Caring For Wood, Part 1

Any time I bring home a piece from a thrift store or antique store, whether I’m planning on keeping it or whether it’s going to be listed on Etsy, I like to clean it with whatever means are available for that particular material. As a result, I bring home a lot of wood and glass because they’re some of the easiest pieces to clean up and make pretty. Sometimes pieces just get a good dusting, like this vintage toy boat. But sometimes there is actual damage, stains or dents that need to be addressed.

Take this mid century Danish teak cheese and cracker tray.

Truly, it’s in great shape. The dome is perfect with no chips or cracks. The butcher block center has a couple of tiny knife marks, but I’d bet it wasn’t used a whole lot. However, it probably sat on a painted shelf, either at the thrift store where I got it or at the home where it came from. See those marks?

It’s just little scuffs of white, probably something like paint. I knew when I saw them in the store that I could get them off pretty easily.

Here’s my little tool box for general cleaning.

Since this board is teak, some might be tempted to use teak oil on it. However, teak oil isn’t food safe. Oh, it’s fine for things like outdoor tables and chairs, but I wouldn’t use it on a cutting board or anything else that will directly contact food. Enter Kerf’s Wood Lotion. It is a food safe blend of waxes and oils scented with lavender that I use for cleaning and conditioning anything with a natural oil finish (that would be mostly Danish oil and teak oil). You don’t even need gloves to work with it and it smells really good. This is not a good thing to use for anything with a shiny finish (anything polyurethane, painted or waxed). Basically, it needs to be able to seep into the grain of the wood so any finish that seals the grain needs to be treated differently. I’ll cover what I do for those sorts of pieces in a future post.

The other two items there are a bit of 000 steel wool and some white cloths. This is a very fine steel wool that you can get at any hardware store. The white cloths are lint-free painter’s rags. These are better than paper towels for any kind of finishing or painting because they don’t leave little filaments of paper or cloth in your finish. They come in a big box at the hardware store. Mine are made by Scott, but there are plenty of other brands.

To start out with, make sure your piece is free of dust. I use a microfiber dusting cloth for this, but really almost anything you use for dusting will work. Next, a small bit of steel wool (just pull off a piece) and wet it with the Kerf’s. You don’t need a lot. Use it to lightly scrub the scuffed marks.

Superficial marks like these will come right off.

Next, run off the rest of the piece with the steel wool, paying particular attention to any marked or scuffed spots until the whole piece has been treated. Don’t scrub too hard or you might end up with shiny spots.

Let it sit for 10-15 minutes until the wood lotion sinks in a bit. At this point, look at the piece and see if there are still a lot of wet spots or if the whole piece is pretty dry. If the piece is dry, you might want to add a second coat. Around here (humid Virginia), small like this one rarely need a second coat, but if you live somewhere like Arizona, chances are you might need to add a little more.

Once you’re confident the wood has been conditioned, wipe it down with your lint-free cloth.

Just rub it around all the surfaces, paying particular attention to edges and end grain since they won’t absorb as much lotion as the long exposed grain on flat parts of the piece. You may need to let it sit again for 10-15 and then run it down again, especially if you did a second coat. Now you’ve cleaned an conditioned your piece. This one was about averagely dirty. Just a little bit of storage grime probably.

Now it’s all clean. If a piece of wood has been in a home with a smoker, sometimes a cloth like this will be almost black when you’re done. If that happens, wait a month and repeat this process. Sorry, but if you’ve seen Mad Men, you know that people SMOKED in the 1960s. Wood absorbs the soot and tar so you might need to clean it a few times before it’s ready to be used again.

And here’s the final piece, ready for sale. I already have several of these, but the glass domes are so pretty that I can never resist them when I see them in the thrifts. I hope someone likes it enough to make it theirs!

I have a couple pieces of furniture that we bought over the weekend to fix up today too so I’ll post what I do with other kinds of finishes later in the day.

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