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How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

Posted by cfrizzle (My Page) on
Thu, Dec 26, 13 at 21:52

We are rehabbing a 1917 home with lots of original oak woodwork. On the main floor the woodwork (crown, baseboard, staircase, door & window trim, fireplace mantle, built ins, even the window sashes) have never been painted, but they've obviously been refinished and made a bit lighter than the dark/shiny original varnish. There is lots of tiger stripe in the wood. It's beautiful, but needs some love. I don't know where to start. I think I read somewhere that polishing this stuff is a bad idea, too.

Can someone please tell me what the best process is for restoring this woodwork? How do I know if it needs refinished? What is the best refinishing process? What do I watch out for? Once it's all done, what's the best way to keep it clean and looking beautiful? TIA!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

pictures would help.

Should not have to refinish unless the finish is alligatoring, dried out or damaged, etc...


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

Here's a close up of the mantle. Sorry for the bad pic. There's no alligatoring really everything just seems dull & dirty.


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

Here's some of the trim. You can also see the top of one of the stair posts is dark & dingy.


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

This is a door on the built in buffet.


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

The stairs. The tops of the railings and posts have a dark greasy film on them.


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

I don't have a picture, but the top of the buffet is a solid piece of wood and the grain has become pretty deep. Not sure why or if that was the intent?


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

The tops of the railings and posts have a dark greasy film on them.

That's hand oils, and accumulated dirt and grime.

Cleaning up old woodwork is tedious, but not difficult.

Dust it, then use mild soap and water on a soft cloth to remove water-soluble crud and semi-solid dust. Rinse by wiping with a clean damp towel.

Then shift to mineral spirits and 0000 steel wool, cleaning gently to get the oil-based hand grime and such off.

If it's looking good, apply a good carnauba-based paste wax and buff it up. Repeat periodically.

Use small picks and scrapers to get into the corners: manicurist's wooden orangewood cuticle cleaners are excellent. So are small plastic

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If you have a flaky, scaly finish, that's probably old wax buildup. Remove it with a blend of lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol (I use 50/50). Apply liberally to a small area, let it soften a few moments, then gently rub off the crud with steel wool. Repeat until clean. Do this with ALL windows open and all heat sources turned off, with gloves because the fumes are vile and flammable.


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

"If you have a flaky, scaly finish, that's probably old wax buildup. Remove it with a blend of lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol (I use 50/50)."

Won't this blend of chemicals soften/destroy a shellac filnish? Probably should test the chemical blend on the inside of a cabinet first!


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

My first thought whjle looking at the pictures was the wood deserves carful restoration. If you are near a large city with large paint stores,it's worth a try getting a manufacture's rep to help you with decisions and products. Consider sending pictures to the rep. If you are lucky he will come see your house next time he is in town.
In part I'm in agreement with lazygardens as how tedious the job is. I worry the laquer thinner and alcohol will act like stripper on what is likly shellac. cceclim's advis on testing everything on concealed surface is good.
Dab once to wet the finish with a cloth saturated in lacquer thinner then alow it to dry. If finish blisters/crinkles it's varnish or shellac. If it dries looking freasher than srounding finish it's lacquer. Shellac or varnish? Wet surfac with denatured alcohol and watch for blistering as it drys. If it drys looking better than surounding finish,it's shellac. Lacquer and shellac require no sanding before or between coats. Just clean all dirt and other nasties off and apply the finish. Both melt old finish and combin it with new finish. Varnish can be renewed with natural oil or oil/varnish combination rubbed on. I think soap and water followed with cheap paint thinner might be best for cleaning. Think long and ask experts before using anything with the term urathane or poly in the discription.
Did I mention how much I like the wood in your home?


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RE: How to Restore & Take Care of Original Oak Woodwork

this is the safe way to clean, and care for your wood. Do not use soap, and water.

Here is a link that might be useful: furniture cleaning link.


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