It is important to understand what kind of wood furniture you have so that we can properly clean the furniture without damaging it. Most commercially manufactured furniture made since the 1930s is finished with clear lacquer. Clear lacquer is hard, durable, and flexible coating that is scratch-resistant and impervious to most household cleaners and spills. Furniture coated with lacquer does not need to be waxed.
Vintage and antique pieces, which are often finished with varnish, oil, or shellac, all of which are less durable than clear lacquer, benefit from a yearly coat of paste wax. This protective coating, which will not darken or harden over time. It not only lends furniture a warm glow but also forms a sleek barrier between the finish, applied by the original furniture maker or restorer to seal the raw wood, and abusive elements. According to some conservators, it’s best to avoid cream or liquid furniture waxes (sometimes call polishes). Although they are easier to apply, they sometimes contain unnecessary ingredients that can damage finishes.
Custom Furniture and the Care
Jumping right in, the best comparison for your table would be the hood of your car. You wouldn’t take an unfinished plate, vase, or box and drag it across the hood of your car would you? Though the finish on cars, like our tables, are made to withstand day to day use, they aren’t built to withstand carelessness. This brings up the question of what is the purpose of a finish, aka, top coat. Why do we use it?
For the wood: the finish protects against damage such as staining, seals wood from moisture, and prevents the need for re-oiling.
For the customer: the finish protects against bacteria, heat, chemicals, and makes for ease of use and cleanup.
Another factor to keep in mind is that when scratching or scuffing occurs it is not the wood that is being scratched, but rather the finish. Which in reality means the finish is doing its job, protecting the wood. If you have a table finished in satin and drag a heavy item across it, it will in turn dull the finish. In contrast, a flat finish will then become shinier due to that fact that both finishes have, in a sense, been “buffed.”