Antique furniture refinishing is not the same as restoring a piece of antique furniture. When we restore it often requires replacing damaged parts and taking the whole piece apart and re-gluing etc. By refinishing we mean going a little further than cleaning but not as far as restoring. Cleaning is taking off the surplice dirt and bringing back the shine. Refinishing is taking off the dirt, doing small repairs and when necessary re-doing the polish. .. a rather simplified explanation!
It never ceases to amaze me how a dusty, dirty and speckled piece of furniture can transform into a warm glowing, and friendly companion after a little love, care and attention!
Before you reach for the paint stripper and remove all that patina, try cleaning your newly acquired piece of antique furniture first. You might just find the effort extremely rewarding.
I know it's really hard to decide what is best at times. It's always a good idea to live with the piece for a while first before taking drastic action. An over-restored piece can really lower the whole tone of your collection. Let's be honest - what is the point of having an antique if it looks like it was made yesterday?
Of course some pieces might be too far gone to save the patina and then it becomes necessary to do a little more than just clean the piece.
First you will have to identify the finish. Before 1900 and on darker furniture you can mostly expect a shellac based finish, with layers of wax and other commercial polishes on top. Later on you have various types of varnish.
Not all antique furniture polish is all it is claimed to be and label reading should become a priority. Things like silicon should be avoided and some waxes can make you decidedly light headed if used in a closed room.
Whatever antique furniture refinishing technique you use, try and stick to the traditional - after all the traditional finishes are much easier to keep and revival, should it be needed, is really quite simple.
Furniture finishing repair, such as loose veneer, missing pieces, chips and deep scratches are best sorted out before you start cleaning.
Well, the repairs will merge in much better and not stick out as much as they would if you did them afterwards.
If the repairs have been light and a cleaning has given the required results then refreshing french polish after cleaning your furniture really can be quite effective and well worth the effort involved.
Sun damage is often sad to see on antique furniture - but don't give up - it is reversible you just need lots of patience and elbow grease when refinishing!
If you are lucky some surface blemishes will disappear during the refinishing and others will have to be seen to afterwards.
Some other things perhaps one should go into here are heating and the consequences and of course humidity. (coming soon).