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3 Ways to Give New Life to Old Furniture

Can’t believe it’s cold again today. So far, we’ve made it all the way to a high of 55 degrees – and weather report indicates it will get down into the 40’s tonight.

That being said, sure am glad I took advantage over the weekend (when it was nice and warm)to knock out a couple of the ‘spring cleaning’  to-do’s on my list.

Mainly, wanted to get the wood trim around the kitchen windows, behind the sink touched up before the splashing water started to take a toll as the finish was beginning to show wear.  And, then while I was at that, decided to freshen-up the top of the old wooden trunk in the den. We refinished the trunk a long time ago to use for a ‘table’ as well as storage. It’s big enough to hold the pillows, sheets and covers for the hide-a-bed . . . not to mention David’s winter coveralls are stuffed in on top of everything.

Having been in the antique business for more years than I care to acknowledge (25+), I’ve found that there are several easy ways to care for the furniture as well as non-painted wood products around the house, i.e., window trim, doors, base boards, cabinet doors, etc. The most important thing to know is which product to use. For me there are three products to use to maintain wood…

  • Tung Oil
  • Scratch Sticks
  • Old English

Which product I use depends on the item itself and the degree of  ‘fixing’  needed to cover the scratches. Most of the time the scratch sticks and Old English are enough to restore the piece.

Scratch sticks can be purchased at most hardware stores in varying ‘wood’ colors. When buying pick the color closest to the wood color – you don’t want to put mahogany on pine – or if you need more than one color but don’t want to purchase two sticks – buy the lightest color and use it repeatedly on the scratch until the color is dark enough.

Old English is good for getting rid of scratches and making old, dirty furniture look good. My only complaint with Old English is that it seems to leave a residue that is hard to get rid of. Sometimes, when I’ve applied it – I find myself having to wipe the piece over and over to get rid of left on residue . . . don’t want it transferring to our clothes. For that reason, when I do use Old English, I’m very careful not to apply any more liquid than absolutely necessary.

Tung oil is my favorite when refinishing furniture as it gives a nice, rich finish, and I’ve always used it on all of the furniture I’ve ever refinished. If you’ve not worked with tung oil – you may want to opt out on this method because it does require more work and time – and you need to know the original finish on the piece. Since we had refinished the trunk using tung oil,  as well as using it on the window trim, I wasn’t worried about how they would turn out.

  The following are the steps I used for touching up my window trim:

1.   Cleaned the wood removing any and all ‘dirt’, grease and old loose finish. (This can be done with a suitable cleaning agent and/or #00000 steel wool.)

2.   Allow the wood to thoroughly dry.

3.   Using a tack cloth, remove any loose dust or debris from the wood that may have been left by the steel wool or cleaning process.

4.   Apply a thin coat of  tung oil with a lint-free cotton cloth.   (I recommend wearing vinyl gloves during the process and using a small – 4″ x 4″ – piece of cloth, anything larger will absorb too much of the oil and waste it. And, make sure the room where you will be working is well ventilated.)

5.   Let the finish dry for 24 hours and apply another coat of tung oil, if needed.

My window trim was done!  After that, the trunk really was easy.   To freshen it up, I just dusted it and put another coat right on top.

As I said, using tung oil can be tricky if you don’t know what was used for the original finish – and if this is the case, I don’t recommend putting any tung oil on anything.

Tung oil seeps into the wood – that’s why you hand rub it on in thin coats. So, if you try and use tung oil  on a piece of furniture that has a finish of old, hard varnish or worse yet … polyurethane – it won’t work because it can’t get into the wood.

Speaking from experience, I tried using tung oil on a couple of  pieces of furniture a  long time ago and to my horror – found the tung oil wouldn’t dry! So I ended up having to use furniture stripper to remove not only the tacky tung oil but also the original finish and then re-do the whole area.  That included sanding, staining, and applying  three (3) coats of tung oil.   What a mess!

My favorite tung oil is made by Formbys. They also have a lot of other  furniture products on the market to keep your antiques, etc. looking good. One thing to know about using tung oil,  it does not keep for a long time – seems to ‘gel’ right there in the bottle – so if you plan on buying any, buy as small a quantity as possible . . . unless you have lots of things you’ll be using it on. Then when you’re finished, squeeze the sides of the container to remove as much air as possible – being careful not to push the liquid out the top– then replace the cap. This will help extend the life of your tung oil by removing some air.

Now for some fun.  If you like ‘model’ trains or know of someone that does – you must pass this on to them.  The link below is to a video showing Miniatur Wunderland – a huge train “lay-out”  that is beyond anything you’ll ever see. 

Watch video here. 


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