If your wooden furniture is in need of more than just a thorough cleaning, you will need to determine whether you want to refinish the entire piece, or simply retouch sections of it. Here are some guidelines to help you fig­ure out which option is best.

Problems That Require Refinishing

Deep cracks and gouges that go down to the wood

Dark spots beneath the finish that show through

The finish is oily or sticky after a thorough cleaning

The finish has flaked off in large patches

You wish to change the color of the furniture


Problems That Can Be Fixed By Retouching

Shallow scratches or nicks in the finish

Cracking or crazing in the finish

Finish that has become discolored due to moisture.

Retouching can save a lot of time by eliminating the need to refinish the entire piece, but remember that it only works for restoring damage to the finish itself. If a scratch or crack is deep enough to penetrate the wood, then your furniture will need to be refinished.



For a finish that has been discolored by age, water damage, or prolonged exposure to humidity, lightly rub the surface of the wood with No. 0000 steel wool that has been dipped in a vegetable oil such as linseed oil. This acts as an abrasive that removes the dam­aged top layer of the finish. Rub lightly and evenly, so as not to cut through the finish entirely and down to the wood. Once the blushing is removed, buff the sur­face with a hard furniture wax.

If your finish has minor scratches or cracks, you can avoid refinish­ing the entire piece by using a retouching process known as re-amalgamation. This is essentially a process whereby the original finish is turned back into a liquid, evenly redistributed over the wooden surface, and then allowed to dry. The chemicals used for re-amalgamation depend on the type of finish your furniture has, so re­search this ahead of time. This process will only work on shellac or lacquer finishes – not on varnish.


If the damage is too deep to be repaired via retouching, refinishing will be necessary. You will first have to remove the old one with a chemical stripper. The stripper should be applied with a natural bristle brush, as the chemicals will dissolve synthetic bristles. When working with chemi­cals, wear gloves and goggles, and work outside if pos­sible to avoid overexposure to strong fumes.

After the original finish has been stripped, sand the wood lightly. This will remove any remaining finish as well as ensure a smooth and even surface for the new stain or paint.

The kind of stain you can use will vary depending on the type of wood you’re working with, so it is important to ensure that the two are compatible. In addition to researching this information ahead of time, it’s a good idea to test your wood stain on a small, inconspicuous area to see how it will look.

If you intend to paint your wooden furniture rather than stain it, it is best to use a glossy oil paint, as other types of paint will not adhere properly to the wood surface.

© Alycia Hartzell. Alycia Hartzell is a writer for Domestic Modern and a design professional in both residential and commercial interior design. www.domesticmodern.com

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