Caring for Oak Furniture – Outdoor or Indoor Pieces

Solid oak furniture can be one of the most beautiful pieces in a home. With the proper care, oak can last a lifetime, be passed on to generations, become centerpieces of homes, and of course, becomes an investment of quality no matter how many times you redecorate around it. To some people, furniture is just furniture. You bring it home, set it up, put things on it, and you like it. To others, furniture can become a passion. Seeking out the perfect piece and then laboring with love over it for the next ten or twenty years is more than a hobby. For most of us, furniture lies somewhere in the middle. It is a way of expressing ourselves throughout our home, creating an environment which is comfortable and attractive and gives us our flag of self expression in an otherwise empty room. Caring for oak furniture is part of owning it, regardless of where you fit on the scale of furniture passion.

There are different types of oak furniture, and naturally some types may require special consideration. Green oak, for example, takes about 4 years to fully treat. Most outdoor oak furniture is created from green oak.

Unfinished oak furniture can be beautiful when kept up with and an eyesore when it has been left to its own devices. Since oak tends to leak its own natural source of tannin from within the wood, staining of areas surrounding the furniture can happen. In almost every case, this tannin staining occurs with outdoor oak furniture. But every now and then indoor oak furniture ends up with a particularly high natural occurrence rate of tannin.

Caring for oak furniture that is purchased untreated, whether outdoor or indoor pieces, is about as simple as wiping it down with a damp cloth. The cloth however, should never be dampened with water, but a basic teak oil instead. If teak oil is unavailable Danish oil makes a great substitute.

Oak furniture is “live wood.” Thus, it has the ability to withstand certain elements without sustaining unreasonable damage while significant elements can cause significant damage. This basically translates into that small spill your child caused at the annual holiday party is not likely to cause significant damage (provided that it wasn’t a carbonated beverage) while that spill he caused last week but didn’t tell you about left a large mark where the liquid sat for 12 hours until you noticed it.

Every couple of months your oak furniture is going to need a thorough waxing, especially in its first few years in your home. Waxing helps the grain remain adhered, helps the wood resist cracking and crazing, and of course keeps any finishes on your oak furniture in tip top shape. Waxing doesn’t work well if you make little circles or broad back and forth strokes. You want to apply the wax with a clean cloth in the same direction as the grain and then remove the wax by buffing with the grain. This allows for optimum protection within the grain while minimizing streaking and air pockets.

Cheap furniture care products are cheap for a reason. Usually the reason is because they don’t work very well. The ingredients that go into a can of furniture polish in the cheap can are less expensive for the company to attain because they are not as potent. While there will always be a few companies who will also package for the store brand, these are few and far between. Thus, as a general rule, the cheap cans of furniture care products should ultimately be avoided.

When moisture from a drinking glass or other mild source leaves its mark, nearly all oak furniture enthusiasts swear by a little overnight butter massage for their treasured pieces. You can use either butter or margarine, massage it into the marks, and then leave it to work its magic in the overnight hours. In the morning when you wipe it clean, you should follow it up with a polish. Those who have had stains and water marks that are just too insistent for this treatment follow the same protocol using a concoction of cigarette ashes and olive oil. This creates a paste (and a conversation piece when you call your smoking friend and ask them to save their ashes for you) that will ultimately dull the furniture. Polishing the area thoroughly after use can bring back the shine. These home remedies also work for marks left by heat.

One of the most frustrating aspects of caring for oak furniture will forever be the scratches and dents the inevitably threaten to ruin an otherwise beautiful piece. There is a remedy for this, however, proceed with complete caution as the repair process can also ruin the furniture if you are not careful.

Start the repair process by allowing a few droplets of water to soak completely into the dent or scratch. When the wood is moist, cover the area with a clean cloth and gently iron the area with a warm iron. The combination of the heat and moisture can literally erase the dent with a few magic words. Or for the more scientific types, the heat causes the wood to expand and as the water dries it creates permanency for your repair. If you burn the table trying this, toothpaste left on a burn overnight and polished after clean up in the morning can alleviate any ugly minor scorches.

Caring for oak furniture properly allow the finer pieces to become family heirlooms, adds incredible unique beauty to any home, and of course, can be a passionate endeavor for those who find these pieces intricately beautiful.



3 Responses

  1. Greetings! Your folks should be careful using the “drop of water in a dent and iron”. This is pretty safe on unfinished (or oil finished) wood, but if your wood has a laquer or topcoat it could result in “clouding” the finish. This can happen when the heat hits the moisture and steams into the topcoat…if this happens, you have a real problem!
    Please keep in mind: The softer the wood (pine, aspen,alder) the better the process works. It takes more repetitions of this process on harder woods (oak,ash,teak). It is most effective (and safer) on unfinished wood. When you have finished, wipe the area well with a damp cloth and let dry. This keeps you from having a “spot”.

    By the way, I was in the unfinished furniture business (all levels up to manager, bottom to top), just to qualify my advice. Hope this helps!*Dan Steiner*

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.