How to Restore Old Finish on Furniture without Stripping

I have an old wardrobe that has been stored in an outdoor shed for years, and the wood is extremely dry. How do I add moisture to it without harming the finish or the wood? -Lynda

Hi Lynda,

It’s a myth that you need to “feed” finished wood periodically to keep it from drying out. Wood will naturally acclimatize over time to the relative humidity of its surroundings regardless of whether it’s finished or not, though it will take a bit longer for finished wood to adjust.

While you can apply a fresh coat of oil (such as Danish, tung, or linseed) from time to time to furniture that was originally finished with an oil finish, it’s not a good idea to apply oil to wood that’s been finished with a built-up finish like paint, shellac, lacquer, or varnish. To help bring back the shine of a dull old finish, apply a thin coat of paste wax or furniture polish instead.

If the existing finish on your wardrobe is in good shape, start by cleaning the surface with a furniture cleaner or a solvent like mineral spirits (try it in an inconspicuous spot first to be sure it doesn’t damage the finish) to remove dirt and wax. Wipe the excess off with a clean cloth, and allow it to dry.

Next, touch up any nicks or scrapes with a brown marker or a dab of stain that matches the color of the finish. Once the stain has dried, apply a thin coat of paste wax to the surface. Allow the wax to dry for a few minutes, then wipe off the excess with a clean, soft cloth to bring out the shine.

Good luck with your project,