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Basic Care Instructions #10: Wood

 

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BASIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS #10: Wood

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This is the 10th in a series of newsletters on common care instructions for domestic items and materials most often seen in antiques and vintage textiles, including but not limited to housewares and clothing. I hope this care information is helpful to you

You may well know a lot more about the care of domestic items than I can tell you here, but it's nice to have all this information in one place. So at the risk of boring you, this newsletter goes into some detail.

This newsletter covers techniques for polishing wood, and simple wood restoration. The information here is basic information relevant to all wood. Future issues will cover  cotton and silk knits, outerwear, sweaters, shoes, trousers, jackets, fine leather goods, and lingerie. 

See our issue BASIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS #1 for information on how to read care labels you may find on vintage fabrics (and you should follow them if you do find them!). All previous newsletters in the series can be found in our library and in the newsletter archives.  

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Many people forgo buying wood because they think caring for it is a lot of work. While it's true that for wood furniture to last and stay in  attractive condition, it must be cared for, in fact the care is far simpler than you might think.  Below are tips for caring for wood furniture and wood products you have at home.

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I could write an encyclopedia on maintaining and repairing wood,  but I'll keep it short, simple and practical here. 

First, most over-the-counter furniture and wood polishes are composed of some combination of olive or similar oil, lemon, water, sometimes vinegar, and sometimes beeswax. For most wood, this is overkill; you just don't need it. 

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What's far more important is to determine how wet or dry the wood is while it's in your environment, and how much this wetness or dryness will vary during your local seasons. This determination will tell you how much the wood will swell and contract over time in your environment. That fact, plus the thickness, and whether or not the wood has a finish on it, are what determine how you should care for it.

 

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Make your own "Basic Wood Re-hydrating Polish".

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Experiment with a ratio of two to one: two of olive oil to one of fresh squeezed lemon juice. Shake, and spray the mixture directly onto the wood using a new spray bottle, then wipe or buff dry. You can also experiment with adding some water to the mixture.  This can be kept in the fridge, but should be brought to room temperature and shaken well before use. It's best to make up just the amount you need each time, as oil can go rancid. That's why I've given you the ratio and not a fixed recipe amount. 

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Now any shelf-stable liquid oil can be substituted, but olive oil gives the best results by far. And by "fresh squeezed" I mean squeeze it yourself and don't expect bottled to do much of anything except cost you money.

 

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1. Dust First.

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This is simple: keep your wood free of dust, and dust it clean before doing anything with it or to it. 

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2. Use Plain Soap & Water on Finished Wood


If your wood already has a nice finish, use simple soap and water to clean it. Warm water and dish soap will likely do the trick.Water will not hurt finished wood unless you absolutely soak the wood in the water.  Use a soft cloth or a paper towel to wipe off the dirt and then use another to dry it off.


 ** NEVER leave wooden utensils soaking in water in your sink! **

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3. Use Cornstarch For Cleaning Polished Wood.


For polished wood, you don’t always have to re-polish it to clean it again. If you want to remove some finger prints, for example, try cornstarch. Just sprinkle it over the surface and then rub it in until it produces a glossy surface free of prints.


4. You can use dry bleach cleanser on Latex-painted wood.


Example: your guest puts their coffee cup down on your white latex painted wood window ledge, and their cup leaves a brown ring. Try Ajax or Comet, which both contain powdered bleach. Just sprinkle a little bit of the powdered cleanser over the stain, then rub it with a wet paper towel until the stain comes out; this should leave the surface glossy and free of the stain. 

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5. Wax For Shine


If you want to give your authentic wood furniture a nice glossy shine, apply some wax. Most of the better commercial furniture waxes contain beeswax and oil, such as olive oil. Some may also contain silicone for waterproofing, scented oils, and / or lemon juice.  You can purchase some wax specifically designed for your kind of wood furniture from your local home improvement store.

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You can also make up a simple wax protector at home by simply melting beeswax and olive oil together (coconut oil will also do in a pinch!) in a one to one ratio (equal amounts of wax and oil). Let the ingredients harden as their temperature cools down. 

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When hard and at room temperature, apply the mixture directly to the wood.  A little goes a LONG way, so start with A LITTLE amount, and wipe or buff in the direction of the wood grain as you go.  Applying the wax oil mixture will give the wood a layer of protection from things like stains and dust. It will also create an attractive glossy sheen. This can be kept in the fridge, but should be brought to room temperature and shaken well before use. It's best to make up just the amount you need each time, as oil can go rancid. 
 

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6. Be More Careful with Painted Wood


Unfortunately, you cannot care for painted wood in the same way. Certain waxes and polishes when applied to paint will damage it. You may end up with the color being ruined. If wax is used, you should only apply hard paste wax once a year. To clean painted wood, you're better off sticking to only dusting and vacuuming it. A mildly damp sponge can remove smudges safely.
 

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7. Use Oil for Oiled Woods, Not Wax


Some woods are only finished with a layer of oil, and that provides a nice soft glow. If this is the case, all you have to do to take care of it is to reapply furniture oil you can find in any home improvement store. As custom furniture designers, we  advise against applying wax to oiled wood furniture as it can block the pores in the wood and cause it to dry out. Only use wax on un-oiled furniture; all other pieces should be oiled for cleaning.

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8. A Quick Word Regarding Scratches


First be sure the wood is in fact scratched; a scratch may not be as deep as it looks. The scratch might actually just be to the finish, or to the wax buildup on the wood, and not to the actual wood itself. If this is the case, you're in luck and it's a relatively easy fix. Sometimes the scratch can be removed or made less noticeable just by applying a little oil to it, or by cleaning off the old wax using a small piece of fine sand paper, or coloring in the scratch with a similar-colored wax crayon. I've used the Zenith Tibet Almond Stick product for over 50 years; it's very handy and it works. For lemon oil I've not made myself, my favorite brand is Holloway Lemon Oil.

You can fill wood easily using wax. Smaller scratches, holes, or other small areas can be filled with wax. I use crayola crayons when I want a similar color, but any similar wax will do, and you can buy "wood colored" wax crayons at hardware stores.  Just fill the area with wax, and press it down, using the warmth from your fingers against the back of a metal spoon or razor blade. Then leave it alone.  Wax and wood get along! 
 

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Other fillers for wood scratches include, but aren't limited to coffee grounds, cigar ash, and fireplace ash mixed with a little water. Note that these "fillers" are all carbonized versions of what was a natural fiber product.

Wax buildup on light wood can be removed or at least dislodged using a water and white vinegar solution, equal amounts water and vinegar. Spray in the direction of the wood grain, wipe immediately and then immediately rinse with another clean cloth dipped in water; don't let this sit on the wood!

You can stain small areas with brewed tea and this can also dislodge old wax buildup; just be sure you brew the tea thoroughly using black tea leaves so there is enough tannic acid produced. Apply the tea to the wood following the grain of the wood, and wipe it off with a damp cloth then buff dry.

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9. Bowing Wood & Dented Wood


Bowing or dents in wood are another story.  Serious bowing may need repeated steamings with tension. 

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Some dents can be relieved using these instructions; you'll need a thick 100% cotton towel and a hot iron:


1.Wet and ring out a thick 100% cotton towel and place it over the dent. Don't use a synthetic fiber towel!
3. Run a hot iron constantly over the dent for 30 seconds,  then rewet the cloth and repeat.
4. If the dent remains, wait 24 hours for the wood to adjust, and then repeat.


This often needs repeating; it may not work the first time and it won't work if you're impatient. With time, the wood grain will loosen, expand, and readjust itself. I have fixed badly peeling elaborate inlay and parquet with only clamps for pressure, no steam and no glue, using only TIME, PATIENCE, and carefully placed CONSISTENT PRESSURE. 

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10. What you should know ABOUT VINEGAR,  BEFORE YOU USE IT or add it to the formulas above.

Vinegar has been made and used by people for thousands of years.

Vinegar is a mild acid as a liquid consisting of about 5–20% acetic acid (CH3COOH), water, and other trace chemicals. So-called "Distilled Vinegar" isn't produced by distillation but by fermentation of distilled alcohol. The fermentate is diluted to produce a colorless solution of 5% to 8% acetic acid in water, with a pH of about 2.6. It's variously known as distilled spirit, "virgin" vinegar,  or white vinegar. Most commercial vinegar solutions available to consumers for household use do not exceed 5%. Solutions above 10% require careful handling, as they are corrosive and damaging to the skin.
 

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The conversion of ethanol (CH3CH2OH) and oxygen (O2) to acetic acid (CH3COOH) takes place by the following reaction:
CH3CH2OH + O2 → CH3COOH + H2O


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Wikipedia state (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinegar): "The active ingredient in vinegar, acetic acid, can effectively kill mycobacteria, as tested against drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria as well as other mycobacteria.Vinegar is not effective against lice. Combined with 60% salicylic acid, it is significantly more effective than placebo for the treatment of warts. White vinegar is often used as a household cleaning agent. Because it's acidic, it can dissolve mineral deposits from glass, coffee makers, and other smooth surfaces. For most uses, dilution with water is recommended for safety and to avoid damaging the surfaces being cleaned. Vinegar is an excellent solvent for cleaning epoxy resin and hardener, even after the epoxy has begun to harden. Malt vinegar sprinkled onto crumpled newspaper is a traditional, and still-popular, method of cleaning grease-smeared windows and mirrors in the United Kingdom. Vinegar can be used for polishing brass or bronze. Vinegar is widely known as an effective cleaner of stainless steel and glass. Vinegar has been reputed to have strong antibacterial properties. One test by Good Housekeeping's microbiologist found that 5% vinegar is 90% effective against mold and 99.9% effective against bacteria, though another study showed that vinegar is less effective than Clorox and Lysol against poliovirus. In modern times, experts have advised against using vinegar as a household disinfectant against human pathogens, as it is less effective than chemical disinfectants. Vinegar is ideal for washing produce because it breaks down the wax coating and kills bacteria and mold. The editors of Cook's Illustrated found vinegar to be the most effective and safest way to wash fruits and vegetables, beating antibacterial soap, water and just a scrub brush in removing bacteria. Vinegar has been marketed as an environmentally-friendly solution for many household cleaning problems. For example, vinegar has been cited recently as an eco-friendly urine cleaner for pets. Vinegar is effective in removing clogs from drains, polishing silver, copper and brass as well as ungluing sticker-type price tags. Vinegar is one of the best ways to restore colour to upholstery like curtains and carpet. Vinegar also can help remove wallpaper. If the paper is coated with a mixture of vinegar and boiling water, it breaks down the glue for easy removal."

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Overall, do your research so you don’t damage the wood. Each variety of wood furniture needs to be cared for differently. There is no one fits all approach to cleaning wood.
 

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I sign these newsletters "See Into The Invisible". Thanks for reading.

Best Wishes, 
Debra Spencer

All Content is © Debra Spencer, Suit Yourself™ International. Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.
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All Content is ©2019 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at www.suityourself.international Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.

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All Content is ©2019 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at www.suityourself.international Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.
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