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The Master's Touch

Furniture Restoration Service

Quality restorations and repairs for over 45 years!

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Tips From The Restoration Trade

This information is based on first hand knowledge gained by a life time of professional furniture restoration. My goal is to give the reader some simple basic information that will enable you to add many years of life to your fine furnishings. Also read through the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and (Furniture Care) section of this web site for more detailed insights.


With all the sprays, polishes, oils, cleaners, and waxes available today, its no wonder that this is the most asked question by far. My response is always the same; "Do you just want a shine or do you want protection also"? Spray-on polish and oils, "time savers", give a quick temporary shine in just minutes, but that's all you get. The reason they "shine" is because they are WET. This "wet look" may produce a nice shine but offers little or no protection. These products became popular in the late 1940s and have increased in popularity ever since. TV commercials showing a house wife using product X on a dull table top, followed by her smiling beautiful face in the reflection gave proof of the effortless shine their product would produce. Well, that was nothing but a good marketing ploy to boost product sales. What house wife, even today, would not want to save a lot of time and good old fashion elbow grease? What they did not tell you, was that the silicone oils and petroleum distillates in their product would actually cause harm to your finish over time. In the late 60s and early 70s refinishing shops made a lot of money refinishing hundreds of table tops when their finish softened and turned into a sticky, gooey mess. These products are much improved today and can be good for the occasional quickie just before guest arrive, but prolonged use can still leave a gooey mess and still no real protection. It is easy to tell if a customer has been using these kind of polishes. You can make swirl marks in the wet oil with your fingers, or lift a cloth place mat from the table top to reveal a dull spot the same shape of the mat (the oil was absorbed by the mat). Because the surface is wet, it will actually attract and hold more dust and pollutants from the air.

Lets take a moment and consider just what a finish is designed to do. First and foremost it is to seal the wood. Sealing the wood protects the wood from moisture changes, spills, stains, and surface abrasion. Second it is used to enhance the beauty of the wood grain. Have you ever heard someone tell how their product "feeds" the wood. Unless your furniture is unfinished, or the finish has deteriorated, there is absolutely no way any polish, oil or wax is going to get through the finish to the wood. Another common misconception is that wood furniture is "alive" and need to "breathe," so don't seal the pores with wax. Wood furniture is not "alive" it can not "breathe" nor does it need to be "nourished" or "fed'' with oily polishes. Just the very opposite is the truth! Continual changes in humidity, not the lack of "feeding", cause un-sealed wood to crack, warp, swell, shrink and glue joints to loosen.

Paste Wax

has been used for centuries as a finishing material itself and a finish protector. If used properly, paste wax will provide a thin, hard, lasting finish. Waxes dry hard so they do not smear and attract dust and dirt. Paste waxing typically lasts 3-5 years, depending on how much the furniture is used and how many coats are applied. Table tops and chair arms are an exception, generally needing to be waxed once a year, due to the extra wear they receive. Many people, especially antique lovers, prefer the soft sheen provided by paste wax. Also, waxes do not interfere with future refinishing like silicone polishes most often do. Paste wax is hard work. It will take 4-6 hours to paste wax a dining room set and if done properly will not need waxing again for years. It requires effort, but you won't obtain a more durable, beautiful protection than paste wax. Remember, the wax protects the finish, the finish protects the wood. To dust or clean, just wipe with a soft damp, lint free cloth.

Economy 101

A typical can of past wax cost less then $15.00 and if the lid is put back on properly after each use will last the average home owner 20 years or so. Now consider the advertisements that tell you to dust every day with their $3.00 per can spray polish. All right, now do the math. One $3.00 can a month for next 20 years ($720.00) verses one can for 20 years at $15.00. Next consider the time factor. Lets say it takes 5 minutes once a week to use a spray polish on your dinning room set. 5 minutes times 52 weeks times 4 years: that's a little over 17 hours spent giving your set a non-protective shine. With paste wax it took 5 hours to wax the first time then you spent 1 more hour per year doing the table top and chair arms the next 3 years, that's 8 hours spent giving your set a protective coating that has extended the life of the finish.

One more thing. Make sure you use a wax designed for wood furniture. Some shoe and car waxes can cause problems on some finishes.

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Wax, Polish or Oil? by Steve Nearman, visit: for more restoration articles.


A piece can look good and need refinishing, or look bad, and a touch-up & clear-coat will restore it. The beauty of a finish is the secondary concern of a Master Finisher. The purpose of a finish is to protect the wood from moisture changes that can destroy the piece. To refinish or touch-up? An easy way to tell is the thumbnail test. Simply try scratching the surface finish with your thumbnail where it won't be noticed (a corner or edge will do). If the finish is aged or soft, it will mark or flake off easily. Just as you would not paint over old flaking house paint, a touch-up and clear coat will not work over an old soft, or deteriorating finish. Refinishing will be required to give the wood the protection it needs and return it to its original beauty.

You have permission to reprint the article you just read. Use it in your ezine, at your website or in your newsletter. The only requirement is including the following footer:

The Thumbnail Test by Steve Nearman, visit: for more restoration articles.