You can keep your wood furniture in good shape for centuries as long as you know how to care for it properly.
I have a 400-year-old wooden table sitting in my studio. Yes, I’m serious. It’s a little oak wood side table that’s held together with wooden pegs instead of nails. Amazingly, it was built when Shakespeare was still alive.
Read on to learn how to give your wooden pieces the TLC they deserve.
Why Does Wood Furniture Need Special Care?
If the furniture pieces in your house have umlauts in their names, then you probably don’t have a lot of wood to care for. Anything made out of composite or synthetic wood doesn’t need maintenance (and it probably won’t last very long).
In contrast, antique pieces are often made of long-lasting hardwoods. Regency and Victorian furniture were mostly made of mahogany, oak, walnut, and rosewood.
You can find newer nice wood pieces, as well. They just cost more, which is all the more reason you’ll want to take care of them.
There are a number of things you can do to keep your treasured wooden pieces in great shape. Some are protective actions you can take on a regular basis, while others are preemptive measures.
When it comes to determining how to care for your wooden pieces, make sure you know what type of wood they’re made from, and how old they are. These details will determine the type of care your furniture needs. For example, a mid-century rosewood bedroom set won’t need replenishing the same way a Victorian walnut loveseat requires.
All wood furniture pieces need polishing and oiling. The frequency and intensity of this maintenance will depend on each piece’s details.
1. Oil It Up
One of the main reasons why wood furniture deteriorates is because it dries out. That doesn’t mean you should bring them into the shower, however. Humid environments can rot wooden pieces, rather than preserve them.
In contrast, the right oils can replenish wood and keep it in great shape for hundreds of years. Not all oils are created equally, however. As a result, they won’t have the same effect on your furniture.
The reason that linseed oil is so good for preserving wood furniture is the same reason why it’s used as a medium for oil painting. Its natural elasticity and flexibility helps it adapt to the wood’s natural changes.
Basically, wood expands and contracts in accordance with its environment. Heat, cold, and humidity can all affect changes in the wood’s structure.
Thinner oils like coconut or grapeseed aren’t elastic enough to adapt to these changes. In contrast, fattier oils like avocado or walnut are too heavy and will simply clog up the wood’s fibers.
Linseed oil is perfect for both replenishing the wood, and protecting it from further damage. It’ll work its way into the wood, and adapt to environmental changes as needed.
DIY Replenishing Oil Rub
- 1/2 cup linseed oil (easily found at art supply stores)
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
Mix all of these ingredients together well in a small bowl. Then use a clean cotton or linen cloth to absorb a tablespoon or so at a time. Rub that oiled cloth gently over your furniture until it has all been coated evenly. The wood may drink it in deeply and then appear dry again.
That’s okay. Just keep creating small batches of this oil and keep repeating the process above until the wood stops absorbing it. As an aside, if you can’t get your hands on linseed oil, aim for high-quality olive oil instead.
Repeat this process once a month to keep your wooden pieces in top condition.
2. Dust It Off
Dust isn’t just unsightly: it also dries wood out. Consequently, it’s important to keep your cherished wood furniture dust-free as part of your care routine.
Feather dusters (with the exception of ostrich down) just redistribute the stuff, so aim to remove dust permanently instead. Use a microfiber cloth to remove as much dust as possible.
Additionally, consider using small, clean brushes or cotton swabs to remove dust from carved ornamentation.
Once the dust is removed, distribute the oil evenly all over the furniture as per the directions above.
3. Polish It Regularly
We touched upon the importance of deep conditioning earlier. Well, think of that deep oiling like a monthly spa visit, and regular polishes like weekly maintenance. Mix together the following in a small dish:
- 1 cup of the highest-quality olive oil you can find
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 10-20 drops of lemon or sweet orange essential oil (optional)
Dip one of those clean linen or cotton cloths into this liquid. Then polish your furniture gently with small circular motions. This will brighten and shine the wood and keep its hydration levels up.
4. Use Coasters and Placemats
Did you ever have a relative who would freak out if you didn’t use a coaster or placemat? That’s because cups, mugs, and glasses can leave moisture rings on furniture. If you want to keep your wood pieces looking their best, then invest in some good coasters.
Keep them within easy reach, and never set a cup or bowl directly on the wood.
If the wood furniture you’re trying to protect is a dining table, then placemats are your new best friends. They’ll protect the wooden surfaces from spills and stains, and are easy to clean.
On a similar note:
5. Invest in Small Felt Pads
These small felt pads are adhesive and can be attached to any item that you’d place on your wood furniture’s surface. This can include lamps, vases, clocks, figurines, and anything else that might scratch it.
Considering the fact that these items can last for hundreds of years, small initiatives like this can make a world of difference in the long term.
6. Protect It From Direct Harm
This might seem like common sense, but often eludes people. Since wood furniture is so sensitive to environmental changes, avoid exposing it to potential harm.
Keep these pieces away from windows in case they get rain or sun damage. Furthermore, don’t place them within a few feet of baseboard heaters, wood stoves, or fireplaces. The intense heat can dry and warp the wood beyond repair.
Similarly, try to keep these pieces out of high-traffic areas. Boisterous children and animals might damage or even break your treasures just by being who they are. I learned this the hard way when my rabbit developed a fondness for a 200-year-old wooden hutch. I’ve moved it to another room, but it now has little chew marks all down one side.
You can prevent pets from gnawing on your wood furniture by adding a bit of cayenne pepper to your weekly polish recipe. Alternatively, using scents they dislike, such as camphor or eucalyptus, can also be an effective deterrent.
If you take proper care of these pieces, they can potentially become family heirlooms. The aforementioned 400-year-old table I have has been in the family for 14 generations now. I wonder if the craftsperson who created it knew it would have that kind of legacy.
Take care of your pieces now, and your greatx14 grandkids might love them just as much as you do.