How to Care for a Wood Dining Table

Carl Hansen CH337 Round Dining Table by Hans Wegner in White Oil Oak 3So, you have splashed out on a wood table like the Ethnicraft Slice Extendable Dining Table for your kitchen or dining room. Look on it as an investment, since with just minimal care it will last for years. For proof just look at the amount of antique wooden furniture there is around.  

How do you care for a wood table and make sure it stays looking wonderful? Is there anything you can do when things do go wrong? Luckily maintenance is low. If anything does go wrong there are almost certain to be simple ways to repair the damage. Solid wood is not just great looking, it is also one of the hardiest materials around.  

A hardwood tree, after all, will last hundreds of years. Cutting it down and turning the material into furniture like the Fritz Hansen Essay Table does nothing to destroy the strong fibres that give it that long lifespan. In fact, like a fine wine, it can even get better as it gets older. Natural ageing and a slight patina add to its appearance and allure. 

How to Store Table Leaves 

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If you buy a table like the Carl Hansen CH337 Round Extendable Dining Table or Fredericia 6286 Shaker Dining Table, you need to make sure the leaves – the table ends that slot in and out to make it bigger or smaller – are cared for properly. 

The key is to keep the leaves horizontal and in the same conditions as the rest of the table. Use the storage areas built into the frame if possible. They will keep the leaves in the right position and the same conditions as the rest of the table. It is important, however, to stop the table fading or the leaves will start to look different.

If you must store the leaves elsewhere, keep them horizontal. Propping them upright risks warping the wood. Make sure humidity, heat and all the rest are similar to the conditions for the main table. 

Protect the Wooden Table from Heat 

Wood is a natural product so your care for a wood table does benefit from a little thought. The first thing to worry about is where you are going to put it once the gleaming new piece of furniture arrives in the house. 

The first consideration is heat. Wood needs to hold onto its water to keep the fibres that hold it together healthy. If it is put too close to a fire or radiator, the direct heat will dry it out and that can spell disaster. The fibres will shrink. That can split the wood surface or loosen the joints.  

You don’t have to go overboard and stick it in the freezer, just keep it away from a direct heat source and all will be well. It doesn’t have to be far. A metre or two is usually fine.

The same applies to hot objects. Remember when your mother used to shout “use a mat” or “use coaster” when you went to put a hot drink directly on the table. That’s what she was getting at. Putting cups filled with hot liquid directly onto the wood comes with a big “no!”. The same applies to hot pans, hot plates and so on. Basically, if it is hot, use something to protect the wood. 

Protect the Wooden Table from the Sun 

When it comes to damaging the table, direct sunlight can be even worse. The rays of a bright afternoon sun streaming through the window may feel good but they cause problems with wood. 

The sun can bring all the same problems that direct heat does with drying and splitting the wood. It also discolours the surface though the damage may be reversible. That depends on how long it has been exposed to the sun. After a while, however, there is nothing that can be done; the look is permanently spoiled.  

Ideally, the table should be kept away from windows exposed to direct sunlight. That is not always possible. It is worth having blinds or curtains to protect the table from direct light on the odd bright, sunny day. If that is not possible, a simple tablecloth will also do the job but it may also be worth considering a finish that is resistant to ultraviolet rays when you order the table.

How to Protect a Wood Table from Water 

Most tables will come with an oil, wax, shellac, varnish or lacquer finish that gives some protection. The aim of the game here, therefore, is to protect the finish and make sure any spillages don’t get time to soak through.  

Fritz Hansen Essay Table - The Series 7 Chair Post ImageThat partly depends on the exact finish. Some are harder and more waterproof than others. The key, though, is to keep the surface clean and dry. 

If there are spillages, make sure they are cleaned up quickly. If food drops on the table top, make sure it is thoroughly removed — if it is left and starts to decompose, it may also start to rot the wood. 

Place mats are a good all-round protection. They will hopefully catch any spillages and also help stop cutlery damaging the finish or the wood underneath. An even better answer is a decent tablecloth. It may hide the natural wood, but it only needs to be there as long as the table is being used and prevents a lot of heartache. 

How to Clean a Wood Table with Vinegar 

A lot depends on the exact finish you have chosen. Harder finishes like lacquer or varnish shouldn’t need anything more than a quick wipe-down with a warm damp cloth. Avoid soaking the surface. Never use a cleaning product that risks removing or scratching the finish. Softer finishes like oil or wax need to be renewed every few months as well as cleaned. 

Since wood is a natural substance, your care for a wood table means going for natural cleaning products. A good one is vinegar, which disinfects the wood without damaging it. One or two measures of white wine vinegar to 16 of water is perfect for wax or oil. Three to 16 is strong enough for varnish or lacquer. Washing up liquid does at a pinch but is a risk to an oil finish and does not have the same disinfectant properties as vinegar.  

Use a soft, non-abrasive cloth if the table is reasonably new and smooth. Sometimes an older table has a more textured surface. In this case, a soft bristle brush will be needed – but use it gently. Whatever you are using, make sure it is only damp, not soaking. Remember, you don’t want the water to get into the wood fibres.

Always rub along the grain. Going across the grain risks damaging the surface. If there are any small particles stuck between the fibres, going across the grain might leave them behind.  

After washing the table, make sure you dry it properly.  

Care for Wood Table When it is Damaged 

However much you care for a wood table, there are a number of ways it can get damaged. Daily use can bring dents and marks, sharp objects may scratch the surface. The biggest risk, though, and the eternal enemy of wood tables, are the white water rings you see when people forget about using coasters to protect the wood. Other spillages may also damage or stain the surface. 

Of course, the best bet is to stop them ever happening, so the best care for a wood table is to protect the surface when the table is in use. Even if you do that, though, accidents will still happen.

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How to Remove a Sticky Residue from a Wood Table 

Eventually, wood may absorb grime, vapour and smells from its environment. This a particular risk for kitchen surfaces. You need to get rid of it or risk permanent damage.

Start with a light clean to get the dust off the surface. Then get some white spirit, soak a cloth with it and use it to wipe the wood. Be careful to keep the cloth moving so that the spirit doesn’t get time to soak into the wood. You should see the grime lifting away. 

If there are badly stained areas, you may need to keep at it for a while and keep soaking the cloth in spirit. Don’t despair, it will come clean in the end. Then wash it down with a damp cloth and dry thoroughly. Finally, it is a good idea to reapply oil or polish depending on what surface you are dealing with. 

solid wood oak dining table

How to Remove Water Stains from a Wood Table Top 

Usually, the tell-tale sign is the white ring marks on the surface. Water trapped inside the finish is the culprit. The good news is that it is usually easy to remove. 

The idea is to get water trapped by the finish to evaporate. A hairdryer set on medium heat is the most gentle option – so that is where to start. The first thing is, do not turn it up high, since that will damage the wood. Then, hold the dryer about four to six inches (10 to 15cm) away from the surface and sweep it from side to side so that the hot air doesn’t hit one spot for too long. With luck, it takes just a couple of minutes before there are signs of progress but it can easily take 20 minutes before the stain is completely gone. 

Treating a Stubborn Stain 

If that doesn’t work, one odd, but effective, trick to try is to use mayonnaise. The concept here is that mayonnaise is a mixture of oil and vinegar. The latter will act as a cleaner while the former soaks into the wood and refreshes it.  

Just wipe the mayonnaise onto a cloth. Try wiping it over the surface and see if that works. If not then leave the mayonnaise-soaked cloth on the surface overnight and wash it off with the vinegar solution the following day.  

The next trick to try is to remove water stains from wood with an iron. Take a damp towel or tea cloth and put it over the stain. Again, keep the heat low to guard against overheating the wood. Turn off the steam function on the iron. Don’t keep the iron there for too long, just repeat the process until the stain is gone. 

If none of these tricks work, you need to get a bit more aggressive. Even here, though, start gentle and work your way up. 

Abrasive toothpaste gently wiped into the stained area on the end of a finger might work. If not move up to fine-grade wire wool. Sandpaper is the last resort. Always make sure you run along the grain and not in a circular motion. All of these are damaging, possibly even removing, the finish, so it is important you replace it with oil or polish as soon as the stain has gone.

How to Repair Dents in a Wood Table 

Things will get dropped; that’s the real world. Heavy or sharp objects will dent the wood. Fortunately, wood is flexible by nature and will try to rebound to its original shape when treated. Sadly, these tricks will not work for severe damage – when the fibres are cut or pulled apart. They do, however, give you a good chance of restoring your table from day-to-day knocks. 

Again, there are a number of tricks. As with stains, the idea is to start with the most gentle remedy and work your way up. First, just try dropping a little lukewarm water into the dent. Give it a short time to soak in. If you are lucky, the fibres will swell back into place. Just dry it off and restore the finish. 

Repair Tougher Dents

If that water is not enough, try using an iron and a dampened towel. The technique is the same as for a removing a stain. Set the iron on medium heat with the steam function turned off and press down on the affected area. The heat should force the water through the finish and into the wood to restore the smooth surface. Be careful not to leave the iron there for too long – you don’t want to damage the wood around the dent. If it is a large or deep dent, you may need to let the wood cool and come back to it several times. 

You enter a different league for repairs if the fibres are stretched, split apart or broken. Wood fillers, extra layers of wax or polish, nail varnish, epoxy resin and a variety of other repair tricks can all plug the hole. If you need a permanent repair, however, your care for a wood table may well have gone beyond the capacity of do-it-yourself and you probably need to call in a professional.  

If you do want to try your own repair, you need to remove the surface with fine wire wool or fine-grade sandpaper. Use a transparent or colour-matched filler to plug the hole. You just re-do the finish. With luck, the table will look like new again.



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