Helpful surface repair hints for wooden furniture

Small imperfections on a handsomely finished surface are surprisingly easy to fix. Here are a few helpful hints.

Helpful surface repair hints for wooden furniture

Test to see how the wood is finished before repairs

  • To test to find out if your wood is waxed or oiled, dampen a cloth with some mineral spirits and wipe it over a hidden corner. If the surface finish dissolves and leaves a smear on the cloth, it has been waxed; if it turns slippery and doesn't smear, an oil finish has been applied.
  • Cellulose lacquer and acrylic varnish are almost completely clear when dry, while polyurethane varnish yellows with time, so simply looking at discolouration can help you work out which finish has been used. Alternatively, rub some cellulose thinner on a hidden spot: cellulose lacquer and acrylic varnish will rapidly dissolve, but polyurethane varnish will be unaffected.
  • If you're trying to figure out if a piece of furniture is finished with French polish, rub an inconspicuous part of it with a cloth dipped in denatured alcohol. If the piece of furniture's surface softens in seconds and leaves smears on the cloth, you'll know you're dealing with French polish.

Repairing your furniture's surface

  • Rub the flesh of an oily nut (such as a pecan) or even a little bit of smooth peanut butter on a superficial scratch to camouflage it. The oil in the nut is hiding the scratch, so if you're a little wary of rubbing your furniture with nuts, then rub vegetable or olive oil into the scratch with your thumb. Then polish the surface around the scratch with a soft, clean rag.
  • Small scratches and nicks in a wooden surface are easily treated. Find a wax crayon that matches the wood colour, run it over the scratch, then rub the area around the scratch lightly with a soft cloth to blend it in. If you can't find a perfect colour match, you could try using a combination of crayons.
  • Disguise superficial scratches on French-polished surfaces with an old-fashioned concoction that antique restorers themselves use. Pour equal volumes of mineral water, denatured alcohol and linseed oil into a clean container and shake the mixture thoroughly before using. Apply this mix to the scratched area with a soft, clean cloth, rubbing with a circular motion.
  • Use Danish oil to disguise scratches on a surface that has been finished with polyurethane varnish. Once the oil has dried (after about four hours), wipe the surface around the scratches with clear wax.

Common household helpers

Several other common household items can be used to camouflage small scratches on finished wood. Here are some to try, just be sure to remember to test them in an inconspicuous spot first.

  • Iodine works on mahogany and other reddish finishes.
  • Felt-tip markers in brown, red and yellowish hues can be used in combination to match a range of wood tones.
  • It's easy to find shoe polishes in a variety of shades to match wood finishes.
  • Mayonnaise can fill a scratch like a clear gel. Wipe the mayonnaise on, then leave it overnight and wipe off the next day.
  • To obscure scratches on a dark furniture finish, mix 5 grams (one teaspoon) of instant coffee in 15 grams (one tablespoon) of water or vegetable oil, and apply it where necessary. Don't use this mix on shellac or any valuable antique, though.

Keep these helpful hints in mind as you repair the finishes of your wooden furniture, and you're more likely to get results that look great but were easy to achieve.

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