Historic Housekeeping: Wood Objects

Antiques and family heirlooms made of wood are very common in private homes and collections. In my family, we have a beautiful small oak table made by a great-great-great-great uncle that has been handed down and is now my mother’s. My husband’s family has a large collection of hand carved wooden ornaments and wall hangings made by his father’s aunt to celebrate special occasions. Many people take pride in their antique furniture, decorative art pieces, and hardwood floors. In this post, I’ll discuss ways of maintaining and caring for the wooden objects that you own.

As with our textile collection, we take a “less is more” approach to cleaning wooden objects at the Ohio History Connection. Removing surface dust and particles makes up a majority of our regular cleaning of wood. There are several products we use on a regular basis to help gently dust wooden surfaces:

Dust bunny

Dust Bunny

Dust Bunny cloths are lint-free and made of a combination of Tyvek and nylon. This soft material will not damage wood finishes. Dust Bunny cloths are also chemical-free, which means they won’t leave behind any harmful residue or deposits. Dust Bunny cloths are reusable and machine washable.

 

 

Swiffer

Swiffer ™ dry dusting cloths

Swiffer dusting cloths can also be used, but only the dry varieties. These cloths typically come with a short handle which the cloth slips on – don’t use this handle when dusting your antique wooden pieces, as parts of the handle can poke through and scratch surfaces. Be sure not to use cloths that have been treated with any sort of cleaning solution. Many store brands also make their own version of these dry cloths.

Star

StarFiber ™ cloths

These square cloths are made of microfiber and, like the Dust Bunny cloths, are machine washable and reusable. They work well for a variety of wooden surfaces.

Brush

If the object you are dusting has carved elements, you can use a similar technique that we previously described in our textiles blog post. Using a natural bristle brush, gently “flick” the dust has gathered in carved areas or crevices into one of the dusting cloths mentioned above. Use caution when the brush has a metal piece to avoid scratching the surface you are dusting.

Generally speaking, dusting is the only true “cleaning” method we use on wood. Finished wood pieces can be waxed; however, we recommend waxing very infrequently. Every other year or so is sufficient and will cut down on waxy buildup that can damage wood surfaces. We generally use Renaissance Wax on furniture pieces – be sure to use a soft lint-free cloth (such as the Dust Bunny) to buff the wax off. Use caution to avoid getting wax on any upholstery that may be on wood furniture.

One last note about wooden objects: try to avoid storing and displaying wooden pieces in a room or area where the temperature can change rapidly. Wood expands in the heat and shrinks in the cold; over time, too many of these abrupt temperature changes can cause splits and cracks in wooden objects. Keep objects away from drafty areas that may retain a lot of heat in warmer months and let a lot of cooler air in during the winter.

What are some of your favorite wood pieces that you own? How have you cared for your own collection?

Jessica Mayercin Johnson, Assistant Registrar

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5 Responses to Historic Housekeeping: Wood Objects

  1. David Taylor says:

    What do you do with wooden objects (utilitarian pieces, not fine furniture) that have been stored in a damp basement for years and are covered with dirt and mildew?

  2. I manage the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas, and now that I spend a lot of my time dusting, I really appreciate this post! I’m wondering how you handle objects with rougher woods. I’ve tried gently dusting with cloth, but sometimes the rough wood can catch to the cloth. Thoughts?

    My personal favorite pieces at home include a three-legged walnut pie crust table and a walnut coffee table with carved ball and claw feet.

  3. Julie Cook says:

    Really nice post! I was very curious how do you clean and maintain old wooden items! Thank you for sharing! I find this post really interesting!

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