Water damage can wreak havoc on wooden furniture. When wood gets wet, it often swells and warps, ruining the structure and appearance of your cherished furniture pieces. While it may seem hopeless, there are ways to fix water-damaged swollen wood furniture and restore it to its original glory. This guide will walk you through the process step-by-step.
Assessing the Damage
The first step is to assess the extent of the water damage. Here are some things to look for:
- Warping or swelling: If the wood has started to warp or swell, this indicates that water has penetrated deep into the wood cells. The greater the warping, the more extensive the water damage.
- Discoloration: Look for lightening or darkening of the wood color, which signals water has entered the wood grain. The longer the exposure, the more discoloration.
- Peeling finish: If the protective finish is bubbled or peeling, moisture has found its way underneath the top layers. This will require refinishing work.
- White rot or mold: Examine the wood for any fuzzy white mold or spongy rotted sections, which occur with prolonged wetness. This requires disinfecting.
- Loose joints: Check if joints have come loose or if glue bonds have failed. This may need gluing and clamping.
Carefully inspecting all surfaces and joints will reveal how far reaching the water damage is and what kind of repairs are needed.
Drying Out the Wood
The most important step is to leave your piece of furniture to dry out the saturated wood fully before attempting any repairs. Working on wood that is still wet will result in further warping as it continues to dry.
Here are effective methods for drying water swollen wood:
- Air circulation: Place the furniture in a well-ventilated area and point fans directly at the surface. Moving air evaporates moisture quickly.
- Dehumidifier: Use a dehumidifier to actively pull moisture from the air surrounding the wet furniture.
- Heat: Apply gentle heat from a hairdryer or space heater to dry the wood. Move it around to evenly heat all areas.
- Sunlight: Put the furniture outside in direct sunlight. The UV rays will naturally dry out the wood if weather permits.
- Absorbent materials: Place towels, cloths or paper over and under surfaces to wick away excess moisture. Replace as needed.
- Silica gel: Position silica gel packets around and on the furniture. Silica crystals actively absorb humidity in the air.
Check the furniture every day until completely dry before attempting repairs. This can take 1-2 weeks depending on severity.
Fixing Warped or Swollen Wood
Once thoroughly dry, swollen or warped wood can be reshaped with the following methods:
- Wet reshaping: For minor swelling, mist the warped area with clean water. Apply weights or clamps in the opposite direction of the warp. As it dries, the wood will straighten.
- Steam reshaping: For more severe warping, apply steam to the area using a steam iron or steamer. The heat softens the wood fibers. Clamp flattened until cooled.
- Mechanical reshaping: Sanders, planers and scrapers can systematically shave and flatten badly warped sections. This is best done by professionals.
- Reassembly: Take apart furniture frames and rebuild ensuring proper moisture content and wood alignment to avoid further warping.
Take time reshaping the furniture so changes happen incrementally. Rushing may fracture or split the weakened wood. Patience and the right techniques will coax the wood back into its original form.
Refinishing Water Damaged Wood
After the wood has been returned to its original form, refinishing will be necessary to restore its appearance and protect it from future moisture. Follow these steps:
- Strip off old finish: Use chemical strippers or sanders to remove remaining old finish which has been compromised. Wear proper safety gear for chemicals.
- Clean and sand – Scrub wood with a wood cleaner and sand away any discoloration or remaining raised grain with 120-180 grit sandpaper.
- Fill holes – Repair any small holes, cracks or losses with wood filler and let dry completely. Sand smooth.
- Stain – If desired, apply wood stain in the original hue to even out any color changes from water damage. Let stain penetrate fully before top coating.
- Seal – Use a wood sealer like shellac to seal the wood surface. This prevents moisture from penetrating the fresh finish.
- Topcoat – Finish with 3-4 coats of a protective topcoat like polyurethane, allowing drying time between coats. This creates a water-resistant barrier.
Be sure to apply the new finish evenly and smoothly. Proper application restores the wood’s luster and prevents future water damage issues.
Repairing Joints and Glue Bond Failure
It’s common for the glue joints of furniture to fail after getting soaked. Loose joints will need to be re-glued and clamped.
- Reactivate glue – Old glue may still be salvageable. Apply heat with a hair dryer or soak a clean cloth in warm water and lay over the joint to reactivate the adhesive. Clamp and allow to fully dry.
- Clean and sand – For broken glue bonds, scrape away old glue and sand the mating surfaces to create a fresh surface for maximum adhesion.
- Glue and clamp – Apply fresh wood glue to joint surfaces and clamp securely, using cauls if needed to keep flat. Wipe away any excess squeezed out glue. Allow 24 hours minimum for glue to cure.
- Reinforce – In addition to gluing, reinforce weakened joints by adding cross braces, corner blocks, triangle plates or dominos for extra strength. Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting.
Properly re-gluing joints restores the structural integrity. The furniture will need this for decades more use.
Preventing Future Water Damage
After putting in all this restoration work, you’ll want to prevent water damage from recurring. Here are some smart steps to keep wood furniture protected:
- Keep wood furniture out of direct contact with water pipes, houseplants or areas prone to flooding or leaks.
- Use coasters under flowerpots, drinks and other condensation-prone items.
- Maintain window seals and caulk around sinks, tubs and appliances to prevent moisture intrusion.
- Position furniture away from heating and cooling vents to avoid temperature/humidity fluctuations.
- Use dehumidifiers to maintain 40-45% relative humidity in the home.
- Clean up spills, pet accidents and over-watering immediately to avoid moisture penetration.
- Polish with wood-safe products like paste wax which repel water.
- Have the furniture professionally refinished when the topcoat starts looking dull or worn.
With vigilance and care, you can help your restored wood furniture remain damage-free for many years to come. The effort is well worth it!
When to Call in a Professional to Fix Water Damaged Swollen Wood Furniture
While many water damage issues can be addressed with do-it-yourself methods, some situations warrant calling in a professional furniture conservator or restoration specialist. Seek professional help for:
- Extensive water damage affecting the internal structure and stability of the furniture
- Severely warped or misshapen wood that requires major repairs
- Historic or highly valuable antique furniture with pre-existing damage
- Delicate surfaces requiring paintless dent repair or veneer work
- Significant mold or mildew growth which may require sterile remediation
- Damage beyond your technical expertise such as broken jointery, lifted veneers, etc.
- Furniture with gilding, gold leaf, inlay, marquetry or fine decorative details
- Situations where full disassembly is required to properly repair the piece
- Pieces requiring major structural reinforcements or new custom-milled wood
- Matching new finishes or colors to existing aged or hand-finished surfaces
- Insured items where damage documentation is needed to file claims
While simple DIY methods work for minor swelling, water stains, and surface damage, extensive restoration is best left to the experts. Professional services may cost more, but the results are well worth it for cherished wood furniture.
- Completely dry out water swollen furniture before attempting repairs. Air circulation, dehumidifiers, heat and sunlight are effective drying methods.
- Fix warped wood by reshaping with moisture, steam, mechanical sanders or disassembly and rebuilding. Take it slow.
- Refinish water-damaged wood properly by stripping, sanding, filling, staining, sealing and topcoating. This restores beauty and protection.
- Reglue any joints that have failed using heat, moisture and clamps. Reinforce with braces or plates.
- Help prevent future water damage by keeping wood away from moisture sources, maintaining home humidity and refinishing when needed.
Restoring badly water damaged and swollen wood furniture takes time and care. But with drying, reshaping, refinishing and regluing, most valuable wooden pieces can be returned to their former strength and beauty to enjoy for years to come. With a little knowledge and elbow grease, you can successfully repair cherished wood furniture from even extensive water damage.
If you’re experiencing extensive water damage, contact Southeast Water Restoration immediately!