Furniture Tips and Tricks


As an introduction, a few words about the author of this column. While I now do furniture repair and refinishing only as a hobby and for a "sideline" income, I worked at it full-time for a number of years, both in furniture stores that had their own shops, as well as establishments whose sole business was to repair and refinish furniture. I make no claim to being an authority on furniture periods or styles, but I do know a little about furniture work, which I’ll try to pass on in these columns. I have learned over the years there’s a lot of mystery associated with furniture repair and refinishing (probably promoted by those in the business!) that needn’t be. Hopefully, some of the "tips and tricks" you read here will bolster your enthusiasm for what can be a very rewarding and productive hobby. If you have any specific questions, address them to me at the Enterprise, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and I will answer. If your question has enough general appeal, I’ll use it in this column.

Unless your home has recently been entirely refurnished, you’ve probably got at least one piece that has a "watermark" that ugly white blotch left from water standing on the surface too long before it was wiped up. It may be just a few dots, or a ring left by a glass or planter. If the mark is white there’s good news (Black watermarks are another problem we’ll deal with later).

To fix 1 piece of furniture, or 15, you’ll have to spend about $10.00. You’ll need 0000 (called four oh) steel wool; Turtle Wax polish and Scratch remover for cars (This product has a very fine abrasive mixed in with the wax which will let you get a super shine.); some clean rags, and some oil. Whatever oil you cook with will work, Puritan, Wesson, etc. makes no difference.

Pour about 1 teaspoon of oil directly on the watermark. It should fade considerably and may disappear. Don’t be deceived, it’s still there. Rub the mark gently with the steel wool, moving with the grain of the wood, not across. After a minute of this procedure, wipe it clean to see how much of the mark you have removed. Repeat this procedure, using as little pressure as necessary to scratch the surface, until the mark is gone. Apply the Turtle Wax according to the directions on the can. This will remove the abrasion marks left by the steel wool You’ll have to do the entire surface in order to get a uniform sheen, so be ready for some work when you start to remove that mark on the dining room table!

On a large piece, there’s a lot of "elbow grease" involved, but not a lot of expense. There are other products that will work as well as Turtle Wax, but that’s the one I use. Just be sure it’s not a polishing or rubbing compound. Those products have an abrasive grit that’s much too rough for furniture finish work.

A little background: 99% of factory made furniture is finished with lacquer, which will absorb standing water, and in some cases of constant high humidity, directly from the air! The white marks are caused by water that has become trapped in the finish. The procedure described above simply removes the very top layer of finish, getting rid of the water(mark).

See you next time.


George Utley has about 20 years experience in furniture
repair/refinishing/manufacturing. His last full-time job in the industry was
as quality control supervisor for a Virginia mfg. producing solid walnut and
cherry period pieces (Queen Anne & Hepplewhite).

George Utley