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Restoring antique furniture – a primer

Antique furniture can carry significant value for its owner. The television show ‘Antiques Roadshow’ has taught us that seemingly worthless pieces of furniture can actually hold much more than just memories. It has also taught us that a bad refurnishing or restoration job can diminish its value. With the exception of century-old pieces, for which you should seek the advice of a professional, restoring antique furniture can be not only a relaxing hobby but also a well-paying one. Before undertaking a furniture restoration project, do some research on the item in mind. Here are some tips on restoring antique furniture.

Remove the hardware

Restoring antique furniture is easier to accomplish if you start by removing the hardware. It should be done carefully so as not to damage the piece. Generally, once the hardware is removed from old furniture, it leaves a little ridge on the finish. This often-crusty ridge is composed of a buildup of wax, polish and dust, and can be quite stubborn to eliminate; caution is advised.

Clean and polish

Start with a thorough inspection of the piece to be restored. Check inside corners, carvings, mouldings and the hardware areas. Once you have decided that it is in fairly good shape, and have assessed where the worst build-up is located, you can begin. When it comes to cleaning and polishing antique furniture, have several tools handy, and use common sense to determine which item is best for the task at hand.

Commercial furniture cleaner

– 0000 steel wool (very fine grade)

– A small toothbrush, for those hard-to-reach places

– A sharpened pencil-size dowel, for corners and crevasses

– A soft cloth

– Paper towels

– Furniture polish

Commercial products are usually specific in their use and will work well if you follow the recommendations and instructions on the label. You should know the material of the antique item you are restoring, and choose your product accordingly. Using the wrong type of product may actually do more damage than good. When in doubt, consult a professional.

A bit at a time

Because restoring antique furniture requires delicate and precise work, it is best to focus on a small area at a time. Once you have thoroughly cleaned a small surface, expand the area until you have covered the entire piece. Be sure to double check your work in order to avoid inconsistencies.

A note about temperature

The temperature in your home can greatly affect the lifespan of your furniture. Excessively dry conditions can cause furniture to dry out and shrink, while excessively damp conditions can cause mould growth and even rot. Keep your pieces in a stable environment where the temperature and relative humidity do not fluctuate dramatically. High-intensity light (natural or artificial) can also damage furniture, sometimes causing it to discolour; use blinds or curtains to reduce light levels.

General care tips for antique furniture:

– Avoid placing in front of a window or direct sunlight.

– Avoid placing close to air conditioning and heating vents.

– Avoid placing near fireplaces and stoves.

– Blot up spills immediately.

– Dust regularly using a lint free cloth.

Handle with care

Restoring antique furniture is a meticulous and highly specialised undertaking. If the piece appears to be quite old and you are uncertain of its value, be savvy and contact a qualified furniture restorer. Treat antique furniture with care as it is rare!

About the Author

John Mann is an experienced home renovator and webmaster. Visit his website Workbench Ideas for workshop tips.