway glazes come recommended.