Woodworking RX: 3 Fast Fixes for Flawed Furniture

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woodworking rx

3 Fast Fixes for Flawed Furniture

Quick-and-easy cosmetic surgery

By Joe Hurst-Wajszczuk


With antique furniture, a collection of scratches, divots, and chips is considered “character.” In stark contrast, the first scratch that appears on a brand-new table or dent that happens when carrying a chair through a doorway often sparks language too colorful for school-age kids. Here’s the good news: With a little know-how, your choices don’t have to be limited to either refinishing or resignation.

For years, finishing experts and woodworkers have been performing on-site cosmetic surgery quickly and easily with the help of a small and affordable collection of easy-to-use repair products. Here are three popular remedies and tips for putting them to use.

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Hide scratches with Touch-Up pens. Spread the ink onto the scratch, and then use long strokes to even out the color.

Touch-Up Pens

Like a ready-to-use artist’s brush, touch-up pens provide a fast, convenient, and controllable concealer for scratches and worn edges. After selecting the appropriate hue, simply wipe the pen’s tip on the damage, allow a few seconds for the dye to dry, and then wipe off the excess with a rag. Pens are available in dozens of hues and can be combined to produce the perfect match. (Keep in mind that colors tend to darken when they soak into wood.)

To replicate the sheen of the surrounding topcoat, top off the fix off with a finish pen. (In a pinch, you can also apply canned lacquer with a toothpick.) To fill the damaged area–also called “doping in”–simply apply the finish in light coats until the scratch is level with the surrounding surface. For the best possible patch, build the finish just above the surrounding surface, allow time to cure, and then sand it back with 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper, lubricated with mineral spirits, to level off the repair.

Touch-Up pens are easy and quick, but in order to create a field-ready first-aid kit, you’ll need to stock up on a variety of colors and finish sheens. Unfortunately, pens tend to dry out if they sit too long. Unless you plan to make refinishing a pastime, buy pens when they’re needed, and record the colors that match certain pieces so that you’re prepared to deal with future scratches.

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Knead together different colored sticks to create a custom-colored patch. The heat from your fingertips softens the putty for easier application.

Wax Sticks

Centuries ago, stone sculptors used wax to conceal cracks and blemishes. Today, it’s still well suited for making instant, on-site repairs to chips and other damage too serious for a stain pen, such as holes left by finish nailers. Like pens, wax sticks are available individually, but it makes sense to invest in a set so that you’ll always have the correct color close at hand. When stored properly, wax sticks have a long shelf life.

To apply, level the damaged area, and then rub the stick (or mixed shavings) into the hole. Next, flatten and scrape away the excess with a knife, being careful not to create a divot. If need be, you can buff the area with a rag or soft-bristle brush to match the sheen of the surrounding finish.

Wax excels at quick and clean repairs, but it’s not perfect. By its nature, wax remains soft and impressionable and should be reserved for small-scale damage and areas that don’t receive much direct contact. Because wax resists stains and finishes, it should be used for post-finishing touch-ups only.

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Fill the defect with resin, and then scrape away excess to level the repair. Masking off the surrounding finish protects it from the hot knife.

Burn-In Sticks

With a little help from a hot knife, burn-in sticks can be flowed into deep chips, cracks, and knots to create a durable fix.

You can use a variety of heat sources to melt the resin, such as a soldering iron, woodburning tool, or flame-heated palette knife, but commercial burn-in knives offer the most convenience and control. Heat the knife until its contact with the stick causes the resin to drip into the chipped area. Fill the hole in layers until the resin sits just above the surrounding area. Give the resin a few seconds to set, and then mask off the perimeter of the damaged area. Next, top off the tape and any remaining unprotected surrounding surface with a bit of protective lubricant that also facilitates the removal of excess resin. Now, use the hot knife to scrape off the excess. Once the repair is dry, lightly finish-sand with 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper lubricated with mineral spirits.

Finishes can be applied on top of burn-in patches, so this fix is suitable for pre- and post-finishing repairs. You can even add graining with an acrylic paint for a perfect patch. The only disadvantage is the risk associated with running a hot knife against a finished surface. But it’s not a big deal; just practice the procedure before putting a real piece of furniture under the knife.

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