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Fast Furniture Fixes

Make those nicks and scratches in your furniture go away with just a few minutes' work. We'll show you the tricks and techniques that make problems disappear, no matter how old or new they are, without damaging the wood. The fixes are fast, easy and don't cost a lot of money. So stop dealing with those eyesores and let's get to work.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Hiding flaws

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.

Patch gouges

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

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.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Rags
Rubber gloves
Respirator mask

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • 0000 steel wool
    • Danish oil finish
    • Mineral spirits
    • Clear lacquer
    • Shellac (spray)
    • Putty sticks
    • Fine-tip permanent marker
    • Permanent-ink felt-tip marker

Comments from DIY Community Members

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October 20, 10:32 PM [GMT -5]

The methods discussed in the repair is a reasonable way to do a temp fix, but to do a fix that will last for ever you really need to use lacqure sticks and blending powder. This is not something anyone can do, you do need to learn the process. Try to find someone that does spot finishing/repair work for furniture. I do some of this and can make nicks, dents, burns, water rings and much look as though they never happened.


October 20, 9:07 PM [GMT -5]

I need advice on how to remove wax from my family's china buffet. A red candle was set directly on the wood and the red soaked into the wood. Will any of these techniques work on this problem?


October 18, 7:37 PM [GMT -5]

I have also had luck in the past by putting a cup of water upside down over a gouge in the top of a piece of furniture. The water in some cases will cause the wood underneath to swell up and fill the gouge. Then you can finish the former gouge to match. Try this at your own risk!

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