Answering Furniture Repair Questions

Q. I recently purchased a cheaply upholstered 1950s couch. It has a wood frame, springs and firm, heavy, not-so-comfortable cushions. The upholstery is in great shape, though I'd like to clean it before using it. I'm hoping for some tips on strengthening and cleaning the couch as thoroughly as possible. I really know nothing about this, but don't want to spend a fortune on it, so a professional is out of the question. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.

A. Vacuum the heck out of it. Foam "shampoo" is a good way to go for cleaning. I have a separate upholstery brush but you can get the upholstery shampoo with one built in, usually found in an automotive section. Foam it up and brush it in, wait, then vacuum (as per directions on the can). Try "steam cleaning" with an old Hoover Steam Cleaner with an upholstery attachment, but that's kind of wet, unless you have a specific need for it. Try a little of the foam on the back first - test for color fastness.

As for beefing up the couch, that's a toughie without seeing it. Buy a bunch of repair brackets. They come in different shapes and sizes. You'll want some "L" (both types of L) some "I" and maybe some "T" shaped ones and the screws that go with them. With these, you can beef up any joints in the wooden frame. Replace any cracked wood slats in the frame or use the "I" brackets if possible. If it has seat covers that come off, you can replace the foam easily if you want.

Q. I have file drawers that won't stay closed. When I close them, they slowly open to about five inches and stay. Is there a way to tighten them or adjust them so they will stay closed?

A. You could try rearranging the files. Place the heavier file folders at the back of the rack and the lighter smaller folders at the front. If this is not possible, you can use a weight of some sort in the back of the drawer. You may also be able to close the tracks slightly further than present. This would make them tighter and less likely to open of their own accord. Use a pair of pliers and carefully adjust the runners that the rollers roll on. You can even place a piece of tape on the runners to make them less slippery.

Q. How can I remove white marks from furniture? These marks are the ones most often found on the legs of furniture. I believe these scuff marks are caused by being banged by other objects, shoes, etc.

A. I have had success using a pencil eraser to remove white marks. The vacuum cleaner is often the major culprit of marks on furniture legs. If furniture has lacquer finish, mineral spirits can also be used. Check first in an inconspicuous place for ill effects on the finish.

Q. I moved to the U.S. recently and I had to buy used furniture to start my life here. I just bought a couch for 100 bucks, which has sofa covers for the cushions. But yesterday, I found this sofa very rough to sit on and saw that the threads are coming out and it is little bit irritating to sit. It's kind of an itching sensation because of the roughness. Can anyone tell me how to remove the rough threads and make my sofa non-irritating and smooth? Is there any couch softener to solve this problem?

A. There is no such thing as a couch softener. The problem is probably that the fabric is a nubby texture and therefore feels scratchy. If you try to cut off the nubs, the fabric will unravel and you'll get holes. Your best bet is to buy a sofa slipcover in a nice soft fabric, like chenille for example, or just a smooth fabric like denim. There are lots to choose from. The slipcovers can be taken off and cleaned periodically, either in your washer or by taking to a dry cleaner depending on the fabric - read the care instructions label to find out which is recommended.

Q. How can I get scratches out of an oak table? They aren't that deep, just those little invisible ones that you can see when light hits the table. Any solutions?

A. Use Old English Scratch Cover. Just wipe a little on with a soft cloth and it "re-stains" the scratches.

Q. I was gluing photos with rubber cement onto a piece of thick paper, however the glue vapors must have penetrated the paper and damaged the finish to my wood table. The table has a very slightly bumpy whitish appearance that will not clean off.

A. The vehicle in rubber cement is similar to lacquer thinner. Lacquer thinner will damage almost any finish other than some polyurethane's and epoxies. It may have softened the finish and caused some of the paper to bond to it, or simply damaged the integrity of the finish. The piece will require refinishing in all likelihood.

Q. Recently, I spilled ammonia on my wood table and it soaked some junk mail i had sitting on it. Anyway, I didn't realize that that the mail had become wet and it sat there for many days. When I lifted it, up there was a dark stain on the wood. I tried bleach and then a strong solution of oxalic acid (many treatments of it), which didn't lighten the stain at all. It still looks the same. The table is old and is done with an antique light brown finish. Any ideas on what I could use?

A. It seems that the stain is in the finish. You might try some ammonia on a cloth to see if it will take some of it out. Being in the finish means that some means of drawing it out of the finish would be needed. My guess is that the finish is worn and thin or it would not have let the stain pass into the finish and possibly into the wood itself.

If the table is oak and the ammonia got into the wood, the only recourse would be to strip and bleach the wood. Even contact with ammonia for a short time can cause fuming to a limited degree. Fuming with ammonia is a technique for producing a dark stained effect in the oak. It is a chemical reaction, which is more enduring than stain.

Q. I have some 1950's wrought iron pieces. They have a small amount of surface rust and need to be painted. How and what do I use to remove the rust? How and what do I use to paint so it has that same baked enamel look the original has? Is there some sort of black stain I can use for a touch up?

A. Rustoleum makes a product that is painted on top of the rust. It looks the same as Hammerite. One does not ordinarily obtain any success staining wrought iron. Your results will depend upon your skill with a brush and the finish of the product you use. As a rule, touching up paint looks as if you had.

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