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A Guide to Wooden Furniture Restoration Materials

Workshop Materials: Painter's Tape, Oils, Cloths, Rope

Paint and varnish removers, abrasives, and adhesives are the most frequently used materials in furniture refinishing and repair. Listed below are other basic materials that are used less often, but are still important to have when you need them.

Painter's Tape or Blue Tape. Use this tape for fine-lining when you apply finishes. The tape can also be used for clamping irregular glue joints. Buy two sizes: 1/2 inch wide and 1-1/2 inches wide.


Throwaway Paintbrushes. You can buy very inexpensive paintbrushes to use and then toss into the trash. This may seem wasteful, but the thinner, mineral spirits, or other solvents used to clean brushes are generally more costly than the brush. Also, factor in your time spent cleaning.

Use throwaways for applying base finishes and stain. Do not use them for applying top and finish coats of any material. The more expensive bristle brushes are necessary for final finishes; buy them as needed.

Paste Wax. Hard wax is best for most furniture refinishing jobs. It is available in a variety of wood-tone colors, so you may want to buy just a neutral wax for your shop inventory and then add special colored waxes as projects specify.

Black Wire. Fine black wire is a product you'll use often for many jobs-from rewiring furniture springs to clamping splits in rounds. Get single-strand black steel wire; one roll -- about 25 feet -- is plenty.

Linseed Oil. Oils are used quite frequently in finishing. Since linseed oil tends to become old in the container, buy just a pint or quart of it at the outset and add more as needed.

Mineral Oil. Use it for mixing pigments in furniture refinishing. At the outset, buy a small bottle. Then add more if your finishing schedule requires mineral oil.

Turpentine. A quart at a time is enough. Use it for finishing cleanup and for thinning some solvent-base finishes.

Mineral Spirits. Use it for cleaning wood, for finishing cleanup, and for thinning some solvent-base finishes. Again, a quart at a time is plenty.

Denatured Alcohol. A quart in inventory is plenty. It can be used to remove and/or test shellac finishes and to thin shellac for sealing and finishing.

Lacquer Thinner. Good for removing lacquer finishes and for cleanup purposes. A quart on hand will do the job.

Wood Fillers. Wood fillers include wood plastic, water putty, shellac sticks, putty sticks, and colored wax scratch-mending sticks; spackling compound is also useful for filling rough edges. Keep a small can of neutral wood filler on hand; it dries out quickly. Buy wood-tone wood filler as you need it for matching purposes. If you can't find a matching color, mix a drop or two of stain with the filler. Wood filler has no structural strength. Before you use it, clean the wood with mineral spirits.

Water putty is sold in powder form and mixed with water to a thick paste. It dries hard as stone and can be shaped with cutting and smoothing tools.

Shellac sticks, putty sticks, and wax scratch-mending sticks are available in many colors; buy them as you need them. You may or may not need spackling compound, but in powder form, it costs very little and doesn't deteriorate. Keep a small package on hand for use on the rough edges of unfinished furniture.

Clean Cloths, Towels, and Sponges. You'll need plenty of these for all refinishing work.

Tack Cloths. Tack cloths are used often in the wood refinishing process to clean the piece just before applying the finish. You can buy tack cloths at paint supply outlets, or you can make your own.

To make your own tack cloth, launder a white cotton dishtowel. The size should be approximately 12x24 inches, but this isn't critical. Soak the towel in clean water and wring it as dry as you can; then fold the towel in several layers to make a pad.

Pour several ounces of turpentine over the folds and work the cloth in your hands so the turpentine thoroughly penetrates the cloth. The turpentine should just moisten or dampen the material; do not soak it. Pour several ounces of varnish into the folds of the turpentine-dampened cloth, and work the varnish through the cloth to distribute it evenly. This takes a lot of wadding and kneading, so don't give up too quickly. When you're finished, the cloth will be very tacky, not wet or damp, just tacky to the touch.

Tack cloths tend to dry out as you use them. Renew the tackiness with several drops of turpentine and varnish. Keep tack cloths in closed jars or plastic bags to prevent them from drying out. To use a tack cloth, wipe it across the surface you want to clean before you apply the finish.

Bleaches. Borrow the laundry bleach when you want to remove old stain or filler. For tougher jobs, such as removing black watermarks, you'll need oxalic acid crystals or powder. Oxalic acid is not available in all areas; if you can find it, buy a few boxes. If you want to bleach out a wood's natural color, you'll need a two-part commercial wood bleach-it's expensive, but no other bleach does the job.

Aluminum Foil. Foil can be used in a number of ways to keep strippers from drying out.

Rope, String, Toothpicks, etc. Buy these in bulk to have on hand for a number of uses.

Wood. For replacing furniture components, use any piece of wood that's the right type and size: an old table leaf, a birch dowel or broom handle, an ash or hickory tool handle, an ash baseball bat, a piece of maple butcher block, an old pine board. Don't ever throw away old wood with a patina or scraps of hardwood; even small scraps are useful for glue blocks and braces.

Many materials have redeeming features when it comes to furniture restoration and repairs, so make sure to include them on the must-have list for your workshop.

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