Step-by-Step Basics: How To Polish Wood Furniture

When I bought my dining room table off Craigslist, it came with a few marks and spots on the surface, but it also came with a set of instructions from the previous owner. Every few years, I was to maintain the surface of the wood by polishing it. I learned that it is actually a pretty easy process, but that being said, I would prefer to go through it as infrequently as possible. If it's time to restore the surface of your wood furniture, this step by step guide shows you everything you need to know and how to lengthen the time before your next polish as much as possible.

Before You Begin:
Because you will need the area you are working in to be well ventilated, working outside is ideal. If that is not possible, you will want to keep as many windows open as possible. Keep this in mind when deciding when you want to do this project. Having your windows open during the hot summer months or cold winter might not be the best choice. A perfect time for a task such as this is during more temperate seasons.

Step 1: Prepare
You will need the following items:

    • Clean Cloth Rags
    • Rubber Gloves
    • #0000 Super Fine Steel Wool*
    • Cleaner and Wax Remover
    • Neutral Fine Paste Wax

* Most surfaces, if well cared for, will only need the furniture wax to be applied using a soft, clean cloth. If the wood has been neglected or has marks and stains, using super fine steel wool may be necessary. Although steel wool is available in various levels from super fine to super coarse, to be sure that no damage is done to your furniture, stick to the #0000 super fine variety.

Step 2: Test
When adding polish to wood furniture, the first step is to remove any excess wax buildup from the last time it was treated. Before you begin, it is a good idea to test the remover first. After wiping the surface down with a dry cloth, dampen a rag with wax remover and test a small area of the wood you will be treating. Let the test spot fully dry to make sure there are no adverse affects to the furniture's surface before continuing.

Step 3: Strip
Going with the grain, lightly wipe down the entire surface that you will be polishing with wax remover. After allowing a couple of minutes to fully air dry, wipe off any excess dirt or wax remover that is left on the surface of the wood with a clean dry cloth.

Step 4: Polish
Coat the surface of the wood sparingly with polish. It may be tempting to over polish, but remember: any excess wax will need to be wiped off after it has dried, and the less you have to do this, the easier the process.

Step 5: Buff
After giving the polish some time to absorb (usually about 15-20 minutes), wipe off excess wax with a clean, dry cloth.

This process can be done less frequently with regular and consistant care of your wood furniture. Following these simple tips will help.

    • Wipe down wood with a clean, dry cloth on a regular basis.
    • Remove dirt by wiping with a slightly damp cloth with a bit of gentle soap, such as dish soap.
    • Clean spills right away — even small drops of water can turn into marks if left unattended, particularly on wood that has not been polished in a while.
    • Avoid putting drinks or hot items on unprotected wood surfaces.

(Images: Liana Walker)