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How to Fix Wood Scratches

This Old House carpenter Nathan Gilbert shows host Kevin O’Connor how to handle small scratches on finished furniture and hardwood surfaces.

In this video, Ask This Old House Carpenter Nathan Gilbert shows host Kevin O’Connor how to handle light abrasions, heavier wear, and even small gouges on hardwood surfaces. He explains how to blend these repairs in and even tells Kevin when it’s best to call a professional.

How to Fix Light Wood Abrasions

Light abrasions are often the result of materials rubbing on the finished surface of the wood. This is actually a collection of light scratches in the outermost finish layer, which is usually lacquer or polyurethane.

  1. Wipe the surface with a clean rag to remove any excess dust or dirt from the repair area.
  2. Squeeze a small amount of scratch remover onto the cloth. Be sure that the scratch remover chosen matches the wood, whether light or dark.
  3. Apply the scratch remover to the surface and buff it over the damaged area. Apply light to medium pressure, allowing the scratch remover to fill the tiny scratches.
  4. Let the scratch remover to dry completely. Finally apply a light layer of finish over top, whether it be polyurethane or lacquer.

How to Fix Large Wood Abrasions

When working with larger abrasions, it might be necessary to blend the repair into the rest of the wood. These abrasions may be slightly deeper than a lighter abrasion, but not so deep that they dig into the wood.

  1. Clean the surface with a rag and mineral spirits. This will remove any wax and residue from the wood that might otherwise hinder the repair.
  2. Use a piece of 120-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the damaged area. The goal is to remove the finish layer, allowing the stain to penetrate the pores of the wood in the next step. Wipe the area down with more mineral spirits to remove the sanding dust.
  3. Dip a clean rag into a matching stain and rub it on the surface of the repair area. Remove the excess stain with another rag to assess the color. If the stain appears too light, apply another coat—there’s no reason to let the first coat dry. Just wipe excess stain off between each step.
  4. Allow the stain to dry for at least 4 hours (or according to the manufacturer’s instructions). Once dry, apply a coat of polyurethane or lacquer to finish the repair.

How to Fix Scratches on Wood

Scratches in wood cut through the finish layer and gouge into the wood below. These scratches often result in the damaged area being slightly lighter in color.

  1. Buff the scratch with a bit of steel wool to flatten the high points created by the scratch.
  2. Wipe the repair area down with mineral spirits to remove the dust and contaminants from the scratch.
  3. Match the color of the wood with the color of a stain repair pen. This might require using two or three colors to blend the scratch in with the wood, depending on the color. Drag the tip of the pen along the gouge until the color begins to match.
  4. Next, choose a repair crayon that closely matches the wood’s color. Use the wand lighter to melt the crayon so the liquid wax drips onto the scratch area. Allow the wax to cool for a few moments before scraping the surface with the plastic razor to remove the excess wax.
  5. Finally, touch the repair area up with the stain pens to match the grain pattern in the wood. Generally speaking, this involves dragging the pen across the wax, going with the grain, and matching the darker areas.

Maintaining Wood Surfaces

On the shelves of supermarkets, hardware stores, and home-improvement centers you can find dozens of products that promise to clean, pick up dust, impart shine, add a nice aroma—or all of the above—to your furniture. The truth is that although none of them will do your finish any harm, none is absolutely necessary to keep furniture looking its best.

Dusting with a dry cloth generates friction, which creates a slight static charge on the surface that in turn attracts more dust. Dusting/polishing sprays, such as Pledge, reduce the static and help the rag hold the dust, but a damp cloth does both these things just as well. Some sprays leave behind a thin film of oil that temporarily adds shine, but the oil acts like a magnet for whatever dust lands on it.

For routine cleaning, diluted dishwashing soap or furniture cleaner such as Murphy Oil Soap is gentle and effective. Avoid strong alkaline- or ammonia-based detergents (like window cleaners); they can harm some finishes. And never use scrubbing cleansers, which contain abrasives that will dull almost any sheen.

Resources

To fix scratched-off varnish on furniture, Nathan used Mohawk Scratch-Off.

To refinish the legs of Nathan’s office chair, he used Howard Restore-A-Finish in Walnut.

To fill in the deep set scratch in wood, Nathan used Mohawk Fil-Stik

All other tools used including 0000 steel wool, sanding sponges, and tack cloth can be found at local home centers.


Materials