How to take care of your wooden furniture to make it last

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You can keep your wooden furniture looking great for centuries as long as you know how to take care of it properly.

I have a 400 year old wooden table in my studio. Yes. I’m serious. It is a small oak wood side table that is held together with wooden dowels instead of nails. Amazingly, it was built while Shakespeare was still alive.

Read on to find out how to give your wooden pieces the TLC they deserve.

Why does wooden furniture require special care?

If the furniture in your home has umlauts in its names, then you probably don’t have a lot of wood to maintain. Anything made 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 durable hardwoods. Regency and Victorian furniture was mostly mahogany, oak, walnut, and rosewood.

You can also find some nice new wood pieces. They just cost more, which is all the more reason you want to take care of them.

There are a number of things you can do to keep your valuable wooden pieces in good condition. Some are protective measures that you can take regularly, while others are preventative measures.

When determining how to care for your wooden pieces, make sure you know what type of wood they are made of and how old they are. These details will determine the type of maintenance your furniture needs. For example, a mid-century rosewood bedroom set won’t need to be replenished the way a Victorian walnut loveseat would.

All wooden furniture should be polished and oiled. The frequency and intensity of this maintenance will depend on the details of each part.

1. Oil it up

One of the main reasons wood furniture deteriorates is because it dries out. That doesn’t mean you have to take them in the shower, though. Humid environments can rot wooden parts, rather than preserving them.

In contrast, the right oils can replenish wood and keep it in good condition for hundreds of years. However, not all oils are created equally. Therefore, they will not have the same effect on your furniture.

The reason linseed oil is so good for preserving wooden furniture is the same reason it is used as a medium for oil painting. Its natural elasticity and flexibility allow it to adapt to natural changes in the wood.

Basically, wood expands and contracts depending on its surroundings. Heat, cold and humidity can all affect changes in the structure of wood.

Thinner oils like coconut or grapeseed are not elastic enough to accommodate these changes. In contrast, fattier oils like avocado or walnut are too heavy and will simply clog the fibers of the wood.

Linseed oil is great for replenishing wood and protecting it from further damage. It will make its way through the woods and adapt to environmental changes as needed.

DIY regenerating oil rub

  • 1/2 cup flaxseed oil (easy to find at art supply stores)
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

Mix all these ingredients well in a small bowl. Then use a clean cotton or linen cloth to soak up about a tablespoon at a time. Gently rub this oiled cloth over your furniture until it is all coated evenly. The wood can absorb it deeply and become dry again.

Its good. Just keep creating small batches of this oil and keep repeating the process above until the wood stops absorbing it. By the way, if you can’t get your hands on flaxseed oil, aim for a high-quality olive oil instead.

Repeat this process once a month to keep your wooden pieces in pristine condition.

2. Dust it off

Dust is not only unsightly: it also dries out the wood. Therefore, it is important to keep your fine wood furniture free from dust as part of your maintenance routine.

Dusters (except ostrich down) only redistribute things, so aim to remove dust permanently instead. Use a microfiber cloth to remove as much dust as possible.

Also, consider using small, clean brushes or cotton swabs to remove dust from carved ornaments.

Once the dust has been removed, spread the oil evenly over the entire piece of furniture according to the instructions above.

3. Polish it regularly

We talked about the importance of deep conditioning earlier. Well, think of that deep oiling as a monthly spa visit and regular polishing as a weekly maintenance. Combine 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)

Soak one of these clean linen or cotton cloths in this liquid. Then, gently polish your furniture with small circular movements. This will brighten and shine the wood and keep its moisture level high.

4. Use coasters and placemats

Have you ever had a parent who would freak out if you didn’t use a coaster or placemat? In fact, cups, mugs and glasses can leave traces of humidity on the furniture. If you want to keep your wooden pieces looking their best, invest in some good coasters.

Keep them handy and never put a cup or bowl directly on the wood.

If the wooden piece of furniture you’re trying to protect is a dining table, then placemats are your new best friends. They will protect wooden surfaces from spills and stains and are easy to clean.

On a similar note:

5. Invest in small felt pads

These little felt pads are self-adhesive and can be attached to anything you would place on the surface of your wooden furniture. This can include lamps, vases, clocks, figurines and anything that might scratch it.

Considering that these items can last for hundreds of years, small initiatives like this can make all the difference in the long run.

6. Protect it from direct damage

This may sound like common sense, but people often miss it. Since wooden furniture is so sensitive to environmental changes, avoid exposing it to potential damage.

Keep these pieces away from windows in case they get damaged by rain or sun. Also, don’t place them within a few feet of baseboard heaters, wood-burning stoves, or fireplaces. Intense heat can dry out and warp wood beyond repair.

Likewise, try to keep these rooms out of high traffic areas. Loud children and animals can 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 moved it to another room, but it now has small chew marks on one side.

You can keep pets from chewing on your wood furniture by adding a little cayenne pepper to your weekly shoe polish recipe. Alternatively, using scents they don’t like, such as camphor or eucalyptus, can also be an effective deterrent.

If you take good care of these pieces, they can potentially become heirlooms. The aforementioned 400 year old table I have has been in the family for 14 generations now. I wonder if the craftsman who created it knew he would have that kind of heritage.

Take care of your pieces now, and your 14-year-old great-grandkids might love them as much as you do.

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