Make your wooden furniture last longer: where and how to keep it

July 29, 2015

Wood can last for generations, as long as you care for it properly. Follow these tips on where to keep your wooden furniture and how to protect it.

Make your wooden furniture last longer: where and how to keep it

Keep away from heat and moisture

  • Most wood furniture is held together by tight-fitting joints where two parts have been glued together.
  • The joints are very strong, but two things can undo them: heat and moisture. The former shrinks the wood and thereby loosens the joint.
  • The joints of a wooden chair placed near a heat register or radiator, for example, may loosen and eventually fail due to shrinkage.
  • Moisture, on the other hand, can cause joint failure by softening the water-based glues typically used with wood furniture.
  • Heat also accelerates oxidation.
  • That's what makes metal rust and furniture finishes turn dark and eventually start to crack.
  • While you can't stop oxidation, you can slow it down by taking those antiques out of the hot attic and making sure furniture is not too close to radiators or heating vents.

Keep wood furniture out of sunlight

Light — especially direct sunlight, but indoor lighting, too — is your furniture finish's worst enemy. The ultraviolet rays break down the finish. Waxes and polishes do nothing to stop this deterioration — anything you can see through won't block light. This is a slow process, but it's worth slowing further if you have valuable pieces that you want to hand down in fine shape. Here are some tips:

• Keep the pieces out of direct sunlight by keeping drapes closed and keeping the furniture away from windows.

• Turn off lights when you are not using the room.

• Keep pieces covered when you can — use tablecloths and throw a sheet over the furniture when you go on vacation.

Do not cover with plastic

Never cover your tables with plastic pads for long periods. The plastic might stick to the finish.

Watch the humidity

  • Cold air can't hold moisture as warm air can, so cold winter air is naturally dry.
  • Your heating system warms dry air, increasing the air's ability to suck up moisture.
  • Unless you provide another source in the form of a humidifier, the moisture will come from your skin, your nasal passages, and your furniture.
  • This causes your nose to become irritated, your skin to itch, and your wood furniture to shrink, loosening its joinery and sometimes causing wood to split.
  • Hot summer air can hold lots of moisture, and unless you live in a very arid region, your wooden furniture will absorb moisture from the air, causing it to expand.
  • This is why drawers stick and table leaves warp.
  • In summer use an air conditioner, which will cool the air and make it give up its moisture before it's absorbed by your furniture.

Eliminate guesswork

  • If you own collectable antique furniture articles and want to preserve them, invest in an inexpensive hygrometer.
  • Use it, along with humidifiers or dehumidifiers, to keep the relative humidity in your home between 40 and 60 per cent.

Keep it level

  • If your floor is uneven or out of level, it could be putting undue strain on your furniture's joinery, consigning it to an early demise.
  • This is especially true for furniture that carries a heavy load, such as bookcases and china cabinets.
  • If you can rock the piece, that's bad news.
  • Otherwise, use a spirit level to make sure the piece isn't tilted. If it is, a shim under one side or under one or two legs should level it out and put the load back where it belongs.
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