How restore an aging wood dining set


A reader’s walnut dining set is showing its years, but it can be restored. ( Reader photo)
May 21

Question: We have a walnut dining set from the 1956 Counterpoint line by Drexel. The table is showing its age, with an assortment of scratches, water stains and some areas that just look dried out. We certainly don’t expect to get it looking like new, but are there products we can use to have it look its best?

— Alexandria

Answer: Todd R. Sessa, Drexel Heritage Furniture’s vice president for design and merchandising, recommends cleaning the table with Guardsman Purifying Furniture Wood Cleaner (www.guardsman.com), followed by Guardsman Wood Furniture Polish. To make scratches less noticeable, he suggests Old English Scratch Cover. “It’s basically a light stain that can just revive the look of a scratched surface,” Sessa said.

Drexel finishes the tables it makes today with traditional (nitrocellulose) lacquer, just as it did when your table was new. The big caveat is to avoid using a furniture polish that contains silicone. “It makes the surface nice and shiny, but while it is doing that, it seeps through the finish and gets into the wood,” Sessa said. “It takes the natural moisture out.”

If you do opt to refinish the table, Sessa strongly urges that you get a professional to do it. Tables like yours are solid wood only on the edges and legs; the top is veneer because the wood stays flatter that way and you get the look of beautiful, wide wood. If you were to try to sand the surface, you could easily sand through the veneer and ruin the piece.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

Quesetion: We have a home built in the 1950s that we bought in foreclosure. Several small panels were missing from the baseboard heating system. I thought it would be easy to purchase replacements, but I was wrong! I think the system is a Baseray baseboard system possibly manufactured by Burnham. I have contacted the company about replacement parts. They tell me only their distributors can sell me the parts, but I haven’t had any luck finding a distributor to help me. I have asked several contractors for help, too, but they haven’t been successful, either. How can I get the parts I need?

— University Park

Answer: Baseray baseboard radiators are still made today, by U.S. Boiler. (www.usboiler.net). They’re cast iron, unlike most baseboard heaters, and are still manufactured in the United States. One area wholesaler that carries or can order the parts is R.E. Michel in Arlington (703-524-8336), but it sells only to contractors. A Michel spokesman suggested calling almost any company that does boiler repairs. One that does is Sila Heating & Air Conditioning in Silver Spring (202-338-9400; www.sila-air.com). It can get the plates you need, but you can’t just place an order and have the parts delivered. You’d need to have a person come out and verify what’s needed and then come back to install the covers. The best way to go, a spokesman said, is to arrange for an $89 maintenance call. For that, a repair person would come to your home, clean the system, verify what’s needed and get the order on its way.

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