ICS Magazine

Wood Furniture Restoration Part 2: Light Refinishing

July 20, 2001
Using light refinishing restoration procedures, restorers clean the wood furniture while lightly refurbishing the outer layer of the finish.

In the May issue of ICS, we talked about inspecting and transporting wood furnishings and case goods, followed by an outline of the four restoration options: cleaning and polishing, light refinishing, mini-refinishing and full refinishing.

In this article, we’ll discuss the more involved “refinishing” options, and follow up with some deodorizing techniques.

“Light Refinishing”
The term “light refinishing” refers to a process that’s more than cleaning but less than full refinishing. In other words, light refinishing actually cleans while it lightly refurbishes the outer layer of finish on wood furniture. It’s required for restoring heavily contaminated finished surfaces, or it’s used on surfaces that have been subjected to water damage, which causes white discolorations to appear. Light refinishing is accomplished with a “cream restorer” that contains dry solvents to emulsify oily residues, detergents to suspend particle contamination, deodorants to attack odor on surfaces and oil-based polishes to revitalize and protect the restored surface.

Although this process is reserved primarily for finished wood furniture, cabinets or paneling, it may also be applied to furniture with plastic veneers (even leather inserts), especially when those surfaces are heavily contaminated with layers of baked-on soot residue—but only if you get to them before the plastic veneer is permanently yellowed by the acid soot residue. It’s even effective when pre-existing wax or body oil buildup is present.

Don’t use light refinishing on unfinished porous wood surfaces. Dissolved residues migrate into the pores of the wood and cause permanent staining. Similarly, it doesn’t work well on painted wood surfaces since the solvents in the wood cream product may attack paint. The good news is that painted furniture can be wet cleaned.

Be especially careful to check the condition of finishes before undertaking light refinishing. Simply scrape questionable areas with your fingernail to see if the finish has been dissolved by oily contaminants, especially body oils on armrests or around drawer pulls. Be sure to check antique finishes in particular. Over the years, these finishes may have dissolved or degraded considerably. If that’s the case, light refinishing simply removes all the dissolved finish and exposes the bare wood—hardly what one would consider proper restoration! Full refinishing would be the proper course of action.

Light refinishing involves the following steps:
Remove Dry Soil: Remove excess dry soot residue with quick dry sponging.
Apply Cream Restorer: Apply a light, even coat of cream restorer to all contaminated surfaces. A little more may be required on heavily contaminated horizontal surfaces than on vertical surfaces.
Dwell Time: For complete emulsification and suspension of oily soot residues to occur, five to 10 minutes of dwell time is required. Caution: Leaving the cream restorer on a surface for too long may result in permanent damage to the finish.
Removing Smoke Staining: Soot removal is only half the battle. Acidic smoke residue often yellows finished surfaces causing a permanent stain, particularly where portions of the furniture’s surface were protected by objects sitting on that surface. When this is the case, agitate the cream restorer uniformly with the wood grain to “polish away” the yellowish or white discoloration using 0000 (“4-ought”) steel wool. Occasionally, a toothbrush must be used to remove soot residue from confined areas, around metal work, and in cracks and crevices.
Removing Suspended Residues: Carefully remove the excess suspended residue by wiping with a dry absorbent terry cloth towel. Any residue that remains can cause smearing during later polishing efforts.
Polishing: Using a clean, dry cloth, buff the finish briskly to polish the restored surface. You’ll probably notice that most of the odor has been neutralized by the deodorants contained in the cream restorer.
Drawer Interiors: The interior of drawers is usually a light-colored, unfinished, highly porous wood surface. As air volume expands during a significant fire, smoke and heat is forced inside closed drawers and soot staining may result. There are three phases of removal for this residue: 1) dry sponge the surface to pick up loose residue. If staining remains: 2) damp wipe the area with a detergent saturated, but only with a slightly damp, terry cloth towel. If soot staining remains: 3) lightly but uniformly sand soot stains from porous wood surfaces using fine-grit sandpaper.
Preparing for Delivery: Before delivery to the insured’s home or business, carefully polish all finished surfaces with an oil-based furniture polish. A small amount of dry solvent deodorant may be added to the oil-based polish on a 4:1 basis; i.e., four parts polish to one part deodorant. Lightly fogging the interior of drawers with a dry solvent deodorant before delivery is also a good idea. With extreme odor on unfinished surfaces, sealing with a clear varnish or shellac may be required.

In the next issue of ICS, we’ll continue this series with discussions on Mini- and Full Refinishing techniques, as well as Deodorization.