In this day and age of mass produced particle board furniture that screams cheap and short life span, it’s nice to have a few pieces of hardwood antique furniture in the home, especially it they are hand–me- downs and so, have a bit of sentimentality.
If you are fortunate enough to have a piece or two of vintage furnishings but they need a bit of a boost, there are a fewconsiderations. This how-to will show you how to restore antique furniture.
One thing that is becoming very trendy and retro lately is restoring vintage kitchen cabinets.
How to Keep Antique Furniture Antique
The first question to ask yourself is, “Exactly how much restoration am I going for here?” The reason to tread lightly withantique furniture restoration is that the key to retaining its monetary value as an antique is minimal invasion.
Chances are that the piece is wobbly and to use it safely it needs to be tightened up. Well, don’t even think of using any of the powerful wood glues on the market today; that will automatically disqualify your furniture as antique. More on that later.
A Thorough Furniture Cleaning First
The first step to take in the restorative process is cleaning. It needs it anyway, but it’s a good thing to know what you’ve got to work with. Here is what you will need for this step:
a quality wood cleaner/dewaxer
soft cleaning cloths
Joinery with a Dovetail Joint
Wood Joinery with a Box Joint
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#0000 steel wool
a sharpened 1/4” dowel, if there is carving or crevasses
Begin with an all-over light cleaning to remove wax, grime and dust. Use a steel wool pad very lightly if you must on stubborn spots, but not so much that you will make it obviously different in adjacent areas. Keep in mind that some antiques actually have a painted finish to make the grain more pronounced. Obviously, you don’t want to use steel wool there. Try the toothbrush.
Your piece might have intricate carving. Begin cleaning the low spots with the toothbrush. Gently work deeper spots with the sharpened dowel if you need to.
How Does the Finish Look Now?
Survey the furniture when you’re done cleaning. Is it acceptable? Remember that it’s antique and should have that look. In other words, if the finish isn’t too bad, leave it as it is. Some minor defects add character.
Some antique finishes develop a cracked appearance that is part of aging. This is not a bad thing.
Antique Furniture Structural Repair
Does the furniture have a piece, such as a chair leg, that absolutely must be replaced? If you aren’t a skilled woodworker with shop equipment, think seriously about taking that work to a nearby furniture or cabinet shop.
If it just has a case of the wobbles you can probably work it apart; it’s loose already. The joint is probably mortise and tenon or tongue in groove in a leg. In a drawer, a dovetail or a finger joint. Clean the mating surfaces well once the pieces are apart.
As mentioned above, you must duplicate the original glue. On true antiques, this will be “hide glue”; so named because it is made from animal hides. Use this when reassembling the piece. If you can’t find it locally, it will be available online. Although hide glue tends to be self-clamping once it starts to gel, it’s a good idea to use wood clamps anyway, just to be safe.