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How to Care For Your Wood

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Who needs Viagra to maintain wood when Colin and Justin's guide to getting the best from timber furniture is all you need?

Wood. A solid subject, certainly, and one which is dear to our hearts. We love its evolution, from seed to trunk, and the way that, in appreciative hands, it can last an eternity. Treated with disregard, however, wood will chip and crack, making you wish you'd cared for it properly when you still had it good.

Today, lumber love at the forefront of our thinking, we're turning our attentions to tables, chairs and storage trunks. Perhaps you've a console which has seen better days? Or a stool whose legs have become scratched or discoloured with the passage of time? Worry not; DIY improvement lies near.

There exist items, of course, which should not be the subject of DIY. Over zealous polishing of Granny's Chippendale chest, by way of example, could actually deflate market value. Limit your restorative dream to 'junktiques' (our name for affordable older kit with limited pedigree) and test treatments on a discreet area, at the rear or underside. Disclaimer complete. Moving on.

For those pesky jobs about which you worry, the following precis should make for useful reading. Observed correctly, in fact, our ten-point lumber low down will help make the best of your most problematic piece.
 
Fading
 
Furniture exposed to direct sunlight may take on a pale demeanour. This can amplify charm but, if the offending item is part of a set that's faded in a non-uniform manner (due to different levels of sun exposure) then not so much. To regain the original charm of an unvarnished, unstained item, it's easy. First, rub with a damp cloth to remove dust. Allow to dry, then rub in a little teak oil using a lint free cloth. To ensure oil is absorbed, set aside for 48 hours then repeat the process. When totally dry apply wax furniture polish on a lint free cloth and buff to a shine.
 
Candle wax
 
The faster wax is removed the better as, left untreated, the oil it contains will penetrate the grain of unvarnished wood. When the problem is older and 'set', remove excess with a blunt instrument, wipe with kitchen roll, apply a drop of white spirit with a 'lifting' motion then wipe clean with a barely damp cloth. Leave to dry, apply a little un tinted furniture oil and buff gently.
 
Ink
 
If the stain has permeated the grain then the problem, sadly, is grave. Professional help may be required to remove the mark and, in severe cases, it may be required to cut away a section and 'fillet' with a new piece of lumbar and then deal with invisibly merging new and old. As we said, however, this is a professional -- and often costly -- job.
 
For spills that are caught early, try the following. Mix equal quantities of lemon juice and salt to form a grainy paste. Apply with a cloth then remove with a damp sponge before repeating, if required. Applying a coat of shellac will help protect against further staining but bear in mind that ink is stubborn and will work its way into the surface of pretty much any finish you select.
 
Fat, grease or oil
 
A little white spirit on a cloth should lift most of these marks although retreating several times may be required. When all evidence has been removed, apply furniture wax and buff.
 
Coffee and tea
 
If spills are on varnished finishes, they should wash away easily but don't over wet surfaces with water as H2O itself is a potential problem for wood and its associated finishes. Scooping up with kitchen tissue, wiping with a damp cloth and then buffing with a polishing cloth should adequately contain the problem.
 
If staining affects untreated timber, try the following remedy. Apply a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water and rub into the grain using a toothbrush. The mark should eventually fade but you may have to repeat the process (rinsing between each application) several times.
 
Scratches in dark finishes
 
This is a quick fix tip we learned from a UK prop master when filming one of our TV shows at Pinewood Studios in the UK. If your wood has surface imperfections or scratches, these can be 'minimised' by applying a paste made from instant coffee granules and water. The tincture should be applied on a cloth and worked gently into the problem. Excess should be removed on a damp cloth and, when dry, the wood should be polished with clear wax.
 
Removing cup rings
 
Cup rings will fade courtesy of the following tip. Mix potato flour with white vinegar to create a viscous paste. Rub into the ring and leave overnight. Remove with a damp cloth, dry with tissue and buff with furniture wax. From our experience this practise may not completely remove the hellish hoop, but it's a means, certainly, with which to minimise problematic visuals.
 
Latex
 
If attempting to clean dry latex paint, chip away excess then wash with a damp sponge. A little methylated spirit, applied on a clean cloth, should remove residue but ensure you don't create a new problem by leaving meth's in the grain; remove with a lint free cloth, allow to dry and polish with furniture wax.
 
Oil paint
 
If the spill is wet, rub clean with a cloth dipped in white spirit. If, however, the stain is dry, brush on generic spirit based stripper and 'lay on' for approximately twenty seconds before cleaning with a damp sponge. Any residue should lift away on a cloth moistened with methylated spirit.
 
Burns
 
Removing a cigarette burn or scorch from wood is tricky although, with patience, you can make a difference. Lightly abrade the affected area with sandpaper until the worst of the scorch mark fades. Doing this will leave a subtle dip in the surface but this will probably be less offensive than the original mark. Next, using a 50/50 lemon juice and water mix, rub at the mark until any residues disappear. Finish with a little furniture wax or, if the item is stained or varnished, touch up the area with matching finish.
 
Now that Lady Macbeth has been purged ('Out damned spot...' ), we'll move on, content in the knowledge that Canada's wood is in good hands and that all future spills will be rectified with capable, restorative aplomb. In the meantime remain blemish free, and we'll see you, spot free, next time!

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