By Jean Nayar

If you’re planning to host a dinner party or holiday meal, then don’t let a damaged old wood table put a damper on the decor. The minor nicks, scuffs and hairline scratches that come with everyday wear and tear is one thing. Without them, an old piece looks devoid of character.

But a water ring, an alcohol stain or a deep unsightly scratch is another matter. Such unacceptable blemishes leave you with no option but to repair or disguise the damaged finish of your table.

Fortunately, scars like these can be relatively easy to repair without resorting to removing the finish, which even expert restorers prefer to avoid doing whenever possible, as ham-handed treatment can do irreparable damage. To fix common water rings or jagged surface scratches, however, the instructions that follow will help you get your table party-ready with minimal intervention and maximum results.


Wood cleaning fluid or linseed oil and white spirits or mineral spirits

Coarse and soft cloths

000-grade steel wool

Burnishing cream or furniture finish reviver

Liquid furniture cover or scratch repair pen (optional)

Colored wax stick (optional)

Shellac or wood varnish (optional)

Small artist’s brush (optional)

Sharp blade (optional)

120-grit silicon-carbide paper (optional)

Wax polish


1. Clean the surface of the wood table.

Dampen a coarse cloth with wood cleaning fluid or a mix of 4 parts white or mineral spirits with 1 part linseed oil. Gently rub the cloth over the table in the direction of the grain to soften any protective surface layer of wax, then remove the sludge with a clean soft cloth or paper towel before it coagulates. If your table has recesses or deep molding around the edges or along the legs, use a pad of 000-grade steel wool dipped in the cleaning fluid to lightly wipe away wax buildup and grease in the crevices. Then clean off the surfaces again with the soft cloth and white or mineral spirits.

2. Revitalize the surface of the table.

Pour some furniture reviver or burnishing cream onto a soft cloth and rub the dull, cleaned finish vigorously to buff out hairline scratches or white alcohol or water rings and revitalize the surface until it shines.

3. Repair any minor scratches on the wood.

To fix a minor scratch, use a liquid scratch repair pen or an artist’s brush and liquid furniture cover to fill in and blend the scratch. Let it dry for an hour, then buff away the excess color with a soft cloth.

4. Repair any deep scratches on the wood.

To repair deeper scratches, rub the edge of a wood-colored wax stick that matches your table over the scratch until it is filled. Wipe off the excess and buff with a soft cloth. Use a compatible finish to fill in even deeper scratches. Pour a little shellac or varnish into a shallow bowl and, using a small artist’s brush, fill in the scratch until the finish stands slightly above the surface. When it hardens, carefully scrape down the filling with a sharp blade and sand it flush with silicon-carbide paper. Then buff the surface with a furniture reviver.

5. Polish the wood table for a gleaming finish.

Complete the process of repairing your wood table by applying a final thin coating of wax polish with a soft cloth. You may have to build up the polish locally to disguise rings or patches worn into the finish.

Jean Nayar is a journalist, the author of eight books on decorating and design, and the founder of, a blog on decorating and home improvement.


Available at

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Home Projects - Dining Table Scuffed and Scratched?