Goo, rings, paint, squeaks: a furniture restorer tells all –

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Christophe Pourny, an expert furniture restorer and author of “The Furniture Bible,” joined Washington Post readers for an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

My son made a fort and used duct tape to fasten the poles and broomsticks to his bed frame, and unfortunately, the tape’s sticky residue is still there. The finished-wood bed was his grandmother’s. Can I remove the sticky residue without ruining it?

Also, we have an unfinished wooden coffee table. Someone set down a blob of toy putty on it, and now there is a large oil stain. How can I remove that?

I was once this kid. Making a fort with furniture was the best! You could use products such as Goof Off or powerful solvents, but they have a tendency to dull wood finishes and are extremely toxic — perhaps not the best idea in a kid’s bedroom. Try something gentler, such as furniture wax or even regular citrus oil. It should soften the residues easily.

We purchased an original George Nelson walnut table at a vintage store last summer. The top has some uneven finish, splotches and faint water rings. We are concerned about whether restoring it without some type of finish will make us treat it like a museum piece and panic when anyone comes near it with a glass of water. We do not necessarily want to do something that will decrease its value, but we also want to enjoy it with friends and family without worry. Any advice?

Midcentury furniture pieces were originally made with eco-friendly finishes: tung oil, linseed oil, etc. It was part of a postwar movement to get back to the natural beauty of wood. They can be easily refreshed and maintained, without stripping, with the same oils. Buy pure or 100 percent tung oil, which are both easy to apply.

I want to make a rustic dining room table, but I don’t know how to do the finish. I want it to look like a Pottery Barn finish — not shellacked with a shiny varnish, but not raw wood that could give me splinters. It needs to be a soft, nice finish but still have that rustic look.

Furniture wax and pure beeswax polish, which are eco-friendly, have a low toxicity and are easy to apply. It requires a bit of elbow grease for the buffing, but it’s easy to maintain. Remember to reapply every couple of months or when a cleaning is needed.

What products do you recommend using weekly to keep one’s furniture looking its best? Also, should I use a different method semiannually or annually?

On a weekly basis, nothing more than a dry-dusting is necessary. Do not use any dusting spray or polish. When needed or once or twice a year, a good-quality polish should be used. Products on wood every week is too much. Buildup and attracting more dust is the danger.

My dad painted an older bathroom vanity white. It looks terrible, as if someone slapped white paint on it. What is the secret to painting furniture white?

The answer is in your question — your dad literally slapped paint on it! A good paint job is as difficult and time-consuming as a good wood-finish job. Lots of prep work and lots of coats are necessary. Unfortunately, paintmakers make us believe in one-coat primer and paint, and, voila, results. Sand the sloppy paint job carefully and apply new paint, sanding lightly in between. Use satin or low-gloss paint, which is more forgiving than a gloss.

I’m on a tight budget but need new furniture after losing mine to water damage. I’ve seen some nice-looking pieces online but have been hesitant to purchase something I can’t sit on first. Any suggestions?

Estate sales and local auction houses. You name your price, and you can inspect the product before buying it.

We live in an older home where we have a few nice pieces of well-made, solid-wood furniture. But we have limited control over the home’s humidity fluctuations. Any tips for keeping the wood in good shape and avoiding long-term damage?

Humidity is a great concern for wood furniture. Inspect regularly and wipe off any mold to control spreading. Keep the finish of the furniture — its line of defense — in good condition. Apply polishes, waxes or protective oils regularly.

I have a Danish modern dining table and eight matching chairs. They were given to me for free and are lovely but a bit worn. I feel confident in my ability to care for the wood thanks to great sources such as “The Furniture Bible.” I’d like to reupholster the chairs but am not sure where to start. I have fabric, but not skills, so I’m thinking of going to a professional. Do you have any advice?

Thanks for your appreciation of “The Furniture Bible”! If you feel confident about taking care of your furniture with the help of the book, do not feel intimidated by upholstery, especially on midcentury furniture, which is usually very basic technically. Find a good technical book on Amazon. “Spruce” is a step-by-step guide to upholstery and design. Start dissecting one of the chairs to find out the materials used and follow the book instructions step by step! You will surprise yourself.

I have a table made from old wood that was imported from England. I think it has a waxed surface, but I’m not sure. How do I determine how it is finished? And if waxed, how do I properly wax it? Do I remove the existing wax or work over it?

If you run your nail across the top of the table and get a waxy residue, or if you get a gooey feeling when rubbing with a fingertip wet with paint thinner, you have wax. No need to strip. Apply a first liberal coat of new wax and try to remove grime and dirt. Reapply with a clean rag with even strokes to avoid lap marks. Let it dry an hour or so and buff to a shine.

My dining table has some white spots, most likely caused by moisture from a glass set on it without a coaster. How do you remove them? I’ve tried many things, but none have worked.

The moisture is usually trapped under the finish. Carefully placing a clean towel and a warm iron on the spot may dry it out. If that doesn’t work, the white residue is probably the finish or varnish that is giving up and micro-cracking. In that case, a new coat of finish is needed.

I have dining chairs that are too loose and wobbly. How do I fix them?

On sites that sell fine woodworking supplies, you will find products that swell joints and tighten them when applied to loose parts of wood joinery.

I have walnut and mahogany furniture, some glossy, some matte. How do I clean and enhance the finish on both?

A safe wood-polish product with good-quality ingredients, such as tung oil, reacts appropriately to each type of finish without dramatically changing the look.


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