Is your furniture looking a little shabby with all those little scratches and dings? You know, the vacuum cleaner bumps here and there, and the Hot Wheels hit-and-runs? Not to worry. We'll show you simple touch-up techniques that will make these minor eyesores disappear quickly and painlessly.
We're not talking about refinishing or even repairing here, which are different games altogether. This is about hiding flaws so only you will know they're there.
The procedures and materials shown in this article won't damage the original finish on your furniture if it was made in the last 50 years.
However, if the piece of furniture you're touching up is very old, or an antique, it may have a shellac finish. With shellac, you shouldn't attempt the scratch removal process. And if the piece is an antique, think twice about doing any touch-up, which could actually devalue it.
You can test for a shellac finish with a few drops of alcohol in an out-of-sight spot. Alcohol will dissolve shellac.
Think safety: Even though all the fluids and sprays we show here are everyday hardware-store products, most are both flammable and toxic. Read and follow the directions on the label. Don't use them in a room where there's a pilot light, or near open flames or in an unventilated space. If you'll be doing anything more than a few quick passes with the sprays shown here, work outdoors and wear a respirator mask with organic cartridges. And if you're pregnant, stay away from these materials altogether.
Clean dirty, greasy, gummy surfaces
The results of a simple surface cleaning with mineral spirits may amaze you. Polish buildup and the dirt embedded in it muddy the finish but will wipe away. Don't use stronger solvents; they might dissolve the finish itself.
Fill in gouges with colored putty sticks, sold at most hardware stores and home centers. This putty works well for small holes and nicks but is somewhat trickier to use as a fill for larger damage like we show here. Unlike hardening putties, it remains soft and somewhat flexible, so you have to shape it carefully. And it won't hold up under heavy wear.
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Wipe away scratches and recoat the surface
You can buff out fine scratches using very fine (0000) steel wool saturated with clear Danish oil. (You can also use ultra-fine automotive rubbing compound.) The process shown here only works for scratches in the finish itself, not scratches that are all the way into the stain or the wood.
Rags and steel wool saturated with danish oil can spontaneously combust if left bunched up. Dry them outdoors, spread out loosely, when the oil has dried, you can safely throw the rags and steel wool in the trash.