Real wood never went away. But it certainly went out of fashion. Now “brown wood furniture” is making a comeback, so here’s how to make any old piece look as good as new.
Do you want to retain the grain, or transform it with colour? For a natural finish, use wax and be prepared to buff, buff and buff again to get a rich, glossy look. Clean the piece with a suitable wood cleaner. You may have to sand it gently to remove flakes of varnish and other imperfections: use methylated spirit and the finest wire wool. On bare wood, use a wood-sealer, wax liberally with a cloth and let it dry. Then buff. You will need lots of cloths, so rip up old T-shirts or sheets. Leave for 24 hours and repeat, really working in the wax.
For a deeper effect or colour, choose from coloured waxes, wood stain or wood dye; Ronseal, Mylands and Colron are all recommended brands. Waxes give a subtle effect, stain accentuates the grain and dye provides the most uniform colour, evening out imperfections. Apply wax as above, apply a stain with a cloth, or brush on a dye, blending it in the direction of the grain. Build up with several thin coats. An initial coat of wood sealer provides a base and helps to prevent a blotchy finish. If the wood really is beyond rescue, sand it down and paint with thin layers of emulsion, followed by a top coat of beeswax polish. This gives a pleasing vintage look.
Touch up surface scratches with a matching wood furniture crayon from hardware and DIY stores. Or mix up a colour with watercolour paints and apply with a soft sable paintbrush. Experts advise melting coloured furniture wax into the scratch and shaving off the excess with a razor blade, but this could be a tricky job! If the scratch is deep it could let moisture in and cause mould, so it needs specialist attention.
Tips for treating ring marks caused by hot cups or dishes include applying a paste made from cigarette ash and lemon juice, allowing it to dry, wiping off, then buffing with wax, or rubbing the surface of the wood with a walnut shell. If you can find it, a product called Ringaway claims to remove heat marks and water marks on wood. Another way to tackle water marks is to rub in mayonnaise (yes, really), olive oil or toothpaste. Allow to dry then buff up.
Once or twice a year, anoint your wood furniture with beeswax polish and a soft cloth and rub it in with a lint-free cloth. Try Lakeland for a good range of waxes and polishes. “Thirsty” wood such as pine and unfinished oak benefits from a regular going-over with Danish oil (such as Briwax, from around Pounds 3.50 for 250 ml). This may darken the wood slightly, but adds to the patina.