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how to get scratches out of wood

As we go through life, we all get our share of scrapes and scratches, from skinned knees to kitchen knife cuts. And so does our furniture! Day-to-day life takes its toll on wooden chairs and tables: Your dog claws the dining chairs or your daughter doodles on her desk, and every time you move, your furniture takes a beating. Unlike your skin, your wood furniture can’t repair itself. Luckily, there are some easy ways to fix scratches on your wood furniture, and keep it looking good.

Re-Finishing Fine Furniture

furniture scratch repair - sandpaper

Get it on Tophatter for around $10

To get ideas about how to refinish fine furniture, I spoke with architect Ebbe Videriksen (full disclosure — he’s my dad). Born in Denmark in 1926, he has designed and hand-built fine wood furniture for more than 70 years. “Back in the 1960s, when I built a lot of teakwood furniture, I usually just oiled it, which left it susceptible to water damage,” he told me. “In later decades, as I began working with fine rosewood, cherry, maple, and beech woods, I used matte lacquer, which helps to repel water. This type of furniture can be sanded to remove water marks or scratches, and then re-oiled or re-lacquered. You begin with a coarser-textured sandpaper and finish with a finer grain, wrapping the sandpaper around a holder. Be careful, however, if the furniture is veneered, because if you sand through the veneer, then you’ve ruined the furniture.”

Easier Fixes

furniture scratch repair - guardsman water mark remover

Get it on Amazon for around $5

You might be able to avoid sanding and refinishing by using a Guardsman Water Mark Remover Cloth. These treated and reusable cloths are designed to remove marks caused by water, alcohol, or heat. You simply rub or wipe the wood with your cloth. Often, the cloth will remove minor blemishes, surface scratches, latex paint, and permanent-marker stains as well. And all without stripping the finish.

Another recommendation comes from Steve at Woodcraft of Boise. His favorite solution for removing scratches and marks is a liquid called Howard Restor-A-Finish. “Just wet a rag and then apply to your furniture, wiping in the direction of the grain,” he says. “Then use a clean rag to wipe off the excess. Many wood surfaces can be restored this way in just a few minutes.” Restore-A-Finish is designed to treat white marks from water or heat, blemishes, oxidation, smoke damage, and sun fading.

Stained Wood

furniture scratch repair - howard restor-a-finish

Get it on Amazon for around $16

Most furniture these days is made from less-expensive wood that has been stained. Stains can be golden, red, dark brown, or black, to make the wood resemble oak, walnut, mahogany, or ebony. To restore stained wood, you need to match its color as closely as possible. As Steve from Woodcraft of Boise points out, the Howard Restore-A-Finish comes in eight colors, like cherry and neutral.

Scratches and Dents

furniture scratch repair - polymer resin

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One of the easiest ways to make furniture scratches disappear is to literally color them with a touch-up marker. You can buy packs of markers and crayons in different colors and keep them on hand for all your touch-up needs. Crayons often work well on worn furniture edges, or can be used to fill in small dents. For larger dents, try a polymer resin. This works best on white furniture, unless you paint it after it dries.

Home-Based Solutions

furniture scratch repair - beeswax

Get it on Tophatter for around $7

Want to get that scratch out now without buying anything new? You might already have products at home that can fix furniture scratches. Look through your markers to see if you already have a matching color. Apply shoe dye or polish with a Q-Tip or cotton swab. Apply iodine or oil-based paint with a fine brush. You can even dig out your old Crayolasmarker pens, or eyebrow pencils. Coffee grounds or brewed tea, applied several times with a Q-Tip, can sometimes darken a light scratch. Steve says, “If the scratch doesn’t penetrate into the wood, simply apply a paste wax over the surface and buff. The wax will fill in the scratch grooves and make them disappear.” You can also try mixing equal parts of lemon juice and oil in a dish and then rub it into the scratched area with a clean cloth.

Woods that Resist Scratches

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No wood is completely scratch-resistant, but some handle damage from pet claws and dings better than others. The folks at Woodcraft of Boise told me that the hardest and most scratch-resistant woods are tropical ones like ipe, cumaru, and jatoba, which is why these are often used for wood flooring. Hickory is the hardest domestic hardwood, followed by maple and then oak. The least-durable are softwoods like pine, fir, or bamboo. The finish material matters, too. You’ll get the best protection if your furniture is pre-finished at the factory with a baked-on polyurethane or aluminum-oxide finish. At-home finishes of shellac or oil, or less than three coats of polyurethane, leave your furniture more prone to scratching.

Now you can hop to it — restore your wood furniture and erase those scratches to beautify your home and live happy.

Shop for wood restoration products:

  1. Fine furniture oil
  2. Sandpaper
  3. Sandpaper holder
  4. Guardsman Water Mark Remover Cloth
  5. Howard Restor-A-Finish
  6. Howard Restor-A-Finish Cherry
  7. Touch-up markers and crayons
  8. Polymer resin
  9. Crayolas
  10. Marker pens
  11. Eyebrow pencil
  12. Paste wax
  13. Polyurethane

Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.


Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.

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