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Wood furniture is beautiful. Nothing beats the richness of nature with all its graining, color and luster.

Preserving the wood in order to maintain its beauty is really simple if you know what to do.Just as our bodies are mostly water, freshly cut wood contains up to half its weight in water. If skin lacks moisture it will wrinkle, loosing smoothness and elasticity.

Wood furniture also needs to maintain a bit of moisture to stay "healthy" looking. If the air is extremely dry, the wood will loose moisture and shrink. Dining table leaves, for example, will not join properly.

And if the home becomes too moist, the wood will expand and those leaves won't go in at all.

Though we can't control Mother Nature, we should be able to do something about the relative humidity in the home by means of a good air con-di-tion-ing/de-hu-mid-i-fier system. Even so, keeping wood furniture away from direct sunlight, heaters, fireplaces and open windows is a good idea.

Cleaning wood furniture on a regular basis is also important. Always dust with a soft cloth and try to follow the direction of the grain.

When dusting, use an ever-so-slightly moistened cloth. This way the dust particles won't scratch the surface as the cloth moves them around.

A mild, non-alkaline soap is fine to use as long as all residue is removed and a dry cloth wipes off all excess moisture.

Waxing should be done every 6 to 12 months; any wax buildup can be washed off with that non-alkaline soap we talked about.

Nicks and scratches can be fixed, too. For dark woods, matching colored shoe polish will work. Felt tip pens or even crayons are other tools that can camouflage small blemishes.

Water marks and rings are often in the wax and not the wood itself. Covering the stain with a clean, thick blotter and pressing down with a warm iron might just take care of it. Another trick is to rub salad oil, mayonnaise or white toothpaste on the ring then wipe dry and re-wax.

White marks often will come off with lemon juice or salad oil. After cleaning, wipe dry and re-wax.

Always read the manufacturer's suggested cleaning instructions before trying any product on the wood and, also, test a non-conspicuous corner of the wood before cleaning the whole thing, just in case.

Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, is president of Rosemary Sadez Friedmann Inc., in Naples, Fla.