Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Wood Furniture Restoration Part 3: Refinishing & Deodorization

Dealing with wood in your work

Single surface or "mini-refinishing" is required when there is very slight bubbling of the finish on one or more surfaces of furniture due to excessive heat exposure. It's usually so slight that it may be invisible to the naked eye and the furniture's surface must be felt with your fingertips to detect the bubbles. Mini-refinishing requires a level of skill normally possessed only by a professional furniture refinisher.

Therefore, subcontracting is specifically recommended. For your general information, procedures involved in mini-refinishing are:

Sanding: The refinisher begins by lightly and evenly sanding the bubbled layer of finish to a uniform texture using special polishing grades of "sand paper" or steel wool.
Cleaning: The old finish is cleaned with dry solvents to remove remaining residues.
Applying Varnish: The refinisher makes an application of clear, fast drying varnish over the old finish and allows it to dry.
Resanding: Once dry, the first coat of clear varnish is sanded to an even texture, followed by cleaning residue with a second dry solvent application.
Recoating: A second, final coat of clear varnish is applied to the smooth surface. Usually two coats of varnish suffice; however, more may be required to create a completely smooth surface.

Full Refinishing

Obviously, when multiple surfaces are bubbled, severely scorched, burned (charred), split or distorted by intense heat, smoke residue or water damage, full refinishing is required. A subcontractor who is experienced and equipped for refinishing furniture must accomplish this task.

Generally, the procedures undertaken by the refinisher involve:

Stripping: Remove all the old finish from the furniture. Frequently this is accomplished by dipping the piece in a dry solvent bath and literally "pressure washing" the old finish off, or with hand stripping individual surfaces with dry solvents or alkaline compounds.
Sanding: Sometimes sanding to remove scorching or slight charring is required, especially when heat and smoke damage is intense.
Bleaching: Occasionally, wood surfaces must be bleached to remove or even up the old stain so that uniform color may be achieved upon restaining.
Restaining: Now restain the wood to the original color of the piece. Here is where refinishing becomes an art.
Recoating: Finally, the refinisher must reapply varnish to create a new finish. Usually, at least four coats of finish are applied, with many more being required on expensive, high-gloss lacquered pieces.


There are several options available for deodorizing wood furniture beyond that which is accomplished by adding deodorant to cleaning compounds, or by that contained in cream restorers. In fact, due to the water-sensitive nature of wood furniture, you should avoid extensive deodorization with water-based compounds.

Following cleaning, deodorization efforts in persistent odor situations may include:

Dry Solvent-Based Deodorants
Apply dry solvent deodorant directly to non-visible porous surfaces usually located on a furniture pieces' back (inside and outside), interior sides, drawer bottom and the underside of the top. Non-visible surface application is specified because dry solvent-based deodorant may cause porous surfaces to turn darker. This may generate complaints from insureds.

Dry solvent-based deodorant also may be used to thermal fog the interior of wood furniture, both before and, periodically, during storage. Final polish and lightly spray or thermal fog all furniture (doors, drawers open) before loading it onto a van for transport back to a restored structure.

Ozone Deodorization
In severe odor situations -- particularly those where smoke damage is accompanied by extreme heat -- ozone gas may be required for total odor removal without damage to sensitive wood surfaces. After ensuring that the ozone unit is functioning at peak efficiency, confine the clean furniture in an ozone vault, or under a plastic "tent." Severe odor in wood furniture normally can be eliminated within 24-48 hours, although some severe situations may require additional time.

Wood furniture may be stored with a deodorant block closed inside. However, be sure that deodorant blocks lie on foil and are never allowed to touch the wood surface, since discoloring of unfinished surfaces or dissolving of lacquer finish may occur.

In extreme situations, it may be necessary to seal, or to remove and replace the pressed board panel on the rear or bottom of some wood furniture, due to excess odor absorption.

Final Deodorization
Prior to delivery, wood furniture may be thermal fogged or sprayed lightly (non-visible surfaces) with dry solvent-based deodorant.

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