Cleaning Older Furniture


About 20 yrs ago my new bride and I bought some solid cherry dining room/living room furniture. As I recall we knew a decorator who told us to go pick out what we liked at a furniture store and get her the model numbers. Well we did (called Knob Creek from No. Carolina) and she got us the stuff for about 1/2 off retail - we were of course delighted.
Still looks very good, not super nice heirloom stuff but my kids won't throw it out when we're gone and we're quite happy with it (that old cherry sure has some awfully pretty grain). Anyway, over the years it's been cleaned/polished every now and then with some commercial stuff (like Weiman's furniture cream) and has had it's share of dusting/polishing with Pledge. The tops now have some slight, dusting scratches (when you look at an angle) and I don't think it looks as good as it could.
Now that I've gotten into woodworking some I know there's better ways to take care of furniture, and that's certainly not Pledge. I'm not sure what the finish is, my quess is some kind if lacquer or shellac - the tops are almost mirror shiny when polished. I remember some some fine, blackish residue in some crevices - probably a rubbing compound. Do recall a water stain once that left a whitish haze that was polished out with a commercial cleaner, otherwise never had an adult beverage spill on it or other damage.
Anyone know how I can determine the top finish and then what's a good way to clean, polish and preserve?
Love this forum - always a great place for info, ideas and inspiration in my modest attempts at making sawdust.
Thanks all, sl
p.s. borg plywood just keeps getting worse and worse
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I can try on the first part, I'll leave the second to others.
20 years ago - hmm.
Start by cleaning a patch with mineral spirts (wax removal). Just rub with a cloth dampened with MS and wipe with a paper towel. Next, wipe with denatured alcohol on a clean cloth rag. Give it a few minutes. If it was shellac finish, the finish will go white or be gone. If it's white, wipe again with alcohol. If it's gone, time to refinish. Continue until it's gone.
If alcohol doesn't cut it, try the same with lacquer thinner on a clean rag. Once again, if the finish tries to goes away, you know what you've got.
If not, trouble - it's almost certainly varnish or oil of some type. That's a full fledged strip or strip and sand job.
Refinishing shellac is realtively easy, lacquer, not so easy but doable. Oil and varnish are a pain, but time and sweat can prevail. I've done all of them, but the varnish (and modern urethane) are the worst hassle.
Regards.
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Commercial furniture finished twenty years ago will have either a lacquer finish or some kind of conversion finish. If a little lacquer thinner on a cotton swab doesn't soften or make he finish sticky, after removing any wax, you probably have a conversion finish that is more like varnish than lacquer. Either way, it won't make a difference in what you might want to do.
To clean the pieces, use a capful of a neutral dishwashing liquid like Dawn in a gallon of water. Make the cleaning cloth damp, not sopping wet. Follow it up by wiping with a clean dry cloth, a clean cloth dampened with just water, and then a clean dry cloth to dry everything. The idea is not to get the wood sopping wet. Once dry, clean it with some mineral spirits or paint thinner.
Since you describe the scratches as from dusting, I bet paste wax would do the trick. Use a paste wax meant for wood, not cars. Put on the thinnest layer that you can and then buff the daylights out of it.
Good Luck.

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