Unless you live in a museum, your furniture takes a lot of hits. Wet glasses leave behind white rings. Daily use wears away the finish on the edges of tables and chairs. And then there are all the little scratches, dents, and divots that mysteriously appear on wood surfaces. Don't despair.
This kind of superficial damage can be fixed quickly and easily without harming your furniture or your wallet. (If you have a fine piece of antique furniture, you may want to leave repair to a professional restorer.)
The easy techniques for restoring old furniture on the following pages will work on any clear finish—lacquer, varnish, polyurethane, or shellac. You'll find the few materials you'll need, such as denatured alcohol, wax sticks, and touch-up markers, in the paint and finishes aisle at most home-improvement stores. Look for scratch-cover polish in the cleaning-supplies section. Before tackling any repairs, clean the furniture thoroughly with a solution of dishwashing liquid or Murphy Oil Soap and water to remove all wax, grease, oil, or polish. Once you've cleaned the piece, make repairs in this order: white water rings first, followed by minor surface scratches, deep scratches, and then dings and nicks. After that, all you need do to keep a finish looking its best is to dust with a damp cloth, wipe up spills as soon as possible, and occasionally clean off any grease and dirt with mild dishwashing soap and water.
Shown: To conceal the many small scratches marring this tabletop, finish repair expert Michael Dresdner simply rubs on a coat of scratch cover, a pigmented furniture polish. Applied with a clean rag, just like regular furniture polish, a single dose is enough to make most damage disappear.