The Norman Transcript

July 23, 2000


Expert has inexpensive method to revive tired wood

By Randall Turk
Transcript Business Editor


If your house is growing older,  its woodwork may be exhibiting the dry, stained and scuffed look that convinces many home owners to replace or refinish.

In most instances such drastic steps are not necessary, says Tom Russell, owner of Metro Woodcare. "Wood breathes and has to be fed to maintain its original appearance and quality," he said.

In business since 1991, Russell says his is the only company in the area specializing in wood care. Wood stripping and refinishing, another specialty, is diminishing because of government restrictions on the disposal of solvents used in the process, he said.

Russell participates in a network of wood care specialists in several states who trade tips and help solve problems in their specialty. In 1997, he was president of the Oklahoma Home-Based Business Association.

"Wood undergoes stresses from shrinking and swelling," he said. "To stay flexible, wood has to be cleaned and remoisturized with special oils every few years."

On a Norman job recently, Russell demonstrated what he can do for the "tired" looking kitchen cabinets in a 30-year-old house. The first step was to remove all the kitchen pulls and knobs, then inspect the doors, drawers and facings for damage. Next, he applied a special solvent to the ,wood. He says the solvent separates grease, grime and dirt from the finish.

Over the years, Russell has completed wood care projects in homes and businesses throughout Norman. He said his toughest job was a kitchen where grease had accumulated so thickly on kitchen woodwork that it had to be removed with scrapers., "Frying can leave a film of grease on cabinets real quick," he said. "It can just cake on there."

More common is heavy soil buildup. "Some peoples' skin oil leaves a film that attacks the wood. Long fingernails can take the finish off. Of course, moisture is the real culprit. It wreaks havoc with wood."

Russell and a helper specialize in restoring stained and finished wood cabinetry, furniture and paneling. The cost of doing an average size kitchen is about $400, depending on he condition of the wood and what needs to be done. A free demonstration of what Metro Woodcare can do for your cabinets is available by calling (405) 946-3330.

Russell also handles commercial woodwork preservation at banks and other business locations. "Restaurants, especially, get really bad," he said. Occasionally he restores the wood in antique furniture. He cautions that stripping and refinishing such pieces can dramatically lower their value.

In a previous career Russell, 61, was a group insurance agent He sold supplemental accident policies to small businesses throughout the state. "I was under constant pressure in insurance sales," he said. "I was burnt out My wife spent a year fussing at me to change and do something different"

"Today, a lot of people are doing refacing in kitchens - installing new doors and drawer fronts. That can cost $4,000 to $8,000," Russell said. Cabinets in new homes present another problem. Much of the cabinets in new homes is fabricated from particle board that just doesn't hold up to moisture.

Russell said many new houses have particle board cabinets covered with a thin wood veneer. Solid wood kitchen cabinets are being relegated to the more expensive new homes, he said.

"If my house is ever blown over by a tornado, I'm gonna find an old house to renovate because of the particle board used everywhere in new homes these days."

In the second step of the process, Russell uses a commercial scratch cover and sealant to hide nicks and scratches uncovered by cleaning. "People are most concerned about soil and scratching," he said. "During the oil boom in the `80s, painters would mix lacquer and stain together to spray on new woodwork. Buffing would take it right off.

"Touching and changes in temperature and humidity are hard on wood. Another thing that damages is damp towels tied to drawer pulls." Russell recommends installing met al back plates behind drawer pulls to minimize the damage from moisture and fingerprints. He offers a line of solid brass cabinet hardware. Brass plated versions are available in Norman hardware stores. ,

For eight years, he worked for a franchise kitchen refinishing company before deciding to start his own enterprise. He finds the work rewarding, even therapeutic. He and his wife find time to swim and snow ski. Members of the Oklahoma Bicycling Society, this year they went on a bicycle tour of Sturgeon Bay and Sister Bay, Wisconsin.

The final step in Russell's wood treating regimen involves applying a special ail to reveal more of the grain of the wood and restore luster to the finish.

The results can be spectacular. In this particular home, the "Spanish Oak" stained kitchen cabinets appear several shades lighter and take on a new sheen. We tell people the job will last three to five years with the proper care," Russell said.

"Some people don't do anything to their home until they're ready to sell. I tell them I wish they'd do it earlier so they could enjoy it"

Business Editor Randall Turk may be reached at 405-366-3547 or by e-mail at