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Cerused, Hand Scraped, or Fumed: Which Color Effect is for You?

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Hardwood flooring is beautiful to begin with, but sometimes you need something unique, a style that stands out. At Luxury Wood NYC, we can apply what we call color effects to your new flooring, turning them into something truly one of a kind. Cerusing, Distressing, and Fuming are just three ways we can transform your floors.

What Is Cerused Wood?

There is a technique in the hardwood flooring world that is making a comeback after a 500+ year absence. That is right, 500 years! Back in the 1500’s, the French invented a technique of filling in the grains in oak beams and paneling with a toxic paste derived from lead. This was initially done to help prevent rot in oak beams. Later, the wood finish known as ‘limed oak’ became popular in the cabinet and furniture world.

Today that stylish finish is still called limed oak in Europe and here in the US we call it cerused wood or cerused oak. What is so great about this look? A cerused finish will highlight the contrast between the grain and the rest of the surface. Oak is the go-to choice for a cerused finish due to its characteristic open grain, however other hardwoods like ash could also work.

How is it done? Well, the good news is that you no longer need to use toxic paste to do your cerusing! There are a variety of nontoxic colored waxes available. Once you have your filling picked out it is only five more steps to a trendy new finish to your oak flooring.

  1. Sand the wood so it is flat and even.

  2. Use a wire brunch to dig out the pores in the wood.

  3. Seal the wood with one coat of sealer.

  4. Apply colored wax.

  5. Apply as many top or clear coats as you would like.

Now you have floors that look like they are straight out of the 16th century. Pretty cool!

Moving along, do you have your eye on distressed or hand scraped hardwood flooring for your home? This style has become a popular choice for homeowners that want the look of an old, reclaimed hardwood floor that will last a long time and show minimum wear and tear.

What Exactly are Hand Scraped or Distressed Floors?

This hardwood flooring is intentionally scraped to provide a warm, natural look to a room. Before today’s modern sanding methods, floors were hand scraped on site to make the floors flat. Today’s hand scraping is done to add texture, richness, and uniqueness.

There are two prominent methods used to give distressed floors this look:

  1. To reduce labor costs, manufacturers created machine-made scraped floors. Although it is cheaper for the consumer, it is easy to see a pattern repeating across the floor, which lacks a natural feel.

  2. Hand scraped wood floors are done by hand, giving the homeowner a unique floor. Although this method can have a very natural look, it is extremely dependent on the skill of the person scraping the floor.

There are a few different methods used when it comes to hand scraping a floor, including denting, scooping, sanding, or creating a reclaimed look with wormholes, splits and other naturally occurring character markings. Some product lines also allow the homeowner to choose between heavy, medium, and light scraping.

Although machine-scraped floors are more cost-effective, this is one area where you get what you pay for; hand scraping and beveling done by an artisan is a truly one-of-a-kind floor that will give your home unique beauty, which is why professionals and designers think it is worth the extra cost.

About Hand Scraping & Beveling Hardwood Floors

Although there are plenty of DIY hand scraping articles out there, this is one service you want to hire a company like Huggins Hardwood Floors you can get a custom sample.

The process begins with creating a custom sample for the customer, which they signed off on before we start. Then our artisans use 3″ blades to scrape the boards right on the floor. Once the journeymen are done with the scraping and beveling, they will apply two coats of a custom stain to the wood and then a final coat on-site following the hardwood floors’ installation.

Distressed or cerused not piquing your interest? Considered a fumed hardwood, the go to for creating depth and character in your flooring to suit your style.

Fuming: What is it? Ammonia fuming is a wood finishing process that darkens wood and brings out the grain pattern. It consists of exposing the wood to fumes from a strong aqueous solution of ammonium hydroxide which reacts with the tannins in the wood. The process works best on white oak because of the high tannin content of this wood. Fumed oak is also called smoked oak. Other species may also be fumed but usually will not darken as much as white oak. The introduction of the process is usually associated with the American furniture maker Gustav Stickley at the beginning of the twentieth century, but fuming was certainly known in Europe some time before this.


The wood to be fumed is placed in a sealed chamber with all the surfaces to be fumed exposed to freely circulating air. A large shallow container of ammonium hydroxide solution is placed on the floor of the chamber and the chamber is sealed. If the chamber is large or the fuming is to be done for a long time then more than one container may be provided, or the ammonia may be replenished during the process. The fuming time depends on the amount of darkening required, the size of the chamber, and the strength of the ammonia used. It is usual to oil the wood after fuming to fully bring out the effect.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Fuming has an advantage over staining in that it does not obscure the grain, it just darkens it. Unlike staining, there is no possibility of blotches or runs. Fuming is also colourfast. Fuming has the disadvantage that it is not a very precise process. Different batches of wood will react to fuming differently. For this reason, wood that is to be fumed for a particular project is often taken from the same tree. Even so, boards from the same tree, and even different regions of the same board, can have a noticeably distinct color. Where a consistent color is important, staining or dyeing may be better options.

Fuming has some inconvenient safety issues. The solution of ammonium hydroxide used is much stronger (26% to 30%) than in household ammonia and is corrosive. The fuming must be done in an enclosed sealed chamber. Ammonia splashes can burn skin and the fumes can cause burns to the eyes and lungs. Operators need to wear gas masks, gloves, and eye protection.

The darkening of the color relies on the ammonia reacting with tannins in the wood. The process is most usually applied to white oak as this wood has a high tannin content. Red oak may turn greenish rather than deep brown. Other species may not darken so noticeably as white oak, or at all, depending on the tannin content. The effect of fuming can be enhanced in non-tannic woods by applying a coat of tannic acid to the surface before fuming.

Want to know more about cerused, distressed, and fumed hardwood flooring? Our high-end hand scraped, and beveled floors are available in a wide variety of species and colors. Visit our showroom to see it in person for yourself. Remember to contact us for a free virtual consultation, and we can get started on giving you the floor you want and will love for a lifetime.

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