Cire Rempli Desk

I received Christophe Pourny’s new book, The Furniture Bible, as a Christmas gift (and I love it!).  One of the techniques I was most drawn to is ciré rempli, which involves rubbing a slurry of wax, pumice powder, and alcohol into the wood resulting in a finish that is rich but not too glossy.

I decided to try it out on our well worn and wobbly desk.  This little desk was a victim of a poor refinishing job.  Sections of finish were raised and bumpy like it was applied by sponge painting.  The drawer, which admittedly we over filled, stuck and didn’t slide smoothly.  Between the orangy color and bumpy texture, this desk was really an orange in furniture form!

The first step was to strip the old finish off and sand until smooth, up to 220 grit sandpaper.  I also re-glued some loose joints.

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Applying the water-based stain the ciré rempli technique calls for was tricky.  I suggest practicing on scrap wood if you’ve never worked with it.  I had only used oil-based stain previously, and I wish I’d practiced first.  It came out fine in the end, but I found the water-based stain didn’t have as long of an open time as oil-based, and was less forgiving.  It took two coats, but was already looking better in its new mahogany color!

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The rest of the ciré rempli technique involves working in layers of wax, pumice stone, and alcohol.  Ultimately, I am really happy with how the finish turned out, but I don’t think I did it completely correctly.  I used too little of the wax, and so in some areas I rubbed through it with the alcohol dampened pad.  But, the best part about this technique is that it is easily fixed and doesn’t require removal of the first application.  In fact, its whole point is to build up layers of wax.

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The final result is wonderful!  Almost glass-like to the touch, it has a much more subtle sheen than a polyurethane finish.  Antique pulls complete the look.  They are mismatched but I like that, for now.

To solve the issues with the drawer, I rubbed a block of beeswax on the underside of the drawer that comes in contact with the guides on the inside of the desk.  It certainly helps and can be reapplied as needed.  To help corral our clutter, I added balsa wood dividers.  These aren’t glued in, just cut to be snug, so this is reversible.  The bottom of the drawer is lined with a pretty fabric.

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