Touching Up Minor Scratches
by Sal Marino
There are a number of methods you can use to
touch up scratches in the finish on a piece of furniture. The method I
use, depends upon how large (deep, wide and long) the scratch is. Before
we discuss this method, I feel it is necessary to define exactly what a
scratch is and how to determine the extent of the damage caused by the
A scratch occurs when the finish and color in the finish has been removed.
This is different from a
gouge. When finish, color in
the finish and some of the
wood itself has been
removed, this is considered
a gouge. Gouges are more difficult to repair
properly, because you need to fill the void left where the wood once was
and add both color and finish back into the spot. I will discuss the method
of repairing a gouge in a future article. The following
method described will be effective on minor scratches (NOT GOUGES).
Correct lighting is an absolute necessity when you are performing touch
up work. Without the right light, you will not be able to determine the
extent of the damage and have a difficult time trying to match color and
sheen. You must have as much light as possible around the area you will
be making the repair. The light must be as close as
possible to natural daylight and the light should NOT be directly over
the work surface. I use two different types of light sources to help me
in achieving a good touch up job.
First, for the main (fixed) lighting for my workbench I use (4) 6 foot
fluorescent (daylight bulbs) mounted to the ceiling above the workbench.
Daylight bulbs are much better at simulating the natural daylight
conditions (created by the sun) than the standard clear or cool white
fluorescent bulbs found in most fixtures. Daylight bulbs will enable you
to determine the true color of the area you must touch up. These bulbs
can be purchased at specialty lighting stores, home centers or on the
My secondary source of light is a regular (incandescent) light bulb that
is NOT mounted directly over the work surface, rather above and behind
the bench. See illustration below. Reflected incandescent lighting is a
much more effective source for picking up minor flaws like small
scratches and other defects that are normally hard to see with the naked
eye under direct light.
With your main fluorescent (daylight bulbs) still on, turn on the
incandescent light bulb to examine the scratch and determine the extent
of its damage. Make sure the light is shining down on an angle so it's
reflecting off the surface. Once this is done, turn off the incandescent
bulb and use the fluorescent bulbs only. From here on, it is usually
only necessary to use this lighting to determine color, but if needed,
you can switch back on the incandescent light.
If the scratch is very superficial and the finish does not have a high
gloss sheen, one of the quickest and best methods is to use a felt tip
marker called a scratch remover. These markers are available in various
colors such as: Walnut, Fruitwood, Dk. Brown Walnut, Light
Mahogany, Med. Mahogany, Pine, Maple, Cherry, Golden Oak, Natural and
more. You are almost sure of finding the correct color that you need. To
use, just color in the scratched area with the pen and that's it! The
one drawback about these markers is that you usually cannot apply a
finish over it. The solvent in the finish will often lighten or
completely remove the color left by the marker. Therefore, I only use
this method when the scratch is so small that the color alone will hide
it without also having to apply a finish to match the sheen.
Padding Lacquer and
The method I most often use is one of adding a color to a finish to
touch up the scratch. Once this is done, (if needed) I then use a very
fine artist's brush to paint in the grain on top of the scratch. The
finish I usually use is
padding lacquer. This is
compatible with most
furniture finishes. If you
make a mistake on any finish
other than shellac, you can
remove the finish by wiping
it off with de-natured
alcohol. To add the color to
the padding lacquer, I use
finely ground powders that
are soluble in padding
lacquer. They are available
in many different colors and can be
inter-mixed to achieve virtually any color.
Select the proper color or combination of colors of blending powder to
match the background (not grain) color of the finish. Take a small amount of padding lacquer and slowly add the powder(s)
to the padding lacquer. The powders should readily dissolve, but make
sure you mix anyway. Some colors may not dissolve as easily as others.
For those colors, it's best to dissolve them first in a little
solvent, then add this solution to the padding lacquer.
Experimentation is necessary here in order to match the color as close
Once you are satisfied with the color, apply the padding
lacquer into the scratch using a fine artist's brush. Let this dry at
least overnight. The next day, examine the overall color and appearance
of the touch up. If it looks acceptable, leave it alone, you are done!
However, if the area of the scratch appears a little too light, and the
grain seems to be missing from that spot, you must apply a second color.
Using the same process, select the color or colors of blending powder to
match the color of the grain. This is usually darker than the first
(background color) you applied. The grain is usually more opaque than
the background, so you will have to add more powder in proportion to
padding lacquer than you did when mixing the background color. Mix and
dissolve in the same manner as described above. Now, use a very fine
(pointed) artist's brush to paint in the grain. Try to connect the grain
lines with the surrounding grain and feather in the lines to blend and
soften the sharp edges made by the brush. Once the grain has been
painted in, let sit overnight.
It's best to apply a little straight
(un-tinted) padding lacquer over the painted grain lines. The next day,
inspect the touch up using the incandescent light. If the area looks too
glossy compared to the surrounding surface, buff VERY LIGHTLY WITH 0000
Steel Wool. Do not rub too hard or you can remove the grain lines that
were painted in.
There are a number of other methods used for touching up scratches, but
this is the one I most often use and seem to have the most success with.