How to Restore Your Damaged Heirloom

Water Ring Damage

Is your solid wood furniture dinged? Do discolorations tarnish its appearance? Don’t worry. Quality cherry, brown maple, and solid oak furniture can generally be restored. That is part of the lasting appeal of wood—know-how and a bit of elbow grease is often all that’s required to refurbish it. With lower quality furniture, repair is so pricey that replacement often makes more financial sense. Amish handcrafted furniture heirlooms, in contrast, can be restored and passed on to future generations.

Heirloom Furniture: Common Damage & Repairs


Scratches and Dents
Hide small scratches quickly with nuts. That’s right—pecans, walnuts, and Brazil nuts contain natural oils that hide fresh scratches. Rub the nut into the scratch and follow up with buffing.

For multiple shallow scratches, use Grade 0000 steel wool to apply hard paste wax, stroking very gently along the wood’s grain. Next, buff the surface with a soft cloth. For shellac or lacquer finishes, Reamalgamation can restore the surface of shellacked and lacquered pieces.

Deeper scratches can be retouched with furniture-patching wax sticks. Correspond the wax color to your furniture. Run the stick along the scratch, firmly pressing the wax down as you go. Remove extra wax with the edge of a credit card and allow the wax to dry. Finish by buffing with a soft cloth.

Expansion & Contraction
Wood naturally grows and shrinks with temperature and humidity changes. Dry conditions suck extra moisture out of wood furniture, causing it to contract slightly. The opposite is true of excess moisture—it will cause wood furniture to expand. This contraction and expansion is not a problem; it will not cause lasting damage. It can, however, cause slight gaps to appear between table leaves. If you are bothered by this, control your home’s humidity to fall between 40% to 45%.

Water Mark Rings
These are often not in the wood, but rather in the protective wax. Mayonnaise, white toothpaste, and salad oil can help—rub with one of these substances, and then wipe dry. For deeper marks, you may need to apply a mild abrasive, such as white toothpaste or a baking soda/toothpaste mixture. Follow that by rubbing on a solvent, such as mineral spirits. Protect the area with a layer of wax, and finish by buffing the area with a soft, clean cloth.

Milk/Alcohol Stains
Create a paste of boiled linseed oil and rottenstone (pumice may be used for dull finishes). Rub with the grain. Alternatively, rub on ammonia using a dampened cloth. Finish by wiping the surface dry.

White Marks
Dip a cloth in lighter fluid and rub it on the marks. Follow up with a salad oil/rottenstone mixture, and wipe dry.

Cigarette Burns
Rub with a combination of linseed oil and rottenstone until the burn marks disappear. Cigarette burns may also be removed by rubbing with a scratch-concealing polish.

Nail Polish
Blot the area at once. Next, rub with fine steel wool (Grade 0) that has been dipped in furniture polish. (Guardsman furniture polish is a good choice). Wipe dry.

Heat Marks
Rub along the grain with extra-fine steel wool (Grade 0000), a dry steel wood soap pad, or a rag dampened with camphorated oil mineral spirits.

Fresh paint may be removed with oil-based mineral spirits and water. Paint that has dried may be softened with boiled linseed oil. Let the oil sit for a moment until the paint is soft; then use a putty knife to lift it. Remove residue by rubbing a paste of rottenstone and boiled linseed oil in the same direction of the grain. Wipe dry.

Sticking Paper. 
Soak the area in salad oil; wait five minutes. Using extra-fine (Grade 0000) steel wool, rub along the grain. Wipe dry.

Gum or Wax
Hold a cloth-wrapped ice cube against the substance. Once the gum or wax is hard, pry it loose using your fingernail. Working in the direction of the grain, rub with extra-fine steel wool that has been dipped in mineral spirits. Wipe dr

Typically, marks and stains are in the finish only. Black marks, however, indicate that water or other stains have penetrated the finish and are affecting underlying wood. In these instances, strip the finish off of the affected surfaces. Use an oxalic acid solution to bleach the surfaces. Refinish as needed.

Amish handcrafted furniture is so sturdy that generations of family members can enjoy it. With the right repairs, marks and scratches may be eliminated, allowing the original beauty of the furniture to shine on.

[Photo by: Michael Gluzman  via CC License]

by amishlegacies

5 thoughts on “How to Restore Your Damaged Heirloom

  1. Daelin says:

    I am so glad to find this blog because I inherited an old table from my grandmother which wasn’t treated all that well, but it was originally very beautiful. Hopefully I can restore it to it’s former glory. The damage that a couple generations of children can inflict is impressive. I was wondering, is it safe to sand down the whole table a bit to restore the surface and refurbish the wood?

  2. Kendall Everett says:

    I had no idea that marks and stains affected the finish only. It’s good to know that a piece of furniture can still be restored if it is only damaged by marks and stains. If there are more issues, it may be a good to hire a professional to restore the furniture.

  3. Kyle Winters says:

    Considering how sentimental some homemade furniture is, it is nice to have some tips on fixing it. A lot of common problems seem to be fixable through easy means. Although any significant damage might need the help of a professional.

  4. Chris Winters says:

    I love the idea to use nuts to cover up scratches when it comes to furniture restoration. My furniture has started to get old and show some wear and tear which is a shame because a lot of it is vintage. I definitely think that we should look into having it restored in order to make it look brand new and help to breath some new life into our home.

  5. Millie Esterline says:

    I have a problem. We just bought our Amish furniture and I had a diffuser sitting on a night stand. I now have a patch of discoloration about the size if a half dollar. My husband feels the oil discolored it. The furniture is Oak. Can anyone tell me how to repair it.

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