How to Determine Your Furniture's Finish

Wood furniture is the most common decor you can find in the average home. Wood furniture is often passed down through generations from one family member to another.

The stately nature of wood furniture also makes it a popular addition to almost every type of design scheme imaginable. However, it also requires a certain level of care that isn't necessary with synthetic or metallic furniture. It is very important to know what type of finish is already on your furniture before you attempt to fix any minor imperfections or try to refinish it.

Older furniture was often finished with a mixture of linseed oil and various chemicals. It was a basic finishing solution that was only meant to repel miniscule amounts of water. Furniture older than 50 years may still be refinished using this mixture. You should not redo this type of finish yourself unless you don't care about its value as an antique.

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Newer furniture is often finished with a polyurethane coating. Polyurethane is an inexpensive and durable finish that can take a lot of abuse before requiring refinishing. Oil-based finishes are sometimes used on more expensive furniture.

How to Make Minor Furniture Repairs

Over time, all furniture suffers wear and tear damage. Common issues include water rings, stains, sctratches and scuffs.

Water spots or rings

Water rings are one of the most common blemishes found on furniture. These spots are often caused by cold drinks left sitting for too long on wooden surfaces. Water condensation from the surface of a cold glass will seep into the finish and create the white rings you see. The rings themselves are simply waterlogged wood.

One method of eliminating a water ring is by applying heat, which will cause the water that is soaking the finish to evaporate, thereby eliminating the ring entirely.

You can use a hair dryer to heat the surface of the wood and catalyze the evaporation of the water, or place a cloth over the ring and use an iron to heat the water out of the stain.

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Scuffs and scrapes

Scuffs and scrapes can be fixed if they aren't very deep. There are a number of restoration products that can be used to buff out scrapes and scratches to make them completely disappear. 

You will need to clean the surface surrounding the blemish and gently buff the restorative onto it.

Afterward, you should buff the surface again with a dry towel to remove any remaining chemical. Set the piece in a cool, dry spot for a day to let the restorative cure.

How to Completely Refinish Your Furniture

Sometimes, the finish on your furniture will be too worn down for sanding to have any real effect. This requires a complete refinishing of the item.

Strip the finish
You will need to remove any remnants of the previous finish from your furniture. Take your piece outside and use sandpaper to get the finish off. If it's a larger piece, consider using a power sander. Sand the surface until it feels smooth to the touch.

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Apply the finish
The finish should be applied evenly using either a sponge, rag or very fine bristled brush. The finish should be allowed to set overnight. If you want to ensure that you have a completely impermeable finish, you can apply a second coating of finish to your furniture.

How to Hire a Refinishing Expert

The services of a professional refinishing expert can come in handy for many different situations.

The type of refinishing expert you contact will depend entirely on the type of refinishing job you need.

If the piece is a valuable antique, any refinishing would need to follow established procedures to maintain the collectible value of the antique — essentially restoring it with the same type of finish it had originally.  Not all refinishing experts are not experienced with refinishing antiques, so if it's a valuable antique seek out someone with the appropriate experience.

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If the piece is old, but not a high-value antique, you may be able to refinish it yourself — though this is a time-consuming process and if you do a poor job it will be evident.  In addition to their advanced skills, refinishing experts will have specialized equipment at their disposal and access to a large space for working.

Buying furniture

Before walking into a showroom and purchasing new furniture, take the time to consider the fabric, your lifestyle needs and care. Also, don't forget to take measurements.

For more information, read Angie's List Guide to Buying Furniture.

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