The Affects of Cold Weather on Wood Furniture
The holiday season has come and gone, leaving us with cold temperatures and the hope that spring will be here soon. However, now isn't the time to become lax about protecting our antique furniture, especially since large fluctuations in temperature can damage solid wood over time. Don't worry: protecting your furniture from the effects of cold weather is easy, and understanding HOW winter weather affects wooden furniture will arm you with the knowledge you need to take proper precautions for years to come. Let us first try to understand the process by which wooden furniture is affected by temperature, and then we'll outline some steps we can all take to prevent such damage.
Understanding the Process
Put simply: All wooden furniture has a certain amount of water inside, which is what makes the wood flexible enough to be carved without cracking or breaking. Like regular water, temperatures affect the water inside the wood, causing it to expand when it's hot and contract when it's cold. After a few cycles of expansion and contraction, the wood can start to crack and warp, becoming bent and distorted over time.
If you want to get a little more scientific about the ways that temperature affects wooden furniture, let's start by defining "humidity." Then we'll take a look at how outside temperatures affect wood's internal humidity level.
Unless you live in a particularly dry climate, you know what humidity is when you walk outside and feel a ton of moisture in the air. The term "humidity" refers to "atmospheric moisture" or "the amount of water in the atmosphere." Simply put, the humidity of your wooden furniture refers to the amount of water/moisture inside it.
The expansion and contraction of wood in the heat and cold, respectively, directly result from the outside temperature's effect on the wood's humidity levels. Heat causes water to expand, which means that the water–or humidity–inside of the wood also expands, while cold causes water to shrink and contract, which is why cold weather causes the water in wood to contract. Alone, cold temperatures don't damage your wood; instead, they affect the humidity WITHIN the wood by causing the water to contract. The fluctuations between heat and cold, and the expansion and contraction of water, are what causes damage to the appearance of wood over time.
The cold temperatures aren't the only thing you have to worry about damaging your furniture during the winter, though. Some of the byproducts of winter, like bowls of hot soup, cups of hot cocoa, and trips out of town can also aid in damaging your furniture if you don't take the proper precautions.
Precautions You Can Take
Both cold AND hot weather can damage your antique wooden furniture, so when in doubt, follow these rules:
Keep your furniture away from direct sunlight and other heat sources to prevent discoloring (even during the winter).
Use a coaster for all of your hot drinks and dishes.
Keep the temperature and humidity within your home to around 70-72 degrees Fahrenheit and 40-45 percent, respectively.
Refrain from storing your antique furniture in your garage, attic, or basement, as doing so will more than likely cause your furniture to age faster.
The next suggestions aren't considered "rules," but can be helpful pieces of advice, depending on where you live and the resources you have available to you.
If you live in a dry area, consider purchasing a humidifier for your home, as dry air can cause your wooden furniture to crack. Oiling your wood furniture regularly, around every 6 months, can help prevent it from getting too dry and subsequently cracking; as a bonus, many oils work as a water repellant, which keeps any more moisture from getting inside the wood. You can also apply a sealant, like liquid epoxy, to keep external temperatures and humidity levels from affecting humidity inside the wooden furniture. Keep in mind that you would probably need to apply many layers of liquid epoxy to make it airtight, so hiring a professional to do it for you may be your best bet if you'd like to seek out that kind of protection for your furniture.
Cold weather by itself isn't the main cause of damage in wooden furniture during the winter months; it's the exposure to the fluctuation between cold and hot temperatures, especially during seasons with fickle temperatures like fall and spring, that causes the most damage. It makes sense, when you think about it; every time a piece of wood gets hot, the water inside expands, and every time it gets cold, it contracts. The constant cycle of expansion and contraction over time is what causes the wood to warp and crack. If you keep your furniture in a temperature-controlled environment all year long, you shouldn't have a problem!
Another benefit of having high-quality furniture made of real, solid wood is that the damage caused by fluctuating temperatures takes a lot of time to occur, even up to a few decades. That means that if you take the right precautions and show your children and grandchildren how to properly care for your furniture when you pass it down to them, it will probably last for more than a few lifetimes! If you've recently bought wood furniture and didn't know how to care for it until you read this article, don't worry: the damage caused by temperature fluctuations in solid wood furniture can sometimes take decades to show, so there's still time for you to extend the life of your furniture significantly.
We hope that you've learned something about your antique furniture today and that you're able to take this knowledge and apply it so that you get to enjoy your antiques for as long as possible. Be sure to check out our other articles for tips on moving, cleaning, and decorating your vintage reproduction pieces.
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