How To Fix Scratches On Wood Furniture

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You don’t have to live with scratches, dings, or dents on your wood furniture. Here are some easy ways to get it looking new again.

A pencil sits next to light and deep scratches in a wood tabletop waiting to be fixed

Today I’m going to share with you the easy no-sanding, no refinishing steps I learned to repair scratches in wood furniture. Is it what a professional furniture restorer would do? No, but you also won’t have to pay for one. It’s what a frugal homemaker does, and it works well enough that I haven’t had to take my furniture to a restorer yet. But, as always, if it’s a valuable or sentimentally irreplaceable item, you should take it to a professional.

How to Fix Minor Scratches in Wood Furniture

Very light scratches are those you can see with your eye, but you don’t feel them when you run a finger across it. These just need a little cosmetic fixing, which is very easy to do. The method you’ll need to use depends on the tone of the wood.

Start by Removing the Wax

Many times, scratches are just in the wax buildup on furniture. That was the case with an old dresser I bought. Pointing out a scratch got me a 25% discount because the antique store didn’t want the hassle of refinishing it. When I got home, I removed layers of wax and discovered perfectly smooth wood. So, if you’re dealing with buildup in addition to scratches, be sure you remove the wax buildup from your furniture before trying to fix scratches in wood. That may be all you need to do!

Covering Scratches in Light Wood

Using a nut: Match the color of the nut with the color of the furniture, then forcefully rub the nut on the scratch. Pecan, walnut, and peanut all work well. You can even use peanut butter or almond butter if that’s all you have on hand. The nut oil darkens the exposed wood and makes the scratch disappear. Once you’re happy with how it looks, press your fingertip over it for a minute. The heat of your skin helps the nut oil sink into the wood.

Using olive oil and vinegar: Combine 1 part white distilled vinegar and 2 parts olive oil. Whisk until completely mixed, then dab the mixture onto the scratch. The vinegar’s acetic acid helps fill the scratch, while the olive oil corrects the scratch’s color and moisturizes the wood. Repeat until you can’t see the scratch.

Covering Scratches in Dark Wood

Dark wood comes in a variety of tones and colors. To cover scratches in dark furniture, choose a coloring agent that matches the wood.

  • Mahogany or cherry wood: use iodine or shoe polish.
  • Darker woods like acacia: use damp coffee grounds.
  • Medium-colored wood: use black tea. The darker the wood, the stronger the tea you should use.
  • Ebony wood: use fireplace or wood ash mixed with a little water to form a paste.

Use a cotton swab or paintbrush to apply a heavy layer of whatever coloring agent you chose, taking care not to get it on the surrounding wood. Let it sit in place for an hour or so, then wipe away the excess. Finish by using homemade furniture polish to set the color.

Closeup of paint brush applying finish to repair scratch on wood table

How to Fix Deep Scratches in Wood Furniture

If you can feel the scratch when you run your finger over it, you’ll need something that both colors and fills. Chances are you’ve already got the right tool in your child’s Crayon box: just find a color that matches your furniture and rub it well into the scratch. Remove any excess with the edge of a credit card, then polish your furniture to help it blend. Rather not use Crayon? I’ve used these blendable scratch repair sticks* with pretty good results.

How to Fix Dents or Gouges in Wood Furniture

If the gouge is light, try the iron method, then follow the steps for covering scratches in wood. To fix gouges and dents in painted wood furniture, you’ll need to follow the steps for sanding and refinishing.

Using an Iron

To remove dents from wood furniture using your iron, very lightly dampen a thick white towel. (White will not transfer dyes to the furniture you’re fixing.) Place the damp towel over the dent and run a hot iron continuously over the spot for 30 seconds. Rotate the cloth, so you’re again working with a damp area, and repeat. Once you’ve lifted the dent, wait 24 hours to let the wood fully dry, then rub the area with olive oil to remove any haze.

Using Sand Paper

Sometimes, there’s just no getting around the use of sandpaper to remove scratches or dents on wood furniture. If the item is painted, for example, any dents or scratches probably removed paint, too. But you may not have to refinish or repaint the entire piece, provided you’ve got more matching finish or paint. You just need to smooth the area first.

One way to spot-treat scratches or dents on furniture is by sanding the blemish along the wood grain with 180 grit paper. Then, clean off the dust and repeat with a 240 grit until you can’t feel the scratch anymore. Now it’s time to color the scratch. For painted wood, use a fine artist’s paintbrush and matching paint. For finished wood, use one of the coloring agents, then follow with paste wax (for satin finishes) or auto polishing compound (for glossy finishes) and a soft cloth.

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