How to Refinish Furniture

How to Repair Furniture Burns

To remove a burn spot, scrape away the charred wood with a craft knife; feather the edges of the depression.
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Burns on wood furniture can range from scorches to deep char, but the usual problem is cigarette burns. These damages can be removed as long as the problem doesn't go beyond the surface and extensively affect the wood.

Scorches from cigarettes or cigars are usually the easiest to remove. Buff the scorched area with a fine steel wool pad moistened with mineral spirits until the scorch disappears. Then wipe it clean and wax and polish the surface.


More serious burns require the removal of the charred wood. Shallow burns, when repaired, will always leave a slight indentation in the wood, but this depression will not be conspicuous. Deep burn holes can be filled.

First, remove the damaged wood. With the flat sharp edge of a craft knife, very carefully scrape away the charred wood. For deep burns, use a curved blade. Do not scratch the burn area. Scrape away the char right to the bare wood, feathering out the edges. Any burned or scorched spots will show, so all the burn crust must be removed. Work carefully to avoid scratching the wood with the point of the knife.

When the charred wood has been completely removed, lightly sand the edges of the groove or trench to level it with the surrounding surface as much as possible. Press lightly into the groove with fine-grit sandpaper, removing only the char from the burned area. Be careful not to damage the surrounding finish. If you're not sure all the burn has been removed, wet the sanded area. If water makes the burned area look burned again, you haven't removed all the char.

With deep burns, the groove left after the char is removed will probably be quite noticeable. Level the groove as much as possible with fine-grit sandpaper, but stay close to the edges of the groove. If you sand too far out from the burn area, the damaged area will be very visible as a wide saucer-shaped indentation. If the depression isn't too deep, try swelling the wood as detailed above for dents. If you're left with a deep gouge, the burn area can be filled with wood plastic or a shellac stick.

After smoothing out the burn, refinish the damaged area. Let the new finish dry for one or two days, and then lightly buff the patch with No. 0000 steel wool to blend the edges into the old finish. Finally, wax and polish the entire piece of furniture.

Veneer, a thin layer of wood attached with glue to a solid base, is particularly vulnerable to damage. In the next section, we'll show you how to make various repairs to this surface.