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What to Watch out for when Fixing a Dent in Antique Furniture

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A reader contacted me recently and asked me about fixing dents on teak furniture. She had read my other blogs on cleaning and protecting teak and wanted my opinion on this topic. I knew that there was information online so rather than reinvent the wheel, I planned to simply send her some links to read. Sure enough, there were several sites that gave information on how to do this but what bothered me is that there was little information on when you should not use those techniques.

I have added the links at the bottom of this post so you can check them out for yourself but here are some tips on what not to do, especially for antique furniture:

1. Don’t use those wax crayons that home improvement centres sell. They come in different colours and are supposed to fill scratches and yes, they do, but you can’t put a finish over the top since wax resists pretty much everything you put on it. The texture is different and as soon as you look at a surface with even a bit of light, the “repair” will be glaringly obvious.

Wax crayons
Wax crayons

2. Leave the hot wax stick repairs (as seen in one video) to the professional restorers, unless it’s a piece of furniture that you want to practice on.

3. Most of the techniques involve putting water on the dent and yes, this works – in some cases. Think of wood as a bunch of hollow wooden straws of different lengths placed parallel to each other. (Forget for the moment that straws are plastic for this explanation). Imagine what would happen if you struck the surface of the straws – the straws would be crushed. Repeatedly putting a small amount of water plus heat from an iron on the straws would make them expand until they are their original size. Great! Now, imagine that you have a layer of plastic over the straws. How would the water reach them? This is what happens when you try to use that technique with furniture that has a finish.

4. To be safe, you must test the finish that is on your furniture – especially antique furniture. Your piece may have been lacquered or French-polished and putting water and heat on its surface may very well ruin the piece. If the furniture is valuable to you – monetarily or sentimentally, then get a professional to do it. You are paying for their knowledge.(see link below for how to determine your finish. Remember to test your piece in a very inconspicuous spot.

Art Nouveau Sideboard
Art Nouveau Sideboard not by Gaudi

5.As far as teak furniture goes, it really depends on the number of times that a teak oil finish has been applied to it. If it has been done many times I would expect the wood to resist water. I might be tempted to try the alcohol trick but I’d be concerned about the effect of a flame on the finish around the damaged part.

6. If you plan to paint the piece of furniture go ahead and fill the indentation with wood putty, but don’t use this technique for stained finishes unless you use the powdered filler that can be mixed with stain that matches your furniture. Some sites tell you to use sawdust and glue to make your own filler which is fine, but only for painted finishes.

Dents are not easily repaired if they are on finished wood. Another alternative is to remove the finish altogether and try the bare wood with water and heat technique. Sanding will remove any patina that may have built up on its surface so you may have to stain the top to match the rest of the furniture. I have used this technique when the finish was easily removable. I wouldn’t even attempt this with contemporary furniture. If your furniture has a urethane finish, which is essentially a coating of plastic, it is possible that you will have to learn to like doilies to hide the mark.

5 thoughts on “What to Watch out for when Fixing a Dent in Antique Furniture

  1. Joanne, I have a pig that is about 5 ft tall, it’s made out of teakwood, there some splits of the wood one is really pretty long, about a ft. Is there anyway these can be repaired?
    Thank you, Cheryl

    1. Cheryl, no there isn’t anything you can do – once the wood splits along a natural (as opposed to board edge splits), it’s permanent. However if you don’t like the look of it you can fill the gap with paste wax that is closest to the colour of the wood.(You can get paste wax if different colours). The split was most probably caused by a change in humidity. As soon as you change humidity again,such as turning on a furnace in the winter, the crack will change – shrink, then in the summer will expand again. That’s why you never put wood filler in solid wood like that – it will simply make the gap larger and the wood filler will fall out. It’s a trick I have used for hardwood floors that have split.Simply fill the cracks with the paste wax and polish it smooth. Even if the humidity changes it won’t affect the crack because the wax will move with the humid conditions. Hope this helps. Good luck.

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