Maintaining Your Solid Oak Furniture

Maintaining Your Solid Oak Furniture

For centuries, oak has been a popular material for constructing furniture thanks to its strength, durability, and beauty. Oak is known for its prominent grain which means little spots and dings just blend in. But, oak is porous so it can stain easily, especially if it doesn't have a modern finish like a glossy varnish. It can also become dry and cracked if not properly moisturized. To maintain oak furniture, you'll need to protect it from extreme temperature swings, moisture, sun, and heat.


1. Caring For Your Oak Furniture

Ask for maintenance instructions when you buying. Since wood furniture that you buy has probably been treated differently. Ask for a pamphlet with care instructions when you purchase your oak furniture.
  • If the furniture does not have any special instructions and has a light clear finish, follow general wood care recommendations.



Air out new furniture. If your new oak furniture has been recently oiled (especially on interior and back surfaces), it might have a strong odor. To minimize this, leave any drawers or doors open to help the smell dissipate. You might want to keep windows open or run an air purifier.
  • Furniture is often oiled before it is packed and shipped.
  • If the smell is strong, consider placing a bowl with baking soda, white vinegar, and activated charcoal near your furniture. This can absorb odor
Sand and stain the furniture. If you're working with untreated oak furniture, you'll need to lightly sand the surface. This will smooth the furniture, ensuring that the stain goes on evenly. Take care to vacuum or wipe off all sawdust before staining. Apply your wood stain using a brush or a cloth dipped in stain. Let the stain rest before applying another coat (if you want a darker stain). There are several types of stains you can use with oak
  • Oil-based: This is a deep-penetrating stain that is permanent.
  • Water-based: This is easier on the environment and easier to clean up.
  • One-step stain and finish: This is a combination stain and finish.
Consider stripping the wood. If the oak furniture has severe staining or you'd just like to change the look of the furniture, you may want to strip the wood. You'll need to determine what protective coverings are on the wood before you remove them. For example, if the furniture is covered in varnish, you'll need to apply varnish stripper according to the manufacturer's directions. You can then re-varnish or stain the furniture.
  • Test the stripper in a small inconspicuous spot before applying it to the whole piece of furniture.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands. You may also want to wear old clothing when refinishing furniture.
Seal oak furniture. Oak is likely to absorb dirt if the surface is not sealed. Once you've applied stain, think about applying a finish. You can use a strong polyurethane (which is also available as a water-based poly) or a penetrating-oil finish which gives a beautiful finish. To use polyurethane, apply it in several thin coats, sanding between them. To use a penetrating-oil finish, apply the finish and let it soak in before wiping it off with a soft cloth.
  • There are a variety of penetrating-oil finishes like Tung oil, Danish oil and Antique oil. These will need to be reapplied periodically (whenever the wood feels dry or looks dull).
Clean the oak. If the wood has been sealed and finished, you can simply wipe it down with a clean damp cloth. Take a soft dry cloth and buff out any moisture. If the wood hasn't been sealed, clean the wood using a gentle wood oil and then apply a moisturizing polish. To protect the wood, always use soft cotton cloths and consider wearing gloves while you work.
  • Avoid cleaning with common household cleaners, even if they're wood cleaners. Many household cleaners can leave behind a layer of oil that will buildup. Or, cleaners may strip your furniture over time
Moisturize your furniture. To maintain your furniture's shine and repel water, treat the wood with furniture oil, wax, or polish. Moisturize at least once a month to prevent cracking or more frequently (like once a week) if the furniture gets daily wear and tear. You may also want to oil a new or used piece of oak furniture that appears dry.
  • The dryness level in wood will equal the dryness of its surroundings after a few months. It does not need and cannot be "replenished" with lots of oil, although that can make the surface prettier. Rapid temperature and humidity changes always risk cracking, and oil buildup into unfinished surfaces can make wood abnormally flammable.

2. Avoiding Damage to Your Oak Furniture


Avoid direct sunlight and heat. Don't place oak furniture next to a source of heat or in direct sunlight. This can cause excessive dryness, difficult to fix cracks of body components, and color fading. If you must place the furniture right next to an air vent, close its louvers to reduce air flow (but don't close more than a small fraction of them all, as that could hurt the HVAC system.)

  • Keep your oak furniture inside. Unless specifically designed for outside use (such as regularly cleaned and oiled deck chairs), wooden furniture should always be used inside.

Clean up spills. Always clean spills and water off of oak furniture. Since oak is porous, it will easily soak up water. This can damage the finish and lead to staining. Wipe up spills with a clean dry cloth or paper towel.

  • The longer a spill sits, the deeper the spill can penetrate. This is why it's important to dry a spill as soon as you notice it.

Move all furniture carefully. No matter how strong and sturdy oak furniture looks, always move it with care. To do so, lift it or gently push it with sliders and rollers. Carefully set it down to preserve the integrity of the joints. If a joint does come undone, it can usually be fixed with glue and a clamp.

  • Never drag furniture by it's legs or pull it across a room.



Protect the finish. Don't expose oak to strong cleaning agents, coffee, wine, water or other liquids. Modern finishes can generally be cleaned with a damp (not soggy), lightly soaped towel. Antique finishes can be more delicate, so test an inconspicuous area and wait a few minutes to see what happens before proceeding.

  • Avoid putting hot items such as dishes or pans directly on the wood. Instead, use trivets or heavy mats.

Repair any dents or marks. You may be able to repair slight damages to oak furniture. You can use furniture markers and putties (available in a variety of colors) to fix small chips. To repair a mark or dent in unfinished furniture, try swelling the ding back out. Put a damp cotton cloth over the spot and place the tip of a warm iron onto the cloth so the wood rises up. Once the blemish is dry, sand it down with fine-grain sandpaper, then oil it.

  • Furniture oil tends to darken light dings in overall hard finishes. Use the "natural" yellowish kind for a medium brown color. If you need nearly-black, try dark furniture oil. Don't soak too much oil into a waxy-type finish since it can really stain.
  • Some putties harden while others stay soft and removable. For penetrating fixes start with lighter tones.

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  • Shan Lin
Comments 1
  • Evan Jr. Wilson
    Evan Jr. Wilson

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