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Steam can reverse dent damage in wood furniture

Q: My kids were playing around in the house and a tennis racket hit the leg of our coffee table. Anyway, the racket dented the wood leg and it is quite noticeable. Is there anything I can do?

A: The first thing I would do is set some ground rules. Perhaps you can make the area from the coffee table to the couch out-of-bounds, and if the ball bounces off the wall, it’s a point for the other player. It’s your call, but you might check Wimbledon rules.

The dent you describe is caused by an impact that compresses the fibers of the wood. It can be reversed back to normal with the help of a little steam.

Just place a few layers of damp fabric over the dent and then touch the fabric (not the surrounding wood) quickly with a hot iron until you get the desired result. Be aware that this process can go wrong pretty fast, so you need only touch the fabric and lift it off quickly and gradually extend the contact time until the dented area is level with the surrounding surface. Then let the area dry.

This process works well on solid-wood furniture, particularly unfinished furniture. If the piece uses veneer (a thin layer of wood that is glued to a cheaper surface), don’t apply the iron to it as it will soften the glue that holds it down.

Once the area is dry, lightly sand it or the area may absorb more stain and turn a slightly darker color than the surrounding area.

If the impact was strong enough to cut the wood fibers, the steam trick won’t work. In that case, you will need to fill the area with wood putty to make it level, and then stain it to match the surrounding area. If the finish is not cracked or broken, and only the wood is compressed, you can try alternating hot and cold to the area.

Typically, you’ll need somewhere between 100-120 degrees for the heat and some ice for the cold.

Lay dry fabric on the damaged area and apply the heat for 10-15 minutes and remove it. Then place some crushed ice in a baggie and set it on the wood for the same time. You can repeat this process several times and the compression will usually rise back up.

If this process fails, you may be faced with either scraping the finish off and using the steam trick. But then you will have to refinish the area.

You just might reconsider the whole deal if repairing the piece of furniture is beyond your comfort level. Just tell your guests that the dings and scratches give it character.

Mike Klimek is a licensed contractor and owner of Las Vegas Handyman. Questions may be sent by email to handymanoflasvegas@msn.com. Or, mail to 4710 W. Dewey Drive, No. 100, Las Vegas, NV 89118. His web address is www.handymanoflasvegas.com.

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