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How to enhance and maintain the beauty of natural wood

Do you respect wood?

This is a question that the irreverent comedian Larry David once famously asked. If you're a lover of natural wood furniture, you know that taking care of it is essential to maintain its beauty and longevity. From regular cleaning to protecting it from the elements, there are a few key steps you can take to enhance and maintain the beauty of natural wood. In this blog post, we'll explore some of the best practices for preserving the natural beauty of your wooden pieces.

It’s easy to see why: Natural wood has unique grain patterns and color that add a warmth to furniture. Natural wood is also strong and resistant to wear and tear. However, like anything else, items made of wood require maintenance to keep them looking their best. Knowing how to clean, sand, stain, seal, wax, polish, touch-up, and repair wood crafts will help keep wooden items in top condition.


Before you even think about crafting, you need to clean your materials first! Cleaning the wood is important for several reasons. First, since everything gets dirty and discolored after a period of time, cleaning the wood can help it keep looking fresh. Similarly, the dirt and grime that can build up on natural wood can host things like mold and mildew. However, cleaning can help keep these things from taking hold and ruining the wood. Finally, cleaning helps ensure that things like stains and seals are affixed to the wood properly.

But what kinds of materials should you clean the wood with? Murphy Oil Soap is recommended due to its ability to remove dirt without actually damaging the wood. Howard Feed-N-Wax has also been suggested because it is both a cleaner and conditioner for natural wood. If you are concerned about exposure to chemicals or prefer homemade cleaners, try buffing the piece with beeswax or coating the wood with a baking soda and water paste.

Once you’ve decided on the type of cleaner to use, you will want to follow these steps to ensure your materials are ready to be sanded.

  1. Dust the wood with a soft cloth

  2. Test the cleaner on a small area to make sure it doesn’t damage the wood

  3. Apply the cleaner with a soft cloth and work it in the direction of the wood’s grain

  4. Rinse the wood if the cleaner directs you to do so

  5. Dry the wood with a dry cloth

Once the wood has thoroughly dried, it’s time to move on to the next step: Sanding


Just like cleaning, sanding the wood is a necessary step in the woodworking process. To start with, sanding wood removes rough patches and imperfections. Similar to cleaning, it also helps prepare the surface for finishes like paint or stains. Sanding isn’t just for looks, either; it’s important to remove those imperfections because they could weaken the wood and ultimately destroy your project.

What kind of sander should you use? Well, it depends on what and how much you need to remove.

  • An orbital sander is good for removing rough spots and smoothing out the wood. Like its name implies, an orbital sander has a round sanding pad that sands in a circular motion.

  • A belt sander uses a belt of sandpaper that loops over and over again. It’s best used if you need to get rid of a large amount of wood quickly or if you need to sand a large surface.

  • A detail sander is a hand saw used for hard-to-reach spaces.

  • A palm sander is like an orbital sander, but it is better to be used for smaller projects.

Looking for sander suggestions? The Family Handyman recommends the Makita Five-Inch Random Orbit Sander because it is powerful and easy to use. Additionally, this sander comes with a dust-collection bag, meaning there’s less cleaning on your part. If you’re looking for a detail sander, Hart 20-Volt Cordless Sanders lets you get into tight spaces without the hassle of dealing with a cord. If it’s a belt sander you’re after, you can’t go wrong with the Porter Cable 120V Eight-Amp Corded Belt Sander and its 1,300 feet of rotations each minute!

After you’ve chosen the right type of sander for the job, you’ll want to follow these steps to sand your wooden pieces:

  1. Wear protective equipment like a dust mask and goggles.

  2. Make sure to choose the right sandpaper! A coarse grit is best to use when you want to remove a lot of material, while a finer grit gives off a smooth finish.

  3. Sand the wood in the direction of the grain. You’ll want to overlap your strokes.

  4. Use finer and finer grits until you’ve got the right level of smoothness.

  5. Sand edges and corners with a detail sander.

  6. Use a cloth or vacuum to remove dust from the wood.

Make sure to clean up your workspace before the next step: Staining


Staining natural wood slows down the “aging process”, meaning there’s less chance of damages from cracking and splitting. Staining is also especially important if your wooden piece is going to be housed outside since the stain will help protect it from weather. Staining also adds color and highlights the grain of the wood as well.

If you don’t know what type of stain to choose, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • An oil-based stain is good for getting deep into the wood, meaning that it will offer excellent protection and enhance the color and grain of the pieces.

  • If you’re looking for something a little more environmentally-friendly, a water-based stain also provides color and protection.

  • If you want the wood to have a glaze-like finish, then you will want to use a gel stain.

You also want to think about if you’re looking to hide the grain of the wood or show it off. A solid stain hides the grain, but it typically holds up the longest, while a semi-transparent stain covers the grain, but allows the color to be seen.

If you’re looking for quality brands, The Spruce recommends Varathane Classic Wood Interior Stain and Minwax Wood Finish Oil-Based Interior Stain for wood that will be housed indoors. For exterior projects, the website suggests trying Ready Seal Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer or BEHR Premium Stain and Sealer.

Once you’ve chosen your stain and your wood has been cleaned and sanded, you’ll want to stain your wood with the following steps:

  1. Practice safety measures by wearing protective gloves and goggles, and work in a well-ventilated area.

  2. Use a pre-stain conditioner to help prevent streaking

  3. Apply the stain with a brush going in the direction of the grain. Make sure to wipe down any excess stain so that it doesn’t drip or run.

  4. Allow the stain to dry

Now the wood has been protected by the stain, but what protects the stain? That’s where sealing comes in.


While you can just stain a piece of wood and not use a sealant, a seal is important because of the added protection. A seal will help prevent moisture from getting into the wood, as well as protect it from cracking and fading due to sunlight exposure. On top of these things, a seal - similar to a stain - will protect the wood from typical daily wear and tear.

Don’t know the type of seal to use? You have a few choices: Polyurethane and oil-based sealers come in glossy or matte finishes, and wax and shellac sealers are good for softwoods.

As for recommendations, Vintage and Specialty Wood suggests Thompson’s Water Seal, Rainguard Premium Wood Sealer, and Roxil Wood Protection Cream.

Once you’ve chosen your seal and your wood has been cleaned, sanded, and (possibly) stained, you’ll want to do the following:

  1. Practice safety measures by wearing protective gloves and goggles, and work in a well-ventilated area.

  2. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply the sealer to the wood. If necessary, make sure that each coat is completely dry before applying additional coats.

  3. Sand the sealer with a fine-grit to remove bubbles and streaks.

If you take the time to strengthen the wood surface with a seal, it will help keep the natural beauty of the piece shining bright!


Waxing natural wood keeps it looking smooth and sleek. That’s because it protects the wood from water and dust, but it fills in cracks and crevices as well.

Waxes can be made out of beeswax, carnauba, mineral oil, paraffin, and shellac. Beeswax are good for softwoods, while carnauba is better for hardwoods. Mineral oil wax is good for wooden objects that will be used to work with food (think: cutting boards), and paraffin and shellac are best for furniture.

Wood Improve recommends Howard Citrus Shield for most wood pieces, Minwax Paste for antiques, and Watco Natural Satin Wax for furniture.

Once you’ve chosen your wax and your wood has been cleaned and sanded, apply the wax with a cloth or brush in a circular motion. Let the wax dry, then buff it with a clean cloth in order to get rid of any extra excess. The resulting waxing will help demonstrate the dazzling display of beauty that lies within the wood itself.


Polishing wood involves using a polish like furniture polish or lemon oil to clean and condition the wood. It helps protect the wood from things like dirt and dust, and also keeps the wood from getting too dry.

There are a variety of polishes to choose from: Furniture polish, lemon oil, beeswax, mineral oil, and tung oil. Of note is mineral oil polish as it is safe to use on wood that will be used in

food preparation.

The Spruce recommends Weiman Cabinet and Wood Clean and Shine Spray and Favor Brilliant Shine Furniture Polish. Howard Feed-N-Wax Wood Polish and Conditioner can be used on finished and unfinished wood, and Old English Wood Conditioner and Cleaner takes care of cleaning and conditioning at the same time.

Once the wood to be polished has been cleaned, dried, and sanded, apply the polish with a cloth in the direction of the grain. Buff the surface with a clean cloth in order to remove any extra excess polish. The end result will bring out the beauty of the wood with a shining polish.


Touching up wood helps to keep it in good condition. It protects the wood from damage over time, fills in scratches, and can even increase the value of the piece.

The type of touch-up will determine the type of product or method that should be used. For example, fillers will fill in scratches with the use of a putty knife; stains will take care of faded wood; wood oil will take care of wood that has become dry; and more extreme touch-ups might require sanding.

When it comes to dealing with scratches, Amish Furniture Factory suggests going nuts and using walnuts. Just crack open the walnut and rub it across the scratch several times; the oils will get into the wood and help take care of the marks. Companies also manufacture wood fix sticks and scratch repair pens, but it may take a few tries to match the color. That’s why it’s always important to test the stick or pen on a small, inconspicuous area. Using wood filler like Minimax is a little more labor-intensive in that you will have to wait a few days for the filler to set before you gently sand it down.


If touch-ups won’t cut it, then you’ll need to focus on repairing the wood. Get on this quickly to prevent further damage to the piece and increase its durability.

Like anything else, you’ll want to choose the correct method based on the particular repair. For example, if you can use wood filler for cracks and scratches, you would just apply that until it dries, and then sand it down until its level with the rest of the wood. If the job is a larger repair, then you might need to patch it, which involves cutting another piece of wood to fit the damaged area and then gluing it into place. If the scratches on the wood are very deep, then you might need to refinish the damaged area by sanding it down and then applying a new finish to the sanded area.

Bob Villa suggests Minwax Stainable Wood Filler for overall repairs, Goodfilla Water-Based Wood Filler for holes, and Coconix Floor and Furniture Repair Kit for all things wood inside the home.

Preventative Maintenance

With all of the work you put into creating your wooden piece, you’ll want to keep looking as new and fresh for as long as possible! That’s why it’s important to maintain the wood. Maintenance will help protect it from damage and keep it looking sharp.

Cleaning, sealing, waxing, and conditioning shouldn’t only be done when you first create your wooden piece. These things should be done at regular intervals. Cleaning the wood from dust and dirt can prevent scratches, and using wax will also give the wood a glossy appearance. Sealing the wood will protect it from moisture and heat, and conditioning helps prevent cracking. Performing all of these things regularly helps ensure that the wood stays in great condition.

History in your hands

As you can see, creating and maintaining a wooden item is a constant process. From the initial work of cleaning, sanding, and finishing, to periodically sealing, waxing, and conditioning, it takes time to keep wood looking like new! However, putting in the effort, using quality materials, and getting advice from both local or national experts will allow you to show off a shining example of how beautiful natural wood can truly be.

Take a look at our unique hand-crafted items made from the wood of the Battle of Gettysburg. Each piece is made with care and attention to detail and is a perfect addition to any history enthusiast's collection. They also make wonderful gifts!

Order now and own a piece of history!

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