Guide to looking after your Mid-Century teak furniture

We buy and sell a lot of Mid-Century teak furniture , both Scandinavian and British . Most of it dates from the late 1950s to the late 1970s . Some is a little earlier , some a little later . We are writing this blog using our experience of buying and selling for over 10 years , and also when cleaning , re-polishing and restoring it .

Les our in-house restorer has spent around 17 years restoring Antique and Mid-Century furniture , concentrating purely on the latter for the last 3 years . Jonathan has been cleaning and oiling Mid-Century pieces for us from time to time since he joined us 6 years ago . We’re drawing on their experience in this blog .

Teak was used in Mid-Century pieces first in Denmark , and the earliest pieces we see are from the 1950s . A Younger claim to be the first British company to use teak in their Volnay range from 1956 . McIntosh + G Plan started using teak in circa 1962 , and other manufacturers did so at around the same time .

Only the best Danish pieces are made of solid teak , and in the UK solid teak was only used by the best makers like Younger and Dalescraft in the early 1960s . By the late 1960s it was becoming too expensive for British pieces to be made using solid teak . The vast proportion of teak pieces you’ll see are teak veneered , despite some of the descriptions you’ll find on places like Ebay .

Our experience is that the best teak is found on Danish pieces and top British ones that were made in the 1950s , and the first half of the 1960s . These earlier pieces will have used teak that came from slow growing natural forests . As time went by , and demand increased the supply of such teak will have been greatly depleted and we find that later pieces from the 1970s onwards are not as easy to clean and restore .

Danish teak pieces from the 1950s and 1960s whether solid or veneered were given an oiled finish . Some of the later 1970s pieces may have been given a varnished finish . The best British makers such as A Younger , and Dalescraft also went along this route in the 1960s . From experience McIntosh also just made pieces with an oiled finish . Each British maker followed a different route , and over time changed their approach to varnishes and other finishes . When Younger changed their ranges in 1968 , they then started using a similar varnish to G Plan as part of their cost cutting to help keep prices down at a time that wealthier buyers had less spending power .

We have a 1966 G Plan catalogue where it says ” G Plan have experimented with lots of different finishes for dining tables . They were looking for a finish that would resist hard treatment and would stand up to spills and to hot dishes put down directly on the surface . After exhaustive tests they have settled for a 2-shot polyurethane . It stands up to almost anything ! ” . G Plan was by far the biggest maker of teak furniture for some 20 years , so we buy and see lots of 40 to 50 year old pieces , and unfortunately it doesn’t always stand up to those claims , often because people didn’t follow the G Plan instructions that came with their furniture ! People over the years have used spray polishes like Pledge and Mr Sheen which gradually over time removes some of the original varnish and makes it less resilient . Not everybody sees spills and removes them quickly enough , and permanent marks result . Some people left a bowl or a vase on a surface for many years , and then the sun fades the area round the item leaving a dark unfaded area . Also over the years a lot of pieces have gone from being somebody’s pride and joy , and  carefully looked after to something that’s not so well looked after . People move house , pieces get knocked . Heavy sunlight can take its toll . Grandchildren may not be as careful as their own children. Something becomes unfashionable , gets sold cheaply and ends up in a cheap rented flat where it’s not looked after . There are many reasons why 40-50 year old pieces start looking tired and acquire marks and damage unfortunately . There are exceptions , and we do get pieces that look as good as the day they were bought , but not many .

G Plan used what they called their 2-shot polyurethane , and other British makers used similar ones . White + Newton of Portsmouth used a particularly high varnish finish from  the mid-1960s onwards . It’s the hardest of any we find to remove , and only industrial strength stripper will remove it , and even then it takes longer than it does to remove the G Plan finish .

We sometimes buy pieces on Ebay , and all too often buyers will say there are a few marks to the surface which will be easily removed by cleaning and oiling . It may be easy if you know what you’re doing , but it’s not straight forward always . These marks can be cigarette burns , which can’t be removed , and on a couple of occasions it’s obvious that somebody has sanded a piece and gone through the veneer as we could see the obvious light colour and grain of the chipboard carcase showing through ! The darker the mark the harder they are to remove usually . If there’s a varnish of any kind this has to be removed with stripper , which is not to be used unless with great care . The strippers that you can buy today from DIY stores are not as strong as those that used to be available , which now can be only used in workshops like our’s . Then it’s a light clean with metholated spirits ( meths ) applied using very fine wirewool ( 0000 grade ) . No varnish on your piece then again it’s a clean with meths . If a light clean doesn’t remove marks then consult an expert please .

The advantage of the varnished finishes is that they do protect your furniture , but only if then you use a beeswax polish or spray . All the other sprays will gradually remove the finish . The advantage of Danish oiled finishes , and those used by McIntosh are they’re much easier to clean , and often we find with McIntosh pieces that layers of dirt have accumulated , which give their own protection as some marks disappear with the dirt .

A few years ago we spoke to somebody whose mother had cleaned her sideboard once a month using mayonnaise ! Sounds weird , but actually the egg and vinegar will nourish the wood of an oiled piece . We sometimes make up a mix of 1 part linseed oil , 1 part vinegar , and 1 part artist’s turpentine . We think this works better than mayonnaise , but only on varnished finishes . It won’t work on oiled and bare timbers as it can make darken the wood and do more damage . Whether its mayonnaise , or our mix , or teak or Danish oil , do use a towel or some scrap cotton to remove the surplus as otherwise you’ll end up with a greasy finish which is not nice . We’ve collected pieces where the seller has recently used an oil and left it greasy to the touch . It might dry eventually , but probably with finger prints or other marks rather than a nice shine .

We recommend all our customers to use non silicone wood silk beeswax spray . It’s easier than using the beeswax polish you’ll find in tins . Silicones and water as used in other products may affect your furniture’s finish .

When Les cleans and polishes pieces for us , he then spends quite a bit of time giving them a waxed polish . This gives more protection from heat and water than just an oiled finish , but it does add to the cost . We know that 1 or 2 dealers will give pieces a sprayed polyurethane finish in a spray booth . We think the oiled and waxed finish is nicer , but it does add to the price . Whatever the finish , just remember to use natural products , they protect the finish , and will keep your furniture looking good with a nice shine for many a year . Also remember that sunlight fades and dries out the wood , so if you get a lot of sun shining on your furniture it will need more nourishment than pieces that are in darker rooms .

WE’VE JUST FOUND OUR FIRST A YOUNGER FURNITURE CARE LABEL WHICH WE’VE ADDED TO THE PHOTOS . WE’VE SEEN SIMILAR NOTES IN SOME OF THE MCINTOSH CATALOGUES WE HAVE . ALL SAY DON’T USE FURNITURE SPRAYS !