“They just don’t make them like they used to”. We’ve heard this so many times it is no surprise antique furniture is among one of the most sought-after types of belongings coming from the olden days. When it comes to restoring such furniture however the situation changes some since there are a few factors to consider while you’re at it.
The first thing you have to look at is the piece itself. If it looks out of the ordinary, different or of exceptional craftsmanship you may have a real masterpiece on your hands and there would be nothing worse than trying to fix something like that if you’re not a professional. If you suspect something like that it may be a good idea to have the piece appraised by a specialist before doing anything with it. There are usually people with experience dealing with that particular type of business for their entire lives so doing so may yield unexpected results. A good example of that is the recent Leondardo painting of Madonna and child found in a Scottish farmhouse now worth $150 million. You never know what you have on your hands so be vigilant. With a little vigilance you’ll be able to spot the telltale signs of aging such as rounded-out corners, irregularities in the threads of the screws or dovetail joints for example.
Inspect the piece carefully and see if there are any marks or labels which may give you a hint where it was made and by whom. If that is not the case and you have already appraised it with a specialist and you know its not extremely valuable then you may proceed with the restoration. If the furniture has weathered the tides of time in a good way then it may not be a bad idea to simply do your best to clean it up without sanding it or something which would damage or endanger the patina and darkening of the wood which occurs naturally over time.
When this phase comes around you have to prepare yourself by getting the right instruments, workshop and everything you need ready. The most important thing however is making sure you actually have the time to deal with the project. Taking care of something like this is time-consuming and it requires a careful touch and at least some experience in handling similar tasks. You also need to decide whether the overall cost of restoring it will be worth your time. In some cases restoration will be pretty expensive and that may prove the piece’s downfall. If you’re truly interested then go ahead, however some pieces are simply too far gone to be brought back from the dead. Have a clear idea of what the final results should look like by finding a clean spot where the currents of time haven’t swept over the wood. You’ll be able to see the final result and what the original color of the wood looked like.
- Safety first – make sure you work in a well-ventilated room and wear long-sleeved clothes and safety glasses. If you’re varnishing you should also wear a mask to protect yourself from the fumes.
- Cleaning up before the start is a good way to avoid damaging the piece. Simply washing off and scrubbing the grime off the wood with vegetable-based soap will help a lot.
- Repairing any broken parts is the main point of the whole operation after all. Keep in mind that finding the perfect replacement will be almost impossible without making it custom and by staining the wood with the right techniques. You may need to replace or tighten screws, legs and any other structural weaknesses. Find a stainable putty so you can use that later on in getting the colors to fit the original hue.
- Refinish or repaint carefully
4. The tools
- Moderately rough and fine sandpaper (80-120 grit, 300 to 600 grit)
- Flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers
- Wood glue
- Wood putty
- A toothbrush
- Plastic gloves
- Respirator mask
- Oil soap
- Measuring tape
- Angled paint brush
With these tools you’ll have everything needed to clean, retouch and repair your antique piece.