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Cleaning & Restoring Wood | Simple Instructions to Restore Salvaged Barn Wood

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Have you ever come across a structurally interesting wood piece but layers and layers of ingrained dust or the chalky dry wood left behind made it seem a little too grungy or industrial looking for your home? I was given this vintage tool caddy (find one like it in the vintage section on Etsy) recently by a friend cleaning out an abandoned barn, but no amount of wiping or even hosing it off could get the wood clean- so I took drastic measures:

oiling dry antique wood
Old tool caddy with deeply ingrained dirt and a chalky dull finish
Obviously handmade from quality wood, this felt like a piece worth cleaning up

Before I could even begin to work on this piece, I knew it needed cleaned- Super cleaned. Like the kind of clean a machine does best.  So in it went to the dishwasher with just a little borax and lots and lots of water. (Yes- the dish washer! Plenty of “not washable” materials do fine in the dishwasher as long as oils are replaced after the piece is totally dry)


After the dishwasher, I let it dry fully on the porch. The dried result revealed that the dishwasher did a great job of removing both surface dirt and the dust embedded in the grain of the wood, as you can see below:

My vintage wood tool caddy rescue-project, before oiling

My secret ingredient for restoring pieces like this is a product called Feed N Wax. It’s a mix of beeswax and orange oil and, apparently, some extra magical ingredients that absolutely transforms old wood.

feed n wax on a dry vintage toolbox

Instructions on Feed and Wax say to apply to a rag and then massage into the grain, but for a piece needing deep conditioning, like this one, I apply directly to the wood.

 the color of the wood changes dramatically as the oil replaces the natural oils in the wood

From the first smear, the color of the wood changes dramatically as the oil replaces the natural oils in the wood that were stripped by time and dust.

Wood darkens and a beautiful grain emerges as it's applied
Once evenly applied, I use a rag and friction to slightly warm the surface of the wood- melting the tiny beads of beeswax and helping seal the oil in the grain of the wood.

In less than five minutes invested in applying oild and buffing the caddy, my rough old toolbox was rejuvenated into a really nice, richly patinaed piece that looks great in my art studio holding paint:


This was a fun and FAST wood restoration project, made even faster by using a dishwasher to clean the wood and using a one-coat oil-based treatment instead of coats of stains and sealers. The piece may need waxed and oiled again in a few years, but for now, I’m loving the new look!