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How To Repair Scratches and Dents in Wood

There are a number of products readily available that can help fill-in and camouflage gouges and dents from wood surfaces. The choice of product will vary according to the extent of the damage and the confidence level of the repair person. Since types of wood and wood finishes can vary test any products and application methods in an inconspicuous spot or on scrap wood before using them in a wider area. As with other types of wood repair and stain remediation, begin with a clean work area free of extraneous objects and debris.

For shallow scratches and dings, wax sticks for patching furniture, picture frames and other wood surfaces are available in a wide spectrum of colors. Select the color that most closely matches the item you are attempting to repair, and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Overfilling the damaged area and then buffing it down with a soft cloth along the direction of the wood grain is a handy trick that helps to achieve a smooth, even repair.

For deeper dents, gouges and cracks, there are a few choices. Which product you select will depend in part on your confidence level as a repair person and your preferred method of working. The first method, uses stainable wood filler. This material is easy to work with, but requires extensive drying time before it is completely cured and ready to stain. The second method is faster, but also more complex, as it requires the use of a shellac stick which needs to be melted to a particular consistency and applied quickly. Whichever repair method you use, remember that the goal is to alleviate the disruptive appearance of gouges and dents. With an eye for detail and intimate knowledge of your own furniture and surfaces, you may always be able to single out a repaired area that a casual or objective observer may not be able to see.

Wood filler is a very accessible material. It feels and behaves similarly to spackle, which many people have had prior experience with. Make sure that the interior of the dent is also clean, to help ensure adhesion between the wood and the filler. Use a putty knife to fill in the affected area, using light pressure and a motion slightly angled from the horizontal. Putty knifes are somewhat flexible, and using a motion slightly angled away from the horizontal will encourage complete filling of the dent or gouge, rather than simply suspending a small amount of filler between the edges of the intended repair. Over fill the repair area, as wood filler will shrink as it dries, and small amounts of excess can be sanded away after drying. Although the filler will quickly dry to the touch, it should be allowed to set for 24 to 48 hours to completely cure.

Once cured, the wood filler can be treated to match the surrounding area. Sand smooth with 0000 (extra-fine) steel wool. Brush away any resultant dust with a very lightly dampened cloth. Next, stain the repair to match, using a soft, clean brush for detail work. Avoid over wetting the brush with stain by having a paper towel handy for blotting, and use a feathering motion along the direction of the wood grain. Err on the side of using a slightly lighter stain than the surrounding surface as the stain may darken as it dries, and it will be far easier to deepen a stain that is too light than it is to lighten a stain that is too dark. Allow the stain to dry according to manufacturer's instructions, usually allowing at least 24 hours. The repair can be further blended into the greater area with a light overall polish and buffing.

A slightly more advanced technique is to use a shellac stick. if you have not used this material before, it is extremely advisable to practice on scrap wood even before testing the technique in an inconspicuous spot.  You will need a palette knife, an alcohol or propane torch, a shellac stick in a color matching the item requiring repair, and a safe area to work. Hold the palette knife over the open flame of the alcohol or propane torch using your dominant hand. With the other hand, hold the shellac stick over the knife. This arrangement will allow the shellac stick to soften in the heat of the torch, while the knife will catch any potential drips and also be heated. When the tip of the shellac stick is soft and malleable, but before it has become runny, press it into the break. Use enough shellac that the treated area is slightly higher than the surrounding surface. Smooth out the repair area with the heated knife. The shellac will harden in just a couple of hours, and can be sanded smooth with 0000 (extra-fine) steel wool.  Because the shellac hardens so quickly, you may want to use wood filler first to fill the gouge nearly to the top, allowing it to cure completely before treating the topmost layer with shellac.

Caution: Never mix cleaning agents or chemicals, the result can be dangerous or deadly. Before cleaning, always test the agent on an inconspicuous location to determine its suitability and to make certain it does not damage the material. Wear appropriate clothing such as gloves and protective eyewear, and work in a well-ventilated area. Accidental inhalation or ingestion of cleaning agents can be hazardous and even fatal, particularly to pets and children.

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