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Originally published Saturday, December 16, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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How to keep your table in tip-top condition

Whether your table is new or heirloom old, the Smithsonian's senior furniture conservator has some sound advice. • "Protect the tabletop...

The Washington Post

Whether your table is new or heirloom old, the Smithsonian's senior furniture conservator has some sound advice.

• "Protect the tabletop by always using coasters, placemats and trivets," says Don Williams. Abrasive plate bottoms can scratch the wood, and dishes of extremely hot food have even been known to melt varnish.

• Protective table pads, preferably with fabric undersides made of rayon or polyester felt, are "an excellent idea."

• A glass top cut to fit the tabletop provides a lot of protection, but it should rest on "spacer buttons" that are an eighth of an inch thick, to hold the glass slightly away from the wood. "Otherwise, it will wick moisture underneath," he says.

• Keep direct sunlight off the surface because it degrades the wood, colorant and finish; curtains or a tablecloth afford easy protection.

• Wipe the table clean after every meal. If the surface is sticky or greasy, dampen a soft cloth with distilled water mixed with a few drops of mild dish soap. The soap should not contain emollients or skin conditioners, which can damage the wood. Dry the table well with a lint-free rag.

• On the subject of commercial liquid or spray polishes, Williams is absolute: "Avoid them all," he warns. "They put a concoction on the surface that may be an unnecessarily harsh cleaner or oily component, because it gives a temporary shine."

Instead, he says, twice a year roll up your sleeves and polish the wood with a paste wax — making sure the wax does not contain toluene, "the main ingredient of paint remover. It can dissolve the varnish underneath."

For his own Scandinavian teak extension table, which seats four to 10, he favors Butcher's Boston Polish paste wax.

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