Over time, there are a variety of things that can mar wood furniture finish. Some of the more difficult flaws to repair are dents. Dents can happen when something is dropped on the surface, or even something very heavy sits on a piece of soft wood over time. Very small or shallow dents take a different approach to repair as opposed to scratches or cracks. Soft wood, like pine, is dented very easily and doesn't take much to damage. Hard woods, like oak or cherry, are much harder, but if dented can take a little more work to repair. Regardless of the type of wood, with a little bit of attention and care, dents can be repaired to the point where one would be hard pressed to find the dented area.
Step 1 - Small to Medium Sized Dents
Small dents can frequently be corrected with just a couple drops of water. Remove any lacquer or varnish with the steel wool. Drop two or three drops of water into the dent, and let it sit for a day or two. The water will absorb into the wood, raising the depressed area. If the water does not penetrate the wood, try pushing a straight pin directly down into the wood. You may need to tap the end with a small hammer a couple of times if the wood is hard. You want the pin to go about one quarter of an inch deep into the wood. Make several small holes around the dent and be careful not to wiggle the needle and make it larger than the pin. This will allow the water to penetrate the wood and expand the fibers. Again add a little water to the area and let it sit for a day or two.
Step 2 - Medium to Large Dents
For large dents, try wetting a cloth and wringing out the water so that it is not dripping wet. Fold the cloth so that it is the same size and shape as the dent, and lay the cloth over the dent. Press the cloth into the wood using the iron on a medium setting. Take care to not let the iron touch the wood directly. The heat and water will again make the wood expand, filling the dent. For any of the above described methods, it may take several attempts before the dent is fully raised to the level of the rest of the wood surface.
Step 3 - Refinish
Once the dent in the wood has been raised to where you again have an even surface, you will need to repair the finish of the area where the dent was. Use the steel wool to feather out the finish around the former dent. With an artist's paintbrush, apply stain or varnish to match the rest of the wood piece, feathering it out to blend with the rest of the area. Allow to dry according to package directions.