Custom Furniture: Don’t Let it Crack!

Imagine walking into your dining room and your attention is immediately grabbed by your new custom furniture that exudes character, personality; enrapturing all the elements you’ve imagined your loved ones gathering around for many years. As you move closer to admire your custom table, for the umpteenth time, you are horrified to find a blemish. A crack. An incident that is avoidable.

In recent months you’ve probably noticed we’ve been stressing the importance of monitoring your humidity. We want to give a more in-depth explanation as well as address the many questions we’ve gotten regarding care and cleaning. Depending on your location this can be a big concern. For most our customers in the Chicagoland area, weather is as temperamental as it comes. Thus, these fluctuations have an effect on more than just the frizziness of your hair or creaking of your bones. In order to gain a better understanding of why humidity is the culprit, let’s start with the basic understanding of how wood operates.

The How

Wood is hygroscopic. What does this mean? In lame man’s terms, wood absorbs moisture from the air using grain fibers that run the length of the wood. Whether this is in tree form or lumber, the grain fibers are drinking in and expelling moisture. Because of this system, when moisture is absorbed, wood expands. In opposition, when moisture is lost, wood contracts. This is where monitoring your humidity levels come into play.

Two Facts:

  1. Not all wood species react the same as some of the hardest wood will move the most
  2. A fully sealed wood will still lose and gain moisture, just much slower

The Why

If there is an extreme switch whether it be high or low humidity, this is harmful to wood. As a result, we strongly suggest you keep your humidity levels at an ideal 50% all year round. However, between 40%-60% is typically “safe”. What can incite wood to crack is either going from high humidity to a lower rate or “normal” humidity to an extreme high/low. Rapid fluctuations only exacerbate the situation. Wood cannot be stopped from moving. It is a natural occurrence. Did you know builders of the pyramids used this to their advantage? They would create cavities in the stone, insert wood, and soak it with water. As it expanded it would crack the stone. Powerful stuff! Our job is to control what we can. As mentioned in previous posts, we intentionally build our tables to compensate for some fluctuations, but there is a limit. Two easy ways to keep a close eye and jump ahead of any issues is purchasing a humidity gauge. If your humidity it too high a dehumidifier is a simple fix. Visa versa, if your climate is too dry, purchase a humidifier. Not only will all the wood species in your home benefit, but also your wallet and personal health. When wood is constantly fluctuating to extremes, this will affect the structure of your furniture all while cracking your wood and finish.

People underestimate the importance of monitoring their humidity. This is why we cannot emphasize enough – monitor your humidity! From our point of view, your furniture is an investment. It is an object you likely want to last for a long time, perhaps even be passed down to generations. Humidity is the main culprit for destroying furniture. Take care of your investment. All parties involved will benefit!

Care and Cleaning

Another topic we’ve had an influx of questions on is furniture care and cleaning. There are two topics to be addressed here. Let’s start with care. In addition to closely watching your humidity, it is suggested to oil up your wood furniture roughly every six months. One caution is to make sure you use a quality oil. Avoid silicone based products. Using a product that will simply build up on your furniture does you no good. Some professionals suggest giving your furniture a good going over with Old English or Murphy’s Oil Soap with water and a damp cloth. Similarly, an occasional coat of wood polish, paste, or conditioner can help prevent minor scratches and conceal any that may have occurred. This is most important in “raw” furniture that does not have a clear coat finish. Since most tables we build get a very good top coat that protects the wood, these oils act more like a car wax or lotion. Simply put, a sacrificial top coat that helps protect the clear coat.

Cleaning really is quite simple, with several options. We’ve boasted that we use, if not the best, one of the best polyurethanes on the market. It is known for being heavy duty and stands up against water, chemicals, and heat very well. However, this does not mean we encourage you to start dumping hoards of chemicals on your table or revert to careless actions. Water with soap or vinegar is always safe. However, common household cleaners typically do not affect the finish, such as, Windex or 409. As we’ve said before, when it comes to your furniture, use common sense. What you absolutely want to avoid is Magic Erasers, scrubbing pads, etc. Why? Because this is essentially a lower grit sandpaper. If you take one of those pads to your furniture, you will notice a marred look to the finish.

Though few, these are some simple ways you can ensure a long life for your furniture. Want a little more background on our tables or simply want to do more reading? Go to our blog page. We’ve got the categories broken down. See what piques your interest.

Looking to have another custom furniture piece added to your home, check out our custom tables and chairs to get an idea as to what catches your eye. Don’t want to wait the full production time? We’ve got you covered with our current inventory all ready to be purchased. Any questions, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at Rustic Elements Furniture. Until next time!

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