Repair Blemished Furniture
Our Aunt Edith – may she rest in peace – was an expert when it came to acquiring and holding on to fine home furnishings. Financially, she and Uncle Bert – may he also rest in peace – were very well off, but relatively speaking, lived modestly for the degree of financial success that they had achieved during their lives. Aunt Edith bought wisely and always seemed to strive for the very finest level of quality. Except nylons – she always bought cheap nylons. As we recall she bought them by the dozens. She insisted that it was least expensive in the long run. Anyway, when Bert’s brother Vince died Bert and Edith became the proud new owners of a larger dining room set and brother Morris proudly accepted their old dining room table and chairs that Uncle Bert and Aunt Edith had purchased as newly weds 35 years earlier. The table was a masterpiece as were the six matching chairs. The tabletop was five-quarter-thick solid oak and was in excellent condition. The baroque design was unique, and, except for stain wear at the edges, every piece looked factory fresh.
Several years passed and sometime just after the set’s 45th birthday the grand old heirloom finally began to show signs of use. Yep, an appointment was made for a visit to the refinisher. A modest sanding and new coats of stain and varnish resulted in a set that was more beautiful than ever. The nice thing about that piece of furniture and others made of solid wood is that they can be sanded, repaired, restained and varnished and can be kept looking new for – literally – hundreds of years.
But not all of our furniture is solid wood or as easy to maintain. Veneered furniture, laminate covered furniture and furniture with a photo-finished surface preclude one from periodic overhauls like the one we did with our Aunt Edith’s table. But, with a little patience most furniture can be become an heirloom if properly cared for and maintained. And that’s what we will be discussing here.
One of the major reasons for replacing anything in the home is “that worn out look”. We all know about that one don’t we? “I’m tired of that chair [or whatever] – it’s scratched and the varnish is wearing off.” Sound familiar?
Often scratched furniture can be repaired with nothing more than plain old coffee. No kidding! And you don’t have to worry about getting burned because the coffee can be used cold. All you have to do is dip a soft clean cloth into a cup of black coffee and wipe it onto the scratched surface. Suddenly light scratches on medium toned furniture will simply disappear. Of course, this depends on how hard the wood is, what color the existing stain is and – hee hee – how strong the coffee is. For darker wood Old English furniture polish is great for scratches. When you look at the bottle it appears so dark brown in color that it almost looks black. It actually contains a dark colored ingredient that masks lightly scratched dark wood and hides imperfections beautifully. But sometimes, dark colored polish just isn’t enough. However, that’s O.K. because we have more.
The previously mentioned techniques and the methods to follow normally won’t work if a coat of wax resides on the surface to be repaired. Turpentine or commercial furniture cleaner (not polish or wax) should be used to clean the surface BEFORE attempting to mask any scratch. And please, use caution; turpentine should be used in a well-ventilated area. The aroma is less than pleasant, to say the least, but usually disappears pretty quickly.
More obvious scratches can be repaired with a wax pencil. Wax pencils are available in about every color imaginable. If a piece of the furniture to be repaired can be taken to the store color matching can end up being a breeze. Liquid touch-up kits also are available. And don’t forget, if you are artistic you can purchase artists brushes and custom mix colors that can be painted onto the surface and protected with a light coat of clear polyurethane spray. Paints and stains can be mixed with drawing pens to achieve an unusually realistic match. This technique known as faux finishing is especially handy when using putty to patch larger tears and gouges.
Small dents can be easily repaired. Simply place a drop of water in the dent, cover it with a towel and apply heat with a clothes iron set to medium. The iron will turn the droplet to steam and will moisten the dent and within 15-seconds the dent will pop up and disappear. Caution: this repair only works on dents. It does not work on tears or gouges where the fibers of the wood have been torn.
Remember: when you are repairing furniture and want to remove a small area of the finish keep in mind that 400 to 600 grit sandpaper is best suited for such a task. Sandpaper that is any more course than the ones suggested can leave deep, ugly scratches.
Crazing, alligatoring or crackling (a finish that contains a pattern of fine cracks) also can be repaired. But this is a tougher task that we don’t recommend to the light of heart.
There are three common finishes that will alligator: shellac, lacquer and varnish. The three are quite different. To find out which is which start by applying denatured alcohol. If the finish is shellac then denatured alcohol will dissolve it. If the surface is lacquer the alcohol will slowly soften (not dissolve) the lacquered finish. Next, try the lacquer thinner. It will dissolve a lacquered surface and slowly soften a shellacked surface. Since each solvent causes the non-matching finish to soften and swell test in an obscure area first. In contact with varnish either solvent will cause swelling. For varnish a very light sanding and a new coat of varnish will mask alligatoring.
Shellacked and lacquered surfaces don’t have to be sanded or recoated. Alligatoring can be repaired with a technique known as amalgamation. Here an artist’s paintbrush is used to carefully apply the appropriate solvent (alcohol to shellac and lacquer thinner to lacquer) to the crack lines until the finish softens and fills the cracks. Let the finish harden overnight then buff with paste wax.
Do you think Aunt Edith would have given us that table had she known it could have been maintained so easily?