Fixing wood finishes

One type of repair we sometimes get asked about is how to restore wooden furniture. Parts might be loose or broken, but most often the problem is some sind of mark in the finish, such as a scratch or a ring left by a cup or glass. There are various ways of dealing with these marks and a successful repair often hinges on choosing the right method for that particular case.

The finish on furniture can be many different things, all of which respond differently to treatment. Also the wood itself might be hardwood, softwood or engineered alternatives such as chipboard or ply.

Chipboard usually has some kind of surface applied to it to make it look like a natural wooden board. If you’re lucky the surface will be a thin veneer of natural wood, but modern furniture can have a paper or plastic overlay with a wooden design printed onto it.

The photo above shows a shelf from a 1960’s sideboard. Although it looked like real wood at first glance, it’s actually chipboard with a wood veneer. The problem was a lot of white ring marks, left by wet cups or glasses. These marks were most likely caused by water, but some ring marks, especially on tables, can be caused by alcohol eating away the polished surface.

As I wasn’t sure what caused these marks, I decided to sand down the surface and start again. This is quite easy with solid wood, but with chipboard you have to be very careful not to destroy the thin surface veneer.

Once the shelf was sanded, it was time to apply a new finish. You could wax it or even French Polish it. However as it’s not a particularly valuable piece and it needed to be functional and water proof, I simply painted it with a high gloss yacht varnish. Most of this will soak in during the first coat, but a very light sanding once dry and then a second coat will give a beautiful shiny finish which is almost impossible to achieve any other way.

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