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13 Nov. 2009

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Tragically (for me, probably not for the human race generally), these shows seem to have fallen out of fashion in recent years.
This is more or less how I think about wood restoration, which I’m realizing after 800 words makes me a lunatic. For this project, I started with a salvaged antique ladder at the Design*Sponge office, repurposed into a rolling bookshelf ladder. To accomplish this, I started with a bucket of warm water with a few tablespoons of Murphy Oil Soap and several pads of fine steel wool.
After the wood has dried, I like to use a wood oil finish, such as Danish oil finish or tung oil finish. After the final coat of oil has been wiped away and dried, I like to buff in some Howard Feed-N-Wax. I love how this low-impact process brings out what I see as the best features of old wood pieces — the patina and the wear and tear! There are synthetic alternatives that should be used instead (like 3M scotch pads) and that are safe to use with any cleaning, prepping or finishing.
Steel wool (very fine) is actually a very commonly recommended product for wood restoration. This is wonderful inspiration, can’t wait until I have something larger than a tiny apartment so I can fix up old wood pieces!
I knew the patina and richer tones of the wood were lurking beneath all the build-up from over the many years (dirt, waxes and sealants, grime, mayhem, foolishness, etc.), so I wanted to uncover them without making the ladder look like it had just been refinished.

I get impatient and like to get projects done in one fell swoop, but you don’t want to trap a bunch of water in the wood.
Often just referred to as natural oil finishes, these products are actually a mix of natural oil (like tung oil or linseed oil), mineral spirits and varnish.
To maintain, I like to reapply the wax every couple months, and you can always wipe on another coat of oil if the wood is looking dry. When using steel wool, tiny metal fibres come loose and can embed themselves in the wood and over time rust, especially when exposed to water. I obviously have no idea what condition it’s in, but the blonde wood and finish on H-W stuff is very particular and can be fussy, and I think is probably covered in polyurethane or varnish.
As the wood dries, it will become significantly lighter and might look like a terrible piece of garbage driftwood that you’ve totally ruined, and you’ll think you’re worthless and unlovable.
Also, some woods, like oak, have tannins that will react to the steel wool that will progress over time.
This really works better with wood that isn’t sealed with a poly or where the old finishes have worn off (as was the case with this ladder). I did an upholstery course recently and they showed me how they clean up the show wood on chairs. I will be refinishing a wood fireplace mantle as soon as it gets a bit warmer out and will give Daniel’s tips a try instead of my regular method! Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others.

I used grade #00 steel wool, which is relatively fine (much less coarse than the kind you’d buy in the grocery store!) and available in big packs for only a few dollars at the hardware store.
Using a lint-free cloth or rag (that you don’t mind throwing away!), just rub a generous coating of oil all over the wood in the direction of the grain.
Steel wool should only be used on wood if it already has a finish on it (not to remove the finish) and only if that finish isn’t water based. Mix 50:50 turps and linseed oil, rub wood all over with steel wool then rub excess off with a cloth. The steel wool is really to get layers of dirt and old layers of wax and stuff off the wood—you shouldn’t need it for just cleaning a piece, though. Then they’d repeat the whole humiliating glass-box exercise over again, where, as the name implied, onlookers would always deem them to look about 10 years younger than they had before, give or take a couple years for believability’s sake.
Everybody knows that wood is, generally, quite salvageable, but often people take the Extreme Makeover approach to wood restoration when all they really need is the What Not to Wear treatment. Usually, all it really takes is a good cleaning and a few readily available products to bring out the natural beauty of a piece of wood that’s seen better days!

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