Unvarnished furniture and how to choose, buy and finish it.

WHY UNVARNISHED FURNITURE? In Andalucia there are many furniture factories which specialise in manufacture of furniture, but don't have a fixed sales structure with catalogue.  Instead they rely on direct sales to furniture shops; the furniture is usually of good quality and is nearly always in the white.  This gives us an incredible amount of choice as it is possible to buy pieces from different factories and have them varnished in the same colour.  (We can arrange that).
  Buying unvarnished furniture tends to be a much cheaper option because the factories don't have an extensive network of sales reps with expensive catalogues and there is a further opportunity to save money by varnishing or waxing the piece yourself.    There is the added advantage that the materials used are ecologically sustainable and the furniture is made locally instead of being imported.  Here are a few examples of unfinished pieces - there are literally thousands.  In fact it's best to have an idea of what you need (with measurements) before coming in to browse the catalogues so as not to get bogged down in the abundance of choice available.



Just one thing here, which applies to all methods.  Always inspect the piece before you start.  If there are any dents or scratches, or sharp edges, they need sanding.

Deep dents -   With deep dents or scratches, especially on a highly visible area like a table top, you may have to steam them out.  To do this, firstly moisten the zone with a small amount of clean water.  Then take a piece of old teeshirt (hope you've got a good stock in) and wet it.  Take the iron and heat it to nylon or a little hotter.  Place the wet cloth over the dent and put the iron on top just as it you were pressing a shirt.  Keep moving the rag to get new wet parts over the dent.  You should see the dent gradually become smaller.  This works best with solid wood surfaces, veneered surfaces may not swell up or may swell up too much depending on the underlying material.  When you have done the best you can, you'll have to moisten the whole plane of the piece you are treating to ensure that it all looks the same when dry.  Leave to dry completely and sand with fine sandpaper in the direction of the grain.

Keep an eye out for glue - you can hardly see it in the white, but as soon as you begin to put colour on it it sticks out like a sore thumb. Some patches of glue will need to be taken off with a sharp chisel, and gently sanded afterwards.   Use at least 120 grit sandpaper, preferably 150 grit or even 180, and use a good quality aluminium oxide paper, not ordinary glass paper.  Make sure you always sand in the direction of the grain - this isn't as easy as it sounds; where 2 pieces of wood join, in a moulding or a panel, the grain often goes in different directions.  You won't notice the scratches before you put colour on, but you certainly will afterwards.  Like any finishing job, it's all in the preparation.

Waxing - If you've decided to wax your furniture,  you then need to apply the wax.  If it's a clear wax it'll be easier, make sure you don't leave bald patches as it's easy to miss bits.  For this reason it's best never to start on the parts you can see most, however tempting it may be to do so.  Leave these till last and they won't get smudged.  With coloured wax you have to work a bit faster so that it doesn't dry in lines and look uneven.  I like to apply wax with sponges - the best kind are those big car sponges, which I cut into pieces with scissors.  With coloured wax I apply with one sponge, and remove the excess with another cleaner one. To get into those little inaccessible corners I use a small stiffish paint brush or an oil painting brush. 

If you want a shinier look, you can buff the wax with a soft cloth - old teeshirt works well- after about 20 minutes or 1/2 an hour.

Xyladecor - When I first moved to Spain I spent a lot of time learning about and trying out locally available products.  I was particularly interested in finding a durable varnish which would finish a piece with only one coat. One of the best that I have encountered is Xyladecor.  The only pieces of furniture that I wouldn't use it for would be childrens cots, or anything a child might put in their mouth, because it does contain an anti-woodworm agent.

Xyladecor mate is an excellent protector, gives a rustic look in matt and is fairly water resistent (unlike wax)  and  you can buy it in most droguerias. Valentine also produce one which is a little bit more expensive.  Don't buy any other brand, they may look the same but they're not.  I've tried them all.  The special quality of Xyladecor is that it doesn't run.  It comes in several different colours and you apply it with a brush.  You don't have to worry about applying it too carefully, although if you slosh it around too much you'll use a lot more of the product;  then after about 20 minutes in winter and about 2 minutes at midday in July  you take the old teeshirt I mentioned earlier and wipe off all the excess.  This has the added advantage that the surface becomes semi-dry and any dust that falls onto it doesn't tend to stick.

 If you want a shinier finish you can use the Satinado, but it isn't as easy to use, for some reason.

  If you want to apply another coat you MUST wait until the next day.  It may look dry, but it isn't, so that if you persist in putting a second coat on before time all you will accomplish is to redissolve the first one and create a mess.     Bear in mind that a second coat will darken the colour and that it's a good idea to sand the first coat lightly to de-nib it, and carefully wipe off all the dust thereby created before applying it.  For many applications one coat is sufficient.  I finished some rustic tables for a bar a few years ago, and they still look almost new, with beer and tapas being wiped off them several times a day.  They only had one coat of Xyladecor nogal.


- If you're going to paint your furniture, you can get away with a little less preparation.  It's even more important than usual to sand off any sharp edges, however.  Instead of steaming out the dents, you could use filler or even leave them which will give a more aged look.  I like to use acrylic paint to paint furniture.  If you dilute it with water you can get a coloured stain which lets the grain show through, you can then varnish on top.  If you put it on full strength it will be opaque.  You want a 'used' look?  Try   painting in off white and sanding the edges after the paint is dry.  You could even use a little coloured varnish over this coat which will stain the edges darker and 'age' the paint.  Always do a test on a spare piece of wood before you start on the real thing.  If you really let yourself get creative and have enough time you could end up with results like these.   A great way to spend a few days of your holiday when it's too hot to go out....


HANDLES -  A piece of furniture will completely change its appearance depending on the handles you use.  It can appear antique or modern, rustic or space age.  Spend  some time thinking about the look you want to achieve, and be prepared to take a door or drawer to the shop to try out handles to see how they will appear when fixed.