For centuries, oak has been a popular material for constructing furniture thanks to its strength, durability and beauty. Oak is known for its prominent grain which means little spots and dings just blend in. But, oak is porous so it can stain easily, especially if it doesn't have a modern finish like a glossy varnish. It can also become dry and cracked if not properly moisturized. To maintain oak furniture, you'll need to protect it from extreme temperature swings, moisture, sun and heat.
1. Caring For Your Oak Furniture
- If the furniture does not have any special instructions and has a light clear finish, follow general wood care recommendations.
- Furniture is often oiled before it is packed and shipped.
- If the smell is strong, consider placing a bowl with baking soda, white vinegar, and activated charcoal near your furniture. This can absorb odor
- Oil-based: This is a deep-penetrating stain that is permanent.
- Water-based: This is easier on the environment and easier to clean up.
- One-step stain and finish: This is a combination stain and finish.
- Test the stripper in a small inconspicuous spot before applying it to the whole piece of furniture.
- Wear gloves to protect your hands. You may also want to wear old clothing when refinishing furniture.
- There are a variety of penetrating-oil finishes like Tung oil, Danish oil and Antique oil. These will need to be reapplied periodically (whenever the wood feels dry or looks dull).
- Avoid cleaning with common household cleaners, even if they're wood cleaners. Many household cleaners can leave behind a layer of oil that will buildup. Or, cleaners may strip your furniture over time
- The dryness level in wood will equal the dryness of its surroundings after a few months. It does not need and cannot be "replenished" with lots of oil, although that can make the surface prettier. Rapid temperature and humidity changes always risk cracking, and oil buildup into unfinished surfaces can make wood abnormally flammable.
2. Avoiding Damage to Your Oak Furniture
Avoid direct sunlight and heat. Don't place oak furniture next to a source of heat or in direct sunlight. This can cause excessive dryness, difficult to fix cracks of body components, and color fading. If you must place the furniture right next to an air vent, close its louvers to reduce air flow (but don't close more than a small fraction of them all, as that could hurt the HVAC system.)
- Keep your oak furniture inside. Unless specifically designed for outside use (such as regularly cleaned and oiled deck chairs), wooden furniture should always be used inside.
Clean up spills. Always clean spills and water off of oak furniture. Since oak is porous, it will easily soak up water. This can damage the finish and lead to staining. Wipe up spills with a clean dry cloth or paper towel.
- The longer a spill sits, the deeper the spill can penetrate. This is why it's important to dry a spill as soon as you notice it.
Move all furniture carefully. No matter how strong and sturdy oak furniture looks, always move it with care. To do so, lift it or gently push it with sliders and rollers. Carefully set it down to preserve the integrity of the joints. If a joint does come undone, it can usually be fixed with glue and a clamp.
- Never drag furniture by it's legs or pull it across a room.
Protect the finish. Don't expose oak to strong cleaning agents, coffee, wine, water or other liquids. Modern finishes can generally be cleaned with a damp (not soggy), lightly soaped towel. Antique finishes can be more delicate, so test an inconspicuous area and wait a few minutes to see what happens before proceeding.
- Avoid putting hot items such as dishes or pans directly on the wood. Instead, use trivets or heavy mats.
Repair any dents or marks. You may be able to repair slight damages to oak furniture. You can use furniture markers and putties (available in a variety of colors) to fix small chips. To repair a mark or dent in unfinished furniture, try swelling the ding back out. Put a damp cotton cloth over the spot and place the tip of a warm iron onto the cloth so the wood rises up. Once the blemish is dry, sand it down with a fine-grain sandpaper, then oil it.
- Furniture oil tends to darken light dings in overall hard finishes. Use the "natural" yellowish kind for a medium brown color. If you need nearly-black, try dark furniture oil. Don't soak too much oil into a waxy-type finish since it can really stain.
- Some putties harden while others stay soft and removable. For penetrating fixes start with lighter tones.