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before and after basics: refreshing wood

by Barb

Welcome to Thursday! Today on Before & After Basics we’ll tackle the process of refreshing tired wood with oil. While this is not a process I do on a weekly basis in the studio, it is great knowledge to have for the antique gems in my home. “What?” you ask, “not everything in your house is painted?” Nope! It’s all about the mixture my friends! Are you ready to get started? Let’s do this thing! — Barb

Images via The Brick House

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!



1. Map out the “trouble” areas on your piece, such as stains, water damage, ink and scuff marks and sand them lightly. When working with wood, always remember to sand with the grain. If you start sanding like a crazy person, you will ruin your finish!

2. When you’re done sanding, clean the piece with Murphy’s Oil soap. This gets all the dirt, dust and grime off the piece and leaves a nice, clean surface for you to work with.

3. Apply the Watco Teak Oil. Soak your rag and rub the entire piece down. Wait 10 minutes and with a clean rag, wipe off the excess oil. Depending on how thirsty the wood is, you can do two or three coats of the oil. One of the great things about using oil to refresh furniture is that it restores the color and grain and seals the finish from the inside out.

4. When you’re done oiling and the piece is dry to the touch, you’re ready for the final step. Apply the Howard Feed-N-Wax generously with a rag and after about 20 minutes, wipe off any excess.

I referred to this article over at The Brick House. All images and project information are run courtesy of, and with the permission of, The Brick House. You can see more of this beautiful home here!

You now have a piece of beautifully refreshed wood! Aren’t you proud?!

See you all next week!

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  • does the teak oil leave a stain on the wood? i have a night stand that has some water rings that i would love to get out but i don’t want to change the color finish on the wood. This seams easy enough for me to try. i was afraid i was going to need a professional to fix the top of my piece! thanks barb

  • The dresser is awesome, but really, i’m more interested in that kick-ass chair. THAT needs to be in my living room. I feel comfortable just looking at it.

  • Thanks for these instructions! I have a side table that desperately needs attention, but I haven’t taken the time to search out how yet.

  • i have a chair that i sanded and stripped then used howard restor-a-finish. i then used the feed-n-wax in three coats. but i can’t seem to get the shiny luster that my other teak pieces have. can you help?

  • Very helpful information! I used to use steel wool to refresh dinged-up finishes on wood, but read that the steel fibers can get embedded in the wood and may eventually rust and stain the wood! I don’t know if it’s true, but I’d rather not risk it. I’ll try this oil/Howard method, instead!

  • Thank you for the information !

    I have a table I (cough) borrowed from my parents. It is made of an exotic wood I can’t identify. Trouble is, I’ve made a stain that won’t go away and has taken the colored varnish away. The wood is intact, but discolored.

    Can I refresh the wood like you suggested, and find the same color again ? Am I doomed to do the whole table ?

    • loora, oh dear my friend! the teak oil will refresh the wood….while not completely taking the stain away it will diminish it greatly to where it is not noticeable. I do recommend using the oil on the entire piece to get a nice uniform look. Good luck!

      brie, I’m not sure about the details of your project, so I don’t know how to direct you. The answer could be in the wax step. sometimes when the wax is applied in multiple coats it can get “cloudy”. I would see if maybe buffing it out some more would bring the sheen back.

      sarah, the oil does have a natural color to it, and while not changing the color of the wood… it will make it appear a little darker… like in morgan’s before and after picture in this post…..because the finish is fresh and new. It will be perfect to use on the water stains that you have, but if you are not sure…I would test in a hidden spot to see if you like it.

  • Thank you so much! I recently found this amazing little retro night stand on the sidewalk in desperate need of a finish – I appreciate the step-by-step instructions.

  • Turns out she has given away that chair to replace it with the Womb chair. Check out her blog. I subscribe so I’m always in the know.

  • Thank you! I need to do this on my dining set and really didn’t know how to go about it.

  • I totally understand why you recommend specific brands you are comfortable with, but for those of us not in the US can you tell us what makes a specific soap or wax or oil suitable for this job, so we know what to look out for when buying equivalent brands overseas? thanks.

  • last weekend i followed morgan’s advice to spruce up a dresser i bought from ebay – brilliant results! and so easy. (from memory, that chair cost her $10!!)

  • I have been trying to figure out how to fix up my dresser that has gotten a little messed up over the years. I don’t want to strip it and start over. My only concern is that the wood is very dark, pretty much black. Would this process work for that, or would the finish be messed up?

  • Thank goodness. Here is someone who doesn’t think yellow, white or aqua paint is the only answer. I love your room, you have real taste.

  • I enjoyed this article when I first read it on the_brick_house website. Rubbing alcohol can also be used to clean veneer pieces, but paint stripper should not be used on veneer (unless you want to strip it off).

    • Hi Guys,

      Just a quick note- I double checked with Morgan and she gave Barb permission to run both the images and project in this post. We would never knowingly run home images or content ideas from someone else’s site without permission.


  • Hi,
    I have a similar dresser drawer out of teak but a piece of the wood is broken off on one of the drawers. (I don’t have the missing piece, as the drawer is very old). Are there any recommendations to how to fix this? Can I glue on another price of wood and patch it up?

  • Fabulous!
    I was over at TBH just the other day & saw this. I wanted to ask about clean up afterward.
    My Father-in-Law told me of cases where rags used for teak oil have burst into flame after disposal. Is this possible & how do we dispose of the rags properly?
    Thanks for the great article, can’t wait to get started! XXxx.

    • bex, here is a great article about disposal of oily rags : http://homerepair.about.com/od/safehometips/ss/store_flam_rags.htm. You do have to be careful to keep them airtight and safe. If you are going to re use your rags , the important thing to note is to lay them flat so they dry completely and then store them in an airtight container.

      leah, if you are planning on leaving it in its wooden state and want it to look seamless, I would look up someone in your area who does restoration work and take the drawer to them for examination. I have a great guy here locally that is a third generation furniture guy, and he is great about projects like this. It can be saved!

      john, yes teak oil and danish oil are similar products, and as far as being waterproof….I have read several articles on teak oil and it does say that it makes your furniture water repellent. I do feel like even though it creates a water repellent barrier you would still need to be careful about prolonged moisture on the surface , just like any wooden piece of furniture.

      heather, these oils have a little bit of color, but should not alter the overall color of the piece besides making the finish look fresh and new. I do recommend not just doing parts of the piece, but the entire piece with the oil, and if you are not sure about it I would test in in a hidden area to see what you think.

      kate, i totally understand! sorry about that. These products are pretty much staples for refinishing and refreshing wood, so look for 1. a good wood cleaning product that will not leave a waxy residue on your piece, and then look for teak oil in any brand that you have there. If you stop by a wood finishing shop or antique shop in your area where they specialize in refinishing furniture they should be able to help you with the products in your area.

  • I have a credenza that has veneer. It is obviously not a high quality antique but I love it all the same. It may just need to be painted but I’d like to know what my options are for “refinishing” it… or just cleaning it. I would like it to look nice but some of the veneer has broken off in places and there are rings on the surface. Do you have any suggestions on how to make it look more appealing? I may just need to paint it? You should definitely do a post on repurposing furniture with veneer :) THANKS, BARB!

  • Yes, a Post on removing and re-applying wood veneer would be Awesome! A lot of the modern furniture from the ’60s is solid wood with a veneer over it. Learning about how to fix the chips in these pieces without just filling and painting would be great.

  • I’ve used tung oil in this same way. Are there advantages to using teak oil instead?

  • This is a fabulous post with great information. Thanks so much, we have several vintage pieces that could use a bit of help!

  • Full disclosure, this question isn’t 100% related to this post but, this morning I took on the project of refinishing my kitchen table. Spent forever sanding and then as soon as I put the stain on I realized that I didn’t get all of the old stain off and there’s some splotchiness. Now I’m wondering if I can sand those areas down and restain once the table is dry? Or is there another way to fix it? Or am I out of luck?


    • kate, boo! that is not a fun situation! in my experience you will need to sand it back down and re stain, because there is no way to get it even again. I’m sorry! I wish I had better news for you, but it will be worth it in the end!

      Siona, teak oil and tung oil are very similar, but here is a great article you can read about the differences : http://www.ehow.com/about_5525448_teak-oil-vs-tung-oil.html

      Amanda, depending on the damage to the veneer and how much you want to spend on repair, you can take it to someone who can replace the veneer for you and get them to make it all brand new! You can also try the method discussed in this post because even though it cannot help the missing veneer issues, it can help with the rings and you may find that you like it more after it has been refreshed with oil. If neither of those options pan out, you can definitely paint it! Use wood filler to fill the missing veneer parts, prime then paint and you will have a brand new piece to love!

  • Barb, I am refinishing a very old and very dry secretary desk. I stripped it and would like to restain it. Can or should I oil it before I apply the stain and how? Thanks:)

    • celeste, I hope I am not too late in replying to this! I would not oil it before you stain it. The oil will keep the stain from going on smoothly., and create a barrier. You want your surface to be super smooth and even so that it will take the stain evenly.

  • Hi Barb, I have a buffet that needs work. I did this process step by step but realized the wood has a wax or some kind of finish over the wood so, it did not really change the look. Does that make sense? Do I need to completely strip it and re-stain it? Thanks. I really enjoy your information!

  • Hi Barb,
    I’m wondering if I can use lemon oil in place of wax. I recently bought a solid wood sideboard on craigslist that is in a slightly better condition as the one in the picture. I got lemon oil, polyurethane wood finish, and Murphy’s soap. Do I still need teak oil and wax? And do I need to use the wood finish?

  • Thanks for this article!!

    I just bought 4 teak danish dining chairs that need a little tlc. Would this process work on those chairs?? They are dull & scratched, and I think there is a light finish on them…is ok to go over the finish or will i ruin these chairs?? …I guess what I mean is this isnt just for raw wood correct??

  • I have a dresser that is beautiful that I am looking forward to fixing up with this process. Thanks!
    Couple of questions: 1. I understand that you need to cover the whole piece in the oil but do you also need to sand the entire piece? Seems like you would need to in order to have the same look/finish over the entire piece. 2. When you say lint free rags are you talking about just plain cotton rags or the “sticky” rags (cant remember the name brand) ?

  • I know this article is old, but it’s proven very useful and informative! I think I’m going to revive an old gunstock using this method. Thanks so much for this guide!