Photo 1: Use a felt-tip marker to hide scratches
Hide scratches with permanent-ink felt-tip markers. You can either use the furniture touch-up markers available at hardware stores and home centers, or, to get an exact match, buy markers at an art supply store that carries an array of colors (check the Yellow Pages). For thorough coverage, you may need to dab the ink onto the scratch, let it dry, then even out the color by stroking lightly across it with the tip. Keep in mind that colors tend to darken when they soak into wood fibers.
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.
Photo 1: Mix putty together to get the desired color
Buy several sticks of putty similar to the color of the stain you want to match. Scrape flakes from each, then mix and knead them with your fingertips until the color is right. The heat from your fingers also softens the putty for easy application. Make the patch slightly darker than the furniture; lighter will be more obvious.
Photo 4: Apply shellac
Spray the patch with two or three quick passes of shellac, then after it dries, a few quick passes of spray lacquer—either high gloss or satin, depending on your furniture's finish. Never apply lacquer or polyurethane/varnish directly over a putty patch; it will leave a permanently soft mess. Shellac will harden; however, the patch will remain somewhat pliable under the finish, so don't attempt this on a heavy-wear surface.
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.
Wipe away scratches and recoat the surface
Photo 1: Rub the wood with the grain
Pour a generous amount of clear or neutral Danish oil onto a very fine steel wool pad. Rub the surface with the oil-saturated pad using your flat hand. Rub with the grain, never against it or at an angle to it. Continue rubbing until you remove enough of the clear surface finish to eliminate the scratches, but be careful not to remove any of the stain below the clear finish. Rub not only the scratched area but also the area around it in gradually decreasing amounts. Be careful to rub edges or corners excessively; they wear through quickly.
Photo 2: Wipe off the oil
Wipe away all the Danish oil with rags or paper towels, then thoroughly clean the entire surface with mineral spirits several times to make sure all the oil is removed. If any oil remains, the lacquer (Photo 3) won't adhere. Allow the surface to dry overnight before applying lacquer.
Photo 3: Apply a clear lacquer
Spray the entire surface with clear lacquer. Move the spray can in one continuous, straight stroke, allowing the spray to extend beyond the edges in all directions. Wipe the nozzle with a rag after each stroke to prevent drips. Move with the grain, and make sure the angle of the spray remains the same all the way across. Keep the spray aimed away from other surfaces that you don't want coated, or mask them with newspaper.
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.