Understanding Wood Finishes

It’s sometimes difficult to tell what kind of wood finish is on your piece of furniture, in case you want to know how durable it is or if you have damage to the original finish. Knowing what kind of finish is on your wood is crucial to being able to pick out the right set of tools and chemicals for the job of repairing, cleaning or maintaining your wood furniture.

The first thing to know is that a finish makes a huge difference in how well your wood is protected, and how expensive and luxurious it seems even to trained woodworker eyes. Old finishes are often poor finishes, and many types of valuable antiques benefit from a professional restoration. The myth of preserving an old finish for value is just a myth – especially if the poor finish is allowing for deterioration of the wood.

There are two main types of finishes, film and penetrating.  Of these, penetrating is either oil or oil and varnish.

The four most common types of finishes are:

  • Shellac
  • Lacquer
  • Oil
  • Water-base

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Spring Cleaning – an introduction

Click here for part two and click here for part three.

I have it on very good authority that Spring Is Coming.  And, with it, comes the unenviable Spring cleaning.  Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The Bed

Hard to contemplate, but when you change the sheets, it is also a good idea to vacuum up the dust mites and dead skin cells that hang around the mattress.  Mattresses last longer when they are regularly flipped.  First time, flip it side for side and the next time end for end.  Some folks do this when the clocks change so they don’t forget.  Even though many of us think futons are only for starving college students, that isn’t so.  This is also a good time to roll your futon mattress up for a day, it’ll help keep the cotton batting from shifting.

Winter Clothes

You may not want to pack your winter coat away until May, but when you do, be sure it is clean.  Bugs love dirt.  You don’t want it musty, so be sure it is very dry before you pack it away.  Woolens can be folded with tissue paper or muslin cloth.  Natural fibers that can breathe last longer, so a good storage container is a rattan trunk.  And, of course, you don’t want to store them in a damp place. Adding a dryer sheet between items will make them smell fresher when you unpack them next Fall.

Purses and Handbags

Not that I worry about this much, but they’ll keep their shape better if stuffed with tissue paper before being packed away.  To keep the leather from sticking together, you can put each bag inside an old pillowcase.  The metal trim will be protected from tarnish if you put a coat of clear nail polish on it.  Window cleaner can clean up your vinyl handbags.


It may be early to put up the window screens, but if you want to get ready you can make an impromptu screen cleaner out of a children’s wading pool or a big tarp.  Use hot water (if possible) with a little detergent and be sure to scrub both sides with a nylon brush before you lean them up to dry.


Spring is a good time to clean the skylights.  If you clean both the inside and the outside on the same day, you’ll be able to tell how good a job you did.  Usually the inside doesn’t take much and a squeegee on a broom handle will help you reach them.  More importantly, plexiglass skylights should be cleaned regularly because the grit can scratch the plastic.  Wait until you’re on the roof to fill your bucket with water.  Dish soap and a sponge should do just fine.  A fine coat of automobile wax after you’re done will help protect the skylight.


If you’re packing things away in the attic, here’re a few things to look for:

  • A musty smell indicates excessive moisture.  Check for leaks.
  • Look for pest infestation, them little buggers can get in anywhere.
  • Look for water damage around plumbing vents, fireplaces and eaves.
  • Make sure the vents aren’t obstructed; you want good air flow.
  • If you’ve got exhaust fans, you can check the electrical cables to be sure they’re in good condition and lubricate the fans, if needed.
  • Check to make sure the joists aren’t sagging.  It is easier to fix things before they fall apart.

In the garage and basement, you’ll want to:

  • Also check for excessive moisture and leaks.
  • Replace any bulbs that may have burned out.
  • If you find any entry points for mice, you can block them with moth balls or steel wool.
  • Check the seals around the windows.
  • Make sure all your hazardous chemicals are stored properly.
  • Lubricate the drive chain on your garage door and check the safety stop.
  • Take a look at the fire extinguishers to be sure they haven’t expired.

There’s more, of course, but you can only do so much in a day.  I’ll find more work for you next time.