There’s something especially glum about a worn, dented and scratched finish on interior woodwork, cabinets and furniture. This is especially true since so many wood finishes in Canadian homes include stains that are darker than the natural colour of the wood itself. Dents, abrasion and ordinary wear inevitably punch through this darker, surface layer of stain, revealing bright wood below that looks ugly and impoverished. Yes, visible wear is entirely a superficial thing, but way too much perfectly sound woodwork is pitched onto the trash heap because of it. That’s not surprising considering how worn wood finishes can make you feel so bad about your home and yourself. What’s not so obvious is how simple and easy it is to reverse the appearance of this kind of wear and tear without a full-blown refinishing job. In fact, wood rejuvenation of this sort is now faster and more pleasant than ever.
The main challenge behind revitalizing an old stained finish without complete stripping back to bare wood comes down to re-establishing a dark colour on areas of wear. Traditionally this has involved buying several small cans of wood stain, experimenting with different hues and tones, then settling on one colour to reapply with a brush and rag. After that you go over everything again with coats of urethane. Trouble is, most cans of stain are much larger than you need for this work, and most formulations of stain also contain solvents that leave irritating odours wafting through your home. Solving both these problems is why a brand new option for wood finishing caught my eye. I spotted it at a trade show back in the fall, and It’s just coming out on Canadian store shelves now. Though unique at the moment, I expect it will spawn copycat products over the next few years.
Minwax Wood Finishing Cloths come pre-charged with a liquid that’s both a stain and a mild wood sealer in one. They’re designed primarily for applying a new finish on bare wood, but they’re also the best thing I’ve seen so far for repairing old finishes. Put on the protective gloves that come with each package, open the resealable pouch, pull out one of the stain-saturated rags, then wipe areas of dented, worn wood. The stain only soaks in where the old finish is gone, colouring light areas while making things look much better. If you can’t find an exact match for your woodwork, choose one shade darker than the existing finish.
This cloth-based approach never leaves brush marks behind because paint brushes are never involved. The thick, waterbased liquid that saturates the cloths is almost odour-free, it dries in an hour and washes up with soap and water. It’s also viscous enough that you can vary the depth of colour by rubbing more or less material into a given area. Two or three coats are enough to create a basic layer of protection on wood, but you can add a couple of coats of waterbased or oil-based urethane or wipe-on poly on top after it dries, if you need more protection. There are eight 7”x 8” cloths in each package, and each cloth goes a long way. Slip unused cloths back in the resealable plastic pouch for use again later. It’s sleek and simple.
Fixing up old finishes like this won’t make cabinets, trim and furniture look new again, but they will do something that many people like better. Although the dents and worn edges won’t go away, surfaces get quite attractive when these areas are made as dark or darker than the surrounding undamaged areas. There’s something attractive about this kind of distressed, “shabby chic” look. Will you like the effect in your own home? You’ve got nothing to lose to give it a try.