How can I treat and preserve stained wood to avoid further damage?
March 14, 2013 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a farm table that the previous owner had in a NYC apt that got hot and cold with vicious radiator heat. It's got some warping and cracking, but it's still beautiful and I'd like to do everything I can to prevent it from getting further damaged over time. I thought I'd just give it a good coat of linseed oil, but the surface is very lightly stained, and I read elsewhere that linseed oil is meant for naked wood. Any suggestions on how to treat my new baby? Thank you!
posted by subpixel to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Shellac or polyurethane add some protection.

If you use polyurethane, you really don't want to breathe it in, so wear an organic vapour respirator while you work, and make sure you have a well-ventilated and dust-free workspace to allow coats the necessary drying time. Do light (220 or 400 grain) sanding between two or three coats. For the first coat, you can cut the polyurethane with half paint thinner, half poly to get a nice, even, quick-drying coat you can sand out. Very light sanding adds fine scratches that give the next coat good adhesion. Wipe off dust between sanding and coats. Before the last coat, do a very light wet sand with 400 grain sandpaper. For all coats, consider using a foam roller to minimize air bubbles and avoid brush stroke marks. Unless you want a distressed look, have a light touch with sanding throughout.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:04 PM on March 14, 2013

Stain alone doesn't pose a problem for linseed oil; it just doesn't work over an existing film finish like polyurethane. But linseed oil doesn't provide much protection against anything but fingerprints. For potential food spills, a varnish like polyurethane would be a better choice anyhow.
posted by jon1270 at 6:44 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I'd avoid shellac because it doesn't handle moisture well.
posted by jon1270 at 6:46 PM on March 14, 2013

Butchers wax. I use it on my farm table. Recommended by the guy who built it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:07 PM on March 14, 2013

If you go to the site I linked above, there are lots of options regarding maintaining and restoring wood. I would recommend against sealing it with a clear coat sealer. You want the wood to breathe and it will contract and expand with the seasons. My table is made out of reclaimed barn wood, chestnut I think, and the Boston wax gives it a great smooth shine, protects the wood from spills (3 kids) and allows the wood to breathe. There is also a toll free number on the site. I would call and ask for their recommendation. They are experts at this type of question.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:19 PM on March 14, 2013

You want the wood to breathe and it will contract and expand with the seasons.

Sorry, but this is just wrong. Furniture is not literally alive, and does not need to "breathe." The expansion and contraction that happens with seasonal changes in indoor humidity is actually damaging, albeit only slightly/slowly if the furniture is well-designed. It is of no benefit at all, except maybe in some sort of cosmic chakra one-with-the-universe sense that the owner might care about.

Unfortunately the OP's table was not well-designed. It was built by someone who didn't really know what they were doing, which is why it cracked so badly under the influence of central heating. That's okay, it still has plenty of charm and utility. But 'let it breathe' is another way of saying "let it destroy itself faster."
posted by jon1270 at 3:19 AM on March 15, 2013

I've had good luck with this Howard's Feed-n-Wax stuff on my tends-to-get-overly-dry oak trim and vintage furniture. It smells nice because of the orange oil, it doesn't change the color of anything, it's reasonably priced and it gives things a nice shine that isn't overly shiny like poly would be on a table like that.
posted by at 4:37 AM on March 15, 2013

Here's Anna from Door Sixteen doing up an old wooden worktop and as well as describing in the post what she did to it, she has answered questions in the comments about different types of treatments.
posted by AnnaRat at 5:50 AM on March 15, 2013

It looks like it already has a light coat of polyurethane... but it's hard to tell over the internet. if it does, then you will need to sand it off in order to apply linseed oil. if you do use linseed oil, make sure that it is boiled linseed oil and not raw. "boiled" linseed oil hardens relatively quickly and forms a protective film whereas raw will stay sticky for months.

the main thing about applying a coat of anything is to make sure that you have a coat on both the top and bottom of the board(s). If you don't then you get a differential of moisture absorption between the top and bottom which can cause warping and is possibly why the boards on the table-top are warping: check the underside! the big crack looks like it was caused by improper construction, but it's hard to tell... it could just be really unstable wood.
posted by at 6:11 AM on March 15, 2013

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