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How to Repair Wood Furniture

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Handyman > How to Repair Wood Furniture
How to Repair Wood Furniture

Stains, scratches, wear, and damage can really detract from the appearance and function of wood furniture. Thankfully, many minor problems can be repaired with basic skills and a few common tools and supplies.

Repair Scratches

Materials Skill Level Estimated Time
• Paste Wax Beginner 10 to 30 minutes
• Wax Stick
• Shoe Polish
• Felt Tip Touch-in
• Wood Filler
• Scratch Cover Products
• Plastic Putty Knife or Spatula

It is inevitable that wood furniture will suffer scratches and wear from daily use. Many fine scratches can be filled in with paste wax, scratch cover products, or even shoe polish in a matching color. If you cannot find an exact match, choose a darker shade, rather than a lighter color, to avoid making the scratches appear more pronounced. Simply wipe the product over the scratched area with a clean rag and remove excess with a second cloth. Felt tip touch-up pens are also handy for recoloring scratches as well as worn finish on corners and edges of a piece.


Deeper scratches and gouges can be filled with a colored wood filler or wax stick. If you cannot find the perfect shade, try blending a couple of different colors together by hand-kneading them. Press the material into the gouge and gently scrape away the excess with a plastic putty knife or spatula.

Remove Water Spots

Materials Skill Level Estimated Time
• Hair Dryer or Iron Intermediate 10 to 60 minutes
• Clean, Dry Cloth
• Steel Wool
• Mayonnaise or Petroleum Jelly
• Denatured Alcohol
• Mineral Oil or Baking Soda Paste

White rings and spots that appear under glasses or wet items are evidence of moisture that has penetrated the surface finish. If the damage does not reach the wood itself, these spots may be corrected with simple surface applications. Heat applied shortly after the damage has occurred can often remove white spots by drying out trapped moisture. Try running a hair dryer over the spot or placing a warm, dry iron on a dry cloth placed over the spot, moving it back and forth for a few minutes.


For older spots, an oily product such as mayonnaise or petroleum jelly may help push the water out of the finish. Apply a small amount to the surface and let it set for a few minutes, then wipe away with a clean, dry cloth.


A more aggressive approach may be needed to clear up stubborn water marks. A clean rag barely dampened with denatured alcohol may be more effective than oil, and often a mild abrasive is necessary, such as superfine steel wool with mineral oil or a paste of baking soda and water. These methods require a little more expertise to perfect and carry a higher risk of damaging the finish, so practice on a discrete area if possible before working on a more visible spot.

Stains and Damaged Finish

Materials Skill Level Estimated Time
• Sandpaper Advanced 2 to 5 hours
• Chemical Stripping Product
• Masking Tape
• Brush or Rag
• Stain
• Polyurethane or Shellac

If the finish of your wooden furniture is worn or damaged or if dark stains have penetrated the finish, a simple restoration technique may not be enough to get it back into shape. In this case, you will need to strip the existing surface and refinish the wood. The two most practical methods for removing wood finish are sanding and chemically stripping. When choosing the best approach for your project, consider the size and shape of the piece you are working on. Sanding is simplest on flat surfaces, while chemical strippers can simplify refinishing turned or carved pieces. Your work area is also important; sanding creates a dusty mess, but working with strippers requires more careful handling and very good ventilation.


When sanding, start with coarse sandpaper, such as 80- or 100-grit, to remove the varnish and stain on the piece. Gradually work up to finer grits of sandpaper, such as 120, 150, 180, and 220, to create a smooth surface for new stain. Even after chemically stripping a wood finish it is important to give the piece a light sanding to remove scratches, blemishes, and imperfections that will be emphasized after staining.


If only working on a portion of the piece, isolate the area with masking tape, remove all sanding dust, and apply stain with a brush and/or rag, being careful to catch drips and avoid pooling. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for drying time and after enough coats have been applied to reach the desired color, apply a suitable protective coat, such as polyurethane or shellac. Lightly sanding with very fine sandpaper between coats can help achieve a smooth finish.

Weak Support

Materials Skill Level Estimated Time
• Utility Knife Intermediate 30 to 60 minutes
• Sandpaper
• Wood Glue or Epoxy
• Syringe-like Injector
• Clamp

Chair and table legs and supports can loosen, making furniture wobbly and unstable. In most cases, re-gluing the loose joints can restore their stability and prevent additional loosening and damage to other parts of the piece. If possible, remove the loosened part or disassemble the piece in order to clean the old adhesive out of the joint. Use a utility knife to scrape off dried glue and sand the surface to reveal bare wood. Apply wood glue to both sides of the joint, reassemble, and apply an appropriate clamp to hold the piece firmly together until the glue has cured. If you cannot take the piece apart to prepare for glue, use a syringe-like injector to apply glue to the area. If the wood in the area of the joint is damaged, an epoxy may be more effective than standard wood glue.

Loose Hardware

Materials Skill Level Estimated Time
• Wood Glue Intermediate 30 to 60 minutes
• Wooden Toothpicks
• Drill and Drill Bit
• Screw

When screws wear loose or even fall out, tightening or replacing them is usually all that is needed to shore things up again. However, if the wood holding the hardware has worn away, screws won’t be able to grab enough material to hold tightly. To remedy this, remove the hardware, apply wood glue to the cavity and fill it with wooden toothpicks. Wipe away excess glue and allow it to dry. Break or cut off the ends of the toothpicks and pre-drill a new hole in the now solid spot, using a drill bit slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw.

Level of Difficulty

Though more advanced techniques are needed to correct some problems with wood furniture and finishes, many common issues can be resolved with basic skills and simple tools and supplies. If your project requires more advanced woodworking skills, a pro such as a finish carpenter, cabinet maker, or skilled handyman should be able to make it as good as new!

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