Q. I am in the process of refinishing several pieces of quality wood furniture. Now that I have finished stripping all of the old finish so that the bare wood is exposed, I am wondering what would be the best finishing process? I am not certain I want to repeatedly sand and varnish. But I do want a finish that will protect the wood from damage. -- M.W.
A. There isn't any way to eliminate sanding when finishing furniture. The sanding between coats of varnish or oil not only provides the smoothest finish, but with varnish it also helps each subsequent coat adhere to the previous coat.
An oil finish, however, is easier to apply than a varnish finish and will protect your furniture. With oil you won't have to be as meticulous with a brush, and it's much easier to sand smooth.
First sand the surface smooth using 220-grit sandpaper. Remove all dust with a tack cloth and then apply Danish oil, giving it time to soak in. Follow manufacture's directions carefully. Thoroughly wipe off any oil residue that remains on the surface. This is very important. Follow this by lightly sanding with 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper, either used dry or lubricated with a little Danish oil.
Repeat this procedure, applying several coats of oil. Then follow with a furniture wax. An oil finish has a soft lustrous look, often more attractive than the standard varnish finish. Danish oil is available at most paint stores.
Q. What can be done to prevent polished copper from tarnishing? Our particular problem is the outdoor copper. When we polish it in the morning, by the evening it has already begun to tarnish. We live near the coast, so the dampness may have something to do with the early tarnishing.
Is there a treatment or coating of some kind that will prevent the tarnishing without changing the original coloring and highly polished look of new copper? -- S.S.
A. You can try applying a clear coat of non-yellowing lacquer immediately after you have removed all of the tarnish from your copper. Most big paint manufacturers make such lacquers. However, you may want to reconsider this type of upkeep.
Exterior copper goes through a natural weathering process called oxidation, which will last several years. Once the process has started you will not be able to restore the finish to the highly polished look it had when it was new. Actually, this corrosion-resistant process is the very thing that makes exterior copper so appealing and maintenance-free. In the aging process the copper will eventually turn a soft green.
How long this takes depends on climatic conditions. However, you can speed this process artificially with an acid-based solution which will induce the final green stage. Because of the dangers in dealing with this acid, it is best to have a professional do the job.
You may want to reconsider the upkeep of polishing and maintaining a lacquer finish and let your copper trim develop naturally into a very attractive accent.
Q. Last year we had a garbage disposer installed. It is a very convenient appliance, but I dislike the odors that develop after using it.
Do you have any suggestions on how to keep a disposer clean and clean-smelling? I am afraid to use caustic cleaners which might damage the unit. -- E.P.
A. You are right not to use strong chemicals in your garbage disposer. There are several special cleaning products on the market made specifically for garbage disposers.
One such product that helps remove strong odors and grease buildup is Disposer Care, made by Twinoak Products Inc., 625 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611. It sells in four-packs and is recommended by some disposer manufacturers, which indicates that it can be safely used in your disposer. If you can't locate this product in your local housewares or hardware store, write the manufacturer for outlets in your area.
Q. Can you tell me how to remove scratches from a cultured marble-topped vanity in a bathroom? Besides some scratches there are several spots caused by accidentally spilling some nail polish remover and a burn mark from a curling iron.
A. Although synthetic marbles are less porous and more stain-resistant than natural marble, they will scratch if abrasive cleaners are used and they are subject to damage by caustic chemicals.
Cultured marbles are made of poured polyester resin, usually treated with a clear gel coat or onyx resin on the top surface.
Buffing the surface with a medium-cut rubbing compound -- use a buffing pad on an electric drill -- can often remove minor scratches. Next rinse and buff to a high luster with a paste wax. Use a good automotive compound such as Sherman-Williams White Lightning or a can of paste wax approved for use on Corvettes.
If stains remain, try a light sanding with fine sandpaper such as 600 grit wet-dry. Use a sanding block and wet sandpaper for best results.
If this fails you can have a professional sand the top and coat it with catalyzed acrylic urethane.
Check with bathtub and sink refinishers for feasibility and estimates. For protection, you should polish your cultured marble at least twice a year.
Send inquiries to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190. Only questions of general interest can be answered in the column.