An Introduction To The Proper Care of Wood Finishes

In my days as a restorer of fine antiques I was called on by a most notable collector of Elizabethan Art and Antiquities.  He sent me a photo of one of his prized furniture pieces and wanted to know how I would care for it.  It had a primitive look to it.  Not much visible finish to speak of; Perhaps a bit of oil and some old wax applied some time back.  I told him I would simply wash it with a very mild soap and warm water taking care to dry it and leave it as is.  Removing the finish or messing with other products would diminish its value.  When he heard the answer and it met with his approval he invited me to speak at a symposium at the local cultural center as an expert in wood restoration  I had been tested... and passed! 

My days restoring antiques are behind me but knowing what methods and products to use on what finishes remains just as important with newer architectural woodwork as it is for fine antiques.  Using products that build up, permeate, or soften a modern finish can lead to massive expense to rectify the problem.  Remember that a fine antique might be worth several thousand dollars but contemporary millwork in an office suite might be worth ten times that! 

The other problem facing the investment made in quality millwork is the lack of knowledge among the average office maintenance department when it comes to the products and process they use on what finish! And how would you know what finish you have to begin with?  Is it polyester, lacquer, polyurethane, varnish, oil, shellac, or just a wash coat of wax?  Is it water based, solvent based or catalyzed; and what does it mean when driers are added to a finish?  Is it a matte finish, semi-gloss, or high shine? Is it closed pore, is it a hard wood, soft wood or an oily wood like teak and why is that important?  

If all this confuses you, you are not alone. Call us and we'll sort it out for you.  But in the mean time, there is a general method we recommend for the general care of most wood finishes.  There is a family of furniture polishes known as cream polishes.  Most notable are Guardsman, OZ, or the most well known: Pledge.  Pledge you say?  I bet you heard somewhere that would damage a finish!  Long ago it would.  Long ago when most finished were varnish and the silicones in Pledge and other cream polished would meld with the varnish and ruin them.  Those days are pretty much over. 

The most important thing to know when using these cream polishes is to use them properly.  They are not made to be spread on a piece of wood, wiped around and left.  Use them as described below and you'll see the difference. 

.1) Wet a small soft cloth and wring it out: old tee shirts work best                                                     .2) Apply the polish with a dry cloth using a circular motion                                                                   .3) Using the damp cloth move and remove the polish around covering all areas                                .4) Follow with a clean, dry, soft cloth to remove whatever residue is left.  This is when the polishing occurs. Leaving polish on the surface will only cause build up.

That's it for now! Send and e-mail if you have any questions. I've been at this more than forty years!  I may have forgotten what you want to know but I bet I remember with a bit of prodding! 

Check back for future blogs... You'll learn something I promise!