Care and Feeding of Your Furniture
By Joe Dusel
Okay, so now you bought yourself some great wooden furniture, and of course you want to keep it looking nice. The first thing you should know is that if you place your furniture in an area with a lot of sunshine or even bright light you are looking for trouble. This is not only hard on the finish, but it can cause some drastic changes to the wood as well. This is something I learned the hard way when a gallery owner placed a few of my pieces on display in his front window.
They looked great up there for a while until the light completely changed the color. One thing you need to know, whatever wood your furniture is made of, it’s probably going to change somewhat as it ages unless you just keep it covered up with a sheet or something. Woods like cherry will get darker with age, which most people tend to like. Woods with an oil or lacquer finish will pickup an amber hue do to the yellowing of the finish.
Keeping your furniture from physical abuse is the other biggie you need to worry about. I once saw a Chinese acrobat juggle a table with her feet. I was impressed; but please, don’t try this trick at home. And, if you must, wear soft cotton socks. Hey, we would be happy to sell you a replacement if juggling is your thing. (Hmmm... I wonder if that table was made in China?) If you are going to use our furniture for its intended purpose it’s going to look best longer if treated with kindness. For instance; with our shoe benches, sitting on them is good, using them as a place to put your foot while tying your laces is not recommended unless you like the look of grit ground into the surface. Standing on them is not ever a good idea. For our other items like tables and such it’s a good idea to use coasters and place mats to protect the finish from scratches, water rings and such.
Another concern is humidity. Too much or too little is bad. Solid wood, and to a much lesser degree plywood, expands and contracts with changes in the humidity. That’s why if the design is bogus you can have a piece of furniture that will destroy itself naturally. In a perfect world the relative humidity should be in the range of 40 to 60%. This is why it not a great idea to have a picnic table with a solid top. I tried that trick in my youth and watched the top flap up and down with the weather until it finally cracked right down the middle.
So, what do you feed it?
I like to keep my furniture on a low fat diet, or at least low oil. Actually, you don’t “feed” your wood unless it’s still part of a living tree. I don’t use oil based polishes, and ones with silicone in them are a definite no-no. Pledge is a product that most finishing experts recommend avoiding. So, what’s good to use? Well, first off, you can usually just keep you furniture looking nice by wiping it off with a damp soft rag, something like an old cotton t-shirt. The polishes are good at picking up the dust and if they contain a wax they will help protect against scratches. We often times use a paste wax as a final touch for our furniture items. I prefer a beeswax paste, and without toluene.
One product that we have used here on a number of different finishes is Howard Feed-N-Wax. Yes, I know, you can’t "feed" your wood, but the product seems to work well enough despite the bogus name, it has a pleasant orange smell and it contains a blend of bees and carnauba waxes. We have tried it on water-based acrylics, lacquer and oil finishes with nice results. If you click the following link you can buy it at Rockler for a decent price.