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Making Wood Furniture Look Its Best

During the holidays, you want your home to look its best. So if there's any time during the year when you might pay a little extra attention to cleaning and polishing your wood furniture, this is it.

And of course, proper maintenance will keep your furniture looking nice for years to come.

Kris Connell of Real Simple magazine had pointers on caring for wood pieces, on The Early Show Tuesday.

She showed products to use on oiled wood, varnished wood, and painted wood, and offered tips on waxing furniture. She also tells how to fix scratches.

When cleaning or polishing wood furniture, you're not actually caring for the wood, you're working on the finish. So you need to know what kind of finish you're dealing with: varnished, oiled, or painted.

Varnished Wood

Varnish is probably the most common finish on household furniture, and it's certainly the most durable. Experts recommend applying a coat of paste wax to the furniture once a year, at most. This wax is quite hard and provides the best protection from moisture and dust. On varnished furniture, you can opt for a clear wax or an amber-colored wax, recommended on dark pieces of furniture. Good quality wax is available at any hardware store.

Some people like to really play up their furniture's shine by applying a polish. In general, polish actually creates more work for you, as it tends to attract dust. If you want apply a polish, chose one that's silicone-free. Silicone builds up on your finish over time, leaving a dull film and making the piece much harder to re-finish if you ever want to.

Oiled Wood

Generally, an oiled finish looks more natural than a varnished finish. Furniture that's finished with linseed or tung oil and a thin layer of wax only needs dusting and a reapplication of paste wax every two-to-four years. Furniture that gets heavy use, such as a tabletop, could probably benefit from being waxed once a year.

Unlike varnished wood, you only want to use a clear wax on oiled furniture.

Cleaning and dusting any type of wood furniture is more important than many people realize. Approximately a third of the cost of wood furniture has to do with the finishing process that's used to color and seal the piece. Even a small film of dust can actually create small scratches in your finish, eventually exposing the wood and making it vulnerable to further damage.

When cleaning wood furniture, you can't go wrong with a mild soap-and-water mixture. For heavy-duty cleaning, you can use odorless mineral spirits (aka, paint thinner), but be aware that it will strip away the wax on your furniture, so you have to apply another coat immediately.

Whatever you do, be sure to stay away from abrasive ammonia-based detergents, such as window cleaners.

Painted Wood

Caring for painted wood is essentially the same as caring for oiled wood. A mild cleaning now and then is a good thing, as is a thin coat of clear paste wax. Look for a product labeled "finishing wax," since it's the least potent type of wax, and best for painted furniture. If the paint is chipped on your piece, don't wax the bare wood.

How To Wax

Make sure the surface is clean isn't flaking. If the finish is flaking, you need to turn the job over to a professional. Use a lint-free rag. Fold the rag into a tight square or bunch it into a wad, to make sure the loose ends don't snag on anything. Saturate the rag with paste wax, but don't use so much that you can see clumps; applying too much wax results in a dull finish. Gently rub the wax over the surface of the furniture until it's completely coated. Let the wax dry, then buff the surface until a sheen appears.

Fixing Scratches

An ugly scratch can really mar the beauty of a piece. Luckily, you can get rid of the scratches fairly easily.

A light coat of wax will fix superficial scratches.

For a light scratch that changes the color of the wood, apply a paste shoe polish that matches the finish. Use a cotton swab to apply. You can also try a furniture marker.

Overfill deeper scratches or gouges with a wax stick that matches the finish. You may need to blend two or more colors together. In a pinch, you could also use crayons. Scrape off excess wax with a credit card edge.