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Caring For Wood Finishes

We are often asked how newly refinished items should be cared for. As a general answer, dusting with a damp cloth should be all that is needed. If there is a food spill, a weak solution of a hand dishwashing soap or Murphy's Oil Soap or some similar mild cleaner can be used. That's it!

But what about...


Polishes are useful for removing dust (like any dampened cloth will). They also create a shiny surface which makes pieces look nice. However, the liquids that create the shine are slowly evaporating chemicals which will collect dust while they evaporate. What is left after repeated polishing is an accumulation of dust on the surface which is often sticky and also darkens the appearance. Depending on the quality of the finish and the chemical interaction between the finish and the polish, repeated polishing can also soften the finish making it easily damaged. Two undesirable results may be realized. First, we have had items come in to be refinished that when cleaned revealed the original intact finish underneath the grime. Weekly polishing was the culprit. These people had lived for years with a darkened, dirty looking piece that was polished each week but with each polishing got worse. Second, we have had other items come in with sticky, grimy surfaces, that when cleaned of the grime, were cleaned of finish as well. Again, routine polishing had been the norm. The chemical interaction of polish and finish had degraded the finish to the point where it was no longer bonding to the wood surface. Our advice? View polishing as an emergency measure to be taken only when that feared relative is just about to walk in the door.


These are materials which typically combine a dissolving solvent, like Toluene, to smooth minor scratches, with oils, to penetrate and give shine, and usually also with some colorant, to darken raw sections to blend with the finished wood. Restorers are widely used by antique dealers to improve the appearance of a piece to make it more salable. Like polishes, these can create problems if used routinely. Use them rarely if you need to use them at all. Further, toluene will act as a remover with many water-based and shellac finishes, causing the finish to wrinkle--or worse. Be sure to do a test on an inconspicuous area before treating the entire item.

Lemon Oil?

Lemon oil is often sold as a product which "feeds" wood. When items have a surface coating finish, the lemon oil does not even penetrate into the wood. Rather it sits on the coating surface, looks and smells nice, but accumulates a layer of dust just as any other polish will. Where lemon oil is valuable is when an item was originally finished with a penetrating oil finish only--such as raw linseed oil. Such a finish takes a long time (up to years) to harden and then has penetrated so far into the wood that the outside surface will dry out. Periodically re-oiling with lemon oil wets the surface so that it no longer appears dry. This will also help (slightly) prevent some of the cracking and shrinking which can result when the wood is not protected from atmospheric moisture changes. Some lemon oils are formulated with toluene, so if you really must use it on your finished wood surfaces, be sure to test first.


Many refinishers urge their customers not to use Pledge or similar products. The fear is silicone contamination. This link will take you to a site which offers what are believed to be the chemical components of Pledge and what job each chemical does in the mix. The reason refinishers urge against any products containing silicone is that if silicone gets into the wood it can cause cratering (fish eye) in a new finish. We don't share this concern. The water based products we use do not react the same way as solvent based finishes. While we think the simplest approach to cleaning and care is best, we don't discourage occasional dusting with Pledge. Pledge will leave a slick surface which dust will not stick to. Of the options listed so far, Pledge is the best! If you still feel uncomfortable about using Pledge, Endust does a similar job without silicones.


While we don't believe you need to do anything other than damp dust your newly refinished furniture, if you want to do something, we believe waxing is the best choice. As smooth as a new finish might feel, it is still a magnet for dust and dust doesn't slip off, it sticks. Pledge and Endust apply a slick surface which dust will not stick to but offer no protection to the finished surface. Wax has the advantage of creating a much slicker surface than the finish itself, so dust does not stick, plus it adds a layer of protection. The protective wax layer will receive all the minor surface scuffing, not the finished surface. The waxed layer can be reapplied as needed or removed before re-waxing if preferred. Some purists insist that beeswax is the only wax that should be used on genuine antiques. We won't argue with them, it works just fine. However, beeswax is one of the softer waxes, so if the item will get a lot of scuffing, a harder wax will hold up longer. On the other hand, you will not be dancing on your table top, so a very hard wax like carnauba is over kill. The most expensive wax we know of, and the best in our opinion, is Liberon's Black Bison Wax. Liberon offers both a beeswax version and a blended version so you can have it either way and still be confident that you have the highest quality wax to work with. Black Bison wax is widely regarded as the crème de la crème of paste waxes. In addition to the blend of waxes used in Black Bison, the liquifying solvents used are very high grade. The advantage this gives is that Black Bison waxes do not exude an offensive odor and they will not attack and damage the finish they are applied on top of. These waxes also have the advantage of being offered with various pigment colorants, so that accumulations of wax in scratches or natural wood pores will look an appropriate color. If you have favorite wax other than Black Bison and you feel like it is working for you, great! Every wax formulation will ultimately accomplish a similar effect in protecting a wood finish.


Glass will definitely protect a finish. The little plastic discs used to float the glass can damage the finish. It is best to simply lay the glass directly on the surface. As long as the finish is fully cured beforehand there should be no problem with glass laying directly on the finish.

Table Pads?

Table pads are another good way to protect a finish if you expect to regularly use the table or sideboard for other activities. They are certainly easier to remove than glass for that occasion when you want the surface of your furniture to be seen in all its glory. If this is a protection you desire for your table, this is a link for a good brand of table pad.


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