Furniture Tips: Oops!

Just like the rest of life, it’s usually better to prevent a bad thing from happening than it is to fix it afterwards. You made a significant investment in your wood furniture, to keep it beautiful for longer:

• Maintain even humidity in your home since the rise and fall of moisture in the air can lead to the splitting and cracking of the wood.

• Use a pad under your writing paper to avoid bleed through marking or the scratches caused by a pen.

• Keep your furniture out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can fade a finish.

• Toss those rubber-based plastic placemats. The materials in them can discolor furniture.

• Never clean your furniture with glass cleaner. The ammonia base can discolor and dull a finish.

• Use trivets and hot pads. Hot kettles, pots, etc. will damage the finish on furniture.

• Be picky about your coasters. Metal coasters can sweat moisture underneath them and plastic ones can cause a chemical interaction with the finish, marring it. Those with a cork or felt underside are best.

• Wipe up spills immediately. Water marks can cloud a finish.

• Avoid silicone-based furniture polishes. They can bleed into a finish over time. To tell if it’s silicone-based, run your finger over the piece after you’ve polished it. If you can see the line, there’s silicone.

Despite the best of care, accidents happen. When something happens to your wood furniture, you’ve got 2 choices.fix it or hide it. Refinishing is best but it takes a lot of time and some skill, so here’s a bunch of sneaky little tips for hiding what’s wrong.

Water Marks and Rings: Often, rings are in the wax, not the finish. Cover the stain with a clean, thick blotter, press down with a warm iron, and repeat. Or rub with salad oil, mayonnaise or white toothpaste. Wipe dry and wax or polish. Why toothpaste? It has just a little grit in it so it works like a very, very, very fine sanding.

White Marks: Rub with a cloth dipped in a mixture of cigarette ashes and lemon juice or salad oil. Or rub with a cloth dipped in lighter fluid, followed by a mixture of rottenstone and salad oil. Wipe dry and wax or polish.

Milk or Alcohol: Use your fingers to rub liquid or paste wax into the stain. Or rub in a paste of boiled linseed oil and rottenstone with the grain, substituting pumice for dull finishes. Or rub with ammonia on a dampened cloth. Wipe dry and wax or polish.

Dark Wood or Stain: Fill scratches with shoe polish that matches the lightest shade of the finish, or rub with walnut or Brazil nut meat in the direction of the scratch. A child’s crayon or felt-tipped marker can also be used.

Cherry: Fill the scratches with cordovan or reddish shoe polish that matches the wood, or apply darkened iodine with a cotton swab or thin artist’s brush.

Light Wood or Stain: Fill scratches with a tan or natural shoe polish, or apply darkened iodine diluted 50 percent with denatured alcohol. There’re several commercial products on the market. My favorite is Howard’s Restor-A-Finish which comes in several different colors (golden oak, cherry, mahogany, etc.). It’s basically a wipe-on, wipe-off refinisher. Although I rarely use them, some folks really like the marking pens made to cover scratches. And they come in a variety ofcolors.

Unless the piece of furniture has a really uniform finish that hides the grain of the wood, like a highly lacquered piano or a coat of paint, you can use the variation in the wood grain to your advantage. Imperfections in color or variation in the grain will mostly go unnoticed. It’s the variation in the shine that will be most noticeable. The good news is that this can usually be fixed by applyinga good uniform polish over whatever fixes you’ve made.

If you have questions about any of these articles, or suggestions for future columns, you can always drop me a line at ken@olyfurnitureworks.com.