restored antique desk

How to clean and restore old grimy wood furniture

restored antique desk

Do you have some old wood furniture that needs a little sprucing up? Through the years it’s probably collected layers of grime and some scratches. Well you can bring it back to life without the hassle of stripping off the old finish and staining the piece.

I recently inherited this antique wood desk that was handed down from my grandmother. To say that it was neglected was an understatement. It was grimy and scratched but otherwise sound. I’ll show you step by step the process I used to clean and restore it using a product called Howard Restor-A-Finish. It was easy to do and I think it came out looking great as you can see in this photo.

Why I chose Howard Restor-A-Finish

No stripping involved!

howard restor-a-finishWho wants to strip furniture? Not me! I wanted to get this project done as quickly as possible and get a fantastic result.

It really does make old wood furniture (also cabinets, doors and moldings) look like new. After some preparation, you just apply it in the direction of the wood grain and wipe off the excess.

Be sure to wear rubber gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. You can store the rag and the gloves in a plastic bag to be used again.

Comes in nine different colors including neutral

The directions say to try and match the color to your wood furniture. It’s not going to matter that much because the color is very sheer. I actually got a shade darker because I wanted to change the color of my antique desk. It did end up slightly darker, but not nearly as dark as I had hoped. The product only promises to restore faded wood finishes. So if you’re thinking of changing the color, you’ll need to use an actual stain.

Removes white heat rings and blends out scratches

Fortunately, I didn’t have any white heat rings but there were several scratches, many of them rather deep. I would say the scratches were blended in, not really blended out. By that I mean they were camouflaged by the color in the product. It can’t actually fill in scratches, but it does make them much less noticeable. I’m pleased with the results I got.

Here is the before shot of my antique desk

This antique desk was dirty, grimy and really scratched

old desk before restoration

To really clean this desk I had to take some of it apart

While cleaning the desk I found some “treasure”

something hiding in old desk

The center section was really dirty and I couldn’t get all the way in there to clean it out. I was trying to figure out how to remove that piece when I saw some papers jammed into the crack.

What could it be? A long lost letter? Some forgotten piece of family history? I was excited to find out!

A look at the treasure uncovered

Just an index card and a book of 5 cent stamps

items found hidden in desk

How disappointing! Oh well, at least it gives me an idea of the age of this antique desk. The book of stamps was dated 1963 so the desk is at least that old. I think it’s probably quite a bit older though.

More views of the old wood desk before restoration

Washing the antique desk with Murphy’s Oil Soap

murphy's oil soap

I took the center section out after removing the back. Both pieces were loose and I just pulled out the remaining staples. Then I dusted the desk and washed it with Murphy’s Oil Soap, warm water and a soft rag.

After that, I let it dry for a few hours.

Lightly sanding the desk

An optional extra step

I decided to take an extra step and lightly sand the piece with fine sandpaper. This was done to remove wax buildup and grime, as well as to smooth out the numerous scratches.

After sanding, I washed the desk again with Murphy’s Oil Soap and let dry overnight. You can skip the sanding and second washing and go straight to using the Restor-A-Finish.

Following the directions, apply Howard Restor-A-Finish with a soft rag or fine steel wool

Using steel wool will help smooth out scratches

wiping on howard's restor-a-finish

You get instant gratification once you start applying the product. Do one small section at a time and wipe with a clean, soft rag.

Make sure to use rubber gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. I brought the desk into the garage for this step.

When finished wait at least 30 minutes before going on to the final step. I let the desk sit overnight.

Protect your newly restored wood furniture with Howard Feed-N-Wax

Penetrates and prevents the wood from drying out

apply feed-n-wax to restored wood furnitureThe final step after restoration is to apply Howard Feed-N-Wax which contains beeswax, carnuba wax and orange oil. Wipe it on with a small cloth. Let set for at least 20 minutes, then polish with a clean cloth.

Your old wood furniture will glow with a satiny sheen.

Directions say to use it two or three times a year to maintain the luster of your wood furniture.

See how the scratches look after restoration

Deep scratches are minimized now

scratches minimized on restored desk Another look at the restored wood desk

restored wood desk

Here you can see my antique wood desk after restoration.

Notice how I painted the wood panel behind the slots with one of my favorite colors. (It almost matches the wall color.) I did that because it was such a dark hole I couldn’t see what was down in there.

The center section and back panel were reattached using a staple gun.

A remarkable transformation!

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