Furniture Restoration

Wood … has a Personality of its Own! 

Stubbornness comes in many different shades and characteristics. It shows up in the refinishing world all the time.  Let us put the personality of wood under the microscope to find out why it does what it does, and what can be done about it!

So many people think that it is easy to give wood a face-lift and magically a color-perfect, pristine finish will appear.  Not the case.  Wood has a personality of its own!

Before a finisher takes on a job, he or she needs to know the basic traits of the common types of wood.  Very seldom will oak stand out; it’s like the compliant child that is always obedient and easy to please.  Maple on the other hand is like the unruly redheaded child, stubborn, inconsistent, and always ready to throw a temper tantrum. Teak is impossible, Mahogany needs a lot of attention and Walnut, ….well on occasion it has its moments too!

Many commercial finishes have gone through processes to achieve a certain result. When there is a finish, without much of the grain showing, color may have been added in the finish.  To duplicate this “look”, it may be difficult.   The refinisher can get close, but a guarantee of exactness is usually unattainable.    Sample can be done up ahead of time showing the color and sheen, but to have an even color across all the entire wood surface is sometimes very difficult, if not impossible; it depends on the personality of the wood!

Maple is a hardwood; it has areas where the grain gets real close and tight and then areas that are open and loose.  When it is stained it blotches.  The only way to achieve an even color tone is to pre-condition the wood ahead of time and then apply the stain.  Many times toning or adding color in the finishes also need to be done to achieve an even color transition form one area to the next.

Pine is a softwood; it has similar characteristics of Maple, somehow they must be related.  It also blotches and needs to be treated the same as Maple.  Extra TLC needs to go into both equations.

Mahogany due to its personality of openness, meaning negative (open) grain, needs to be grain-filled to achieve a smooth finish.  Just about all commercially manufactured Mahogany items or hand-finished items of the past were grain filled.  This is an extra process that is very time consuming.

Oak, although very good-natured, can on occasion need some extra attention.  This is another open-grained wood and depending on what is wanted for a “look”, it also may need the extra attention of being grain-filled.

The aged!  Years tear away at the surface, patina develops, scars surface, hues darken and lighten, and a waxy film develops; at some point it becomes a candidate for medical attention. To the antique restorer, there is nothing worse than taking an old item, stripping away the years of time and replacing it with a new, pristine finish.  The knowledgeable restorer will be able to either recondition the existing finish or be able to remove the finish while keeping the patina in tack and apply a new cover that resembles the “look” of being old but in good shape.  Again, this takes extra time and extra thought for planning.

Painted furniture – beware!  This is the multi-personality child; who can predict what will be uncovered once the paint is removed.  Anything from poplar, to elm, to mixtures of birch and oak will make up its skeleton.  General rule: with any manufactured painted piece it is most likely to have a mixture of woods.   These woods typically are not the top of the line and once the paint is removed, who knows what one might find! If painted, best to keep it painted.

It needs to be understood that the true beauty of woods are in the irregularities, its in is willful nature to do what it wants.  Let the personality shine through, especially on the older pieces.  It’s what gives it its character! It’s what makes it stand apart; it’s what is highly valued by those who truly understand wood. Wood has a personality of its own!

To learn about finishes, stains, toning, grain fill, water base products, repairs and antiques,  visit the line up of Wood restoration classes under training.


Before and After